Visited: Powerhouse Museum (Free Museum Weekend 23-24 June 2018)

Once a year, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences holds a free museum weekend. This year, it was held over the weekend of 23rd – 24th June 2018 with free tickets that could be booked online to visit the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory, Museum Discovery Centre and Australian Museum. While I’ve heard of this event in the past, I never found out about it until after the event.

Luckily, this year, I managed to find out about the free museum weekend in time so that I could book a ticket to the Powerhouse Museum. This museum focuses mainly on technology, engineering, design and science. I had only some vague but positive recollections of visiting it in my primary school days, but knowing that it is soon going to be relocated, I felt it was an opportune time to visit it in its current glory – before it changes forever in 2023.

While I had intended to post it during the free museum weekend, time got the better of me, so better late than never!

The Visit

It was Saturday morning, the skies were mostly clear and the sun was out. A good day to be out and about. I approached the museum via The Goods Line walk and already, a familiar sight emerged. When I was still a child, the old Entertainment Centre and walk-bridge still existed, the light rail line wasn’t there and this new Cafe (which looks a bit out of place) wasn’t there either. Instead, I do remember the blue and white sign with the words “POWERHOUSE MUSEUM” quite vividly, even if I can’t find a photo of it in my archives at the present moment.

This is only one of the two entrances to the museum. As it was the free weekend, a larger-than-normal crowd already began to congregate at opening time. After a short queue and battling through a traffic-jam of strollers, I made it in.

From this entrance, the logical place would be to head through to the Wiggles exhibit, but unfortunately that was what all the parents and children were doing. Instead, I wandered about in the opposite direction, walking past a number of design classics. The Telecom Australia Gold Phone is definitely one of them – there was a Blue Phone as well. It’s always fascinating to think that something that was so iconic had almost entirely been forgotten from my memory purely because it had been progressively away and replaced by something new – new payphones, mobile phones, etc. A relic indeed, back when a local call could be had for just 20c.

In an era where environmental sustainability is an issue, I was glad to see an exhibit about that. The Powerhouse Museum itself is probably one of the major science and technology museums in the area, so I think it has an important role to play in inspiring young children of today to take up the challenge of engineering a better future. Regardless, no matter where I turn, it seems that there’s always something that I somehow recognize and connect with. In this case, as a photovoltaics engineer, it’s solar cells – specifically mention of UNSW professors Martin Green and Stuart Wenham and Dr. Zhengrong Shi of Suntech who all were very important figures in the commercial success of photovoltaics.

Not far from that was an exhibit about water which included a row of bottles labelled with Sydney Water Corporation with water of different colours. Having done my PhD with the UNSW Water Research Centre, it was also rather interesting to see this exhibit.

Seeing this particular Freeplay S360 radio sitting in a cabinet bought back memories too. These used to be on sale in Dick Smith Electronics, back when they were a real electronics retailer. I remember them being somewhat pricey so I never got one, but the idea that you could use either solar charging or a dynamo to charge a battery and listen to radio without using any disposable batteries was a rather exciting proposition to me as a kid. The translucent casing was really cool, especially as I liked knowing what was inside a product and what made it work.

I didn’t expect to see the Honda Insight, which made seeing it even more fascinating. For one, it was an odd-coloured line-green hybrid car with the rear wheel partially covered by a fender skirt like a car from before the 60s. For another, it didn’t really seem all that successful with the Toyota Prius being the much more recognized hybrid vehicle. As a result, I’ve never recalled seeing one of these on the roads, ever!

The Solar Resource car that raced in the Pentax World Solar Challenge is also on display, although like many other displays is showing its age. But seeing this was a good indicator of how far we’ve come – especially as solar races continue to run and vehicles (e.g. UNSW Sunswift’s VIolet) continue to be developed, refined and improved.

It seems that the protective coating over the cells is delaminating in places, but it’s still good to see that the panels get some sun … (just kidding!)

In that particular area, there were a number of other transportation artifacts, but I didn’t have the time to stick around …

… as I was distracted by seeing this behemoth – the old train departure board at Central station from 1906. It’s interesting to see some suburban stations on the board, which indicates just how long our rail system has endured.

Behind this is the Space exhibits – the most interesting was a simulation of the space inside the shuttle, complete with American style power outlets. The sterility feels kind of welcoming.

Off to the side, there’s a lot of other exhibits about machines along with this very nice (and large) plasma ball. As nobody was playing with it, it was happy to put on a nice show.

Some old batteries were on show too – I still remember the Eveready General Purpose batteries … about $0.90 a packet of four AA cells from Woolies in the mid-90s?

In the Interface: People, Machines, Design exhibit, there were a number of iconic technology items on show – the Nintendo Power Glove, GameBoy, Sony Walkman, various Apple Computers, Braun Hi-Fi, etc. But this IBM Selectric typewriter looked pretty elegant in its curvy green shell.

The Steam Revolution is an exciting corner for anyone that loves to see things in motion. A lot of different machines are constantly rotating, pistons sliding, etc. The transport corner also has a steam engine and a number of flying machines hanging from the ceiling.

But owing to a lack of time, I had to leave after about 50 minutes walking around. I didn’t manage to visit every exhibit, but on my way out of the other exit, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the pretty Ferrari sitting by the entrance.


While I had visited the Powerhouse Museum as a primary school kid, I haven’t visited it until now. Once I stepped inside, some of what I saw was familiar, while others seemed completely new. It was a good experience to have the chance (and a reason) to visit the Powerhouse Museum before it moves and is inevitably changed. The museum houses a good number of exhibits, some of which are a little dated, some of which are quite historical, some of which are interactive/targeted to children and others which are quite timely and relevant. I can definitely see how it might play a role in helping shape the future for children and pique their interest in STEM fields.

Bonus: Sydney Growth Train Testing

While I haven’t had the time to post random postings in a long time, I thought I’d mention the fact that I’m still travelling around by public transport a lot. As a result, a number of times while passing the Auburn maintenance facility, I noticed a Warratah train that was a little more orange and black than a normal one – but I didn’t have a camera to take pictures of it.

Since then, I’ve come to learn that these are known as Sydney Growth Trains, or Warratah Series II trains. It seems that Downer is responsible for delivering 24 x 8-car trains and the main improvement is to the passenger displays. The first one was unloaded earlier this year in around March and has been testing since.

Seeing as I had my DSLR on me, I managed to snap a few photos from the V-set train I was on – apologies for the blur from the dirt and scratches on the window.

The set is known as B1, and the consist seems to be made of D1101-N1701-N1901-T1301-T1401-N1?01N1?01-D1201. Judging from the number patterns, the two carriages that were obstructed by the Millienium in front are probably N1801 and N1601. They are definitely orange at the end and have a black curved accents which remind me of someone going a little overboard with eyeliner. The carriages are filled with water containers to simulate passenger weight loading, and clear signs are placed on the doors warning passengers not to board the train which is under test.

I look forward to actually riding in them once they are commissioned, although this does mean another end of an era as the S-set “sweatboxes” get retired for good.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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