Masquerading as a Museum? Powerhouse attacked by enquiry


PARRAMATTA’S new Powerhouse Museum has come under an extraordinary attack from an Upper House Inquiry into the project.

In terms like “controversial” and an “entertainment centre masquerading as a museum” the Inquiry went off both barrels at the biggest public development in Sydney since the Opera House.

Not that the Opera House wasn’t controversial during its construction period with acres of negative newspaper coverage and near-sighted attacks by people with no vision a regular feature of city life in the 1960s.

Flash forward more than half a century and it seems the Powerhouse Museum is the new “Opera House”. And it seems the same negative people are to try and tear it down, but in a positive way, if that makes sense?

The NSW parliamentary committee released a scathing appraisal of the decision to build $1.34B project on site with ‘very real flood risks’.

It said the ongoing risk of flooding to a priceless collection still had not been comprehensively addressed. 

The committee report also delivered a scathing appraisal of the State Government’s contentious decision to dismantle Victorian mansion Willow Grove to make way for the Parramatta museum, saying it had “robbed Parramatta of its rapidly dwindling heritage”.

The report is the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year inquiry into the Liberal state government’s management of cultural institutions. 

It was chaired by Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party state leader Robert Borsak, and compiled by three Liberal upper house members, two Labor members and one Greens member – with the three Liberal members understandably issuing a dissenting statement in its appendix.

On the ongoing issue of the government’s decision to build the new museum on the banks of the Parramatta River, the report concluded: “It is still difficult for the committee to fathom why the NSW government would choose a flood-prone site to build one of the most significant pieces of cultural infrastructure – billed in evidence as the largest investment in cultural infrastructure since the Sydney Opera House – and then attempt to design their way around the inherent and very real flood risks.

“The committee looked aghast as the project site was flooded on several occasions during the course of our inquiry.”

In March last year, the Parramatta site, by then already under construction, flooded for the second time in just over a year during heavy rainfall.

However, there were some aspects of the Report that will be welcomed by readers of The Times.

The 142-page report is also critical of the state government’s plan to split the collection housed in  Ultimo’s Powerhouse Museum to furnish the new Parramatta museum.

Instead of “a thematically coherent science and technology museum”, the new Ultimo site would host “a confused hotchpotch of fashion items displayed alongside a handful of large items of industrial and transport heritage devoid of their broader storytelling contexts and installations”.

And that is a good point because the Ultimo Museum is famous for its machines. The Times believes the last thing we need at Parramatta is another disaster like the Australian Museum which went “trendy”  with vast indigenous displays and fell flat on its face.

As the report was being tabled in parliament, the Powerhouse Museum announced it would stage a major retrospective on former fashion designer Carla Zampatti, opening November 24.

In an appendix to the report, the three Liberal government members – Taylor Martin, Peter Poulos and Chris Rath – delivered a dissenting statement, saying the report lacked constructive recommendations and instead was an attempt “to score cheap political points and even delay the project through further red tape”.

A key recommendation in the report calls on the NSW government to address all outstanding flood-related concerns, and to re-test the flood immunity of the Parramatta site.

More than 140 submissions were received by the inquiry, which heard from more than 70 witnesses during six public hearings. Along with flooding concerns and possible threats to the integrity of the Powerhouse Museum’s collection, the removal of the historic 1880s Victorian mansion Willow Grove to make way for Powerhouse Parramatta received extensive attention.

Sources: Various media outlets, Times Editorial team

Author: admin

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