The Powerhouse Museum's closure and relocation has sparked efforts to reclaim Goulburn's earliest steam engine.
The 1837 Maudslay Sons and Field engine was once the heaving heart of the Old Goulburn Brewery and industrial complex. But since the 1920s the 10-tonne piece of equipment has been displayed in one of the Powerhouse's offshoot buildings - The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences - at Ultimo.
The Powerhouse will soon close in preparation for the site's sale. The new Museum at Parramatta is due to open in 2024/25 but will only have about a quarter of the exhibition space. Large pieces, like the steam engine, would be stored offsite and transported in for display, if needed.
However the council is on the cusp of retrieving the equipment. General manager Warwick Bennett said the organisation had applied to the Museum about four or five years ago. A social enterprise group has also made recent representations.
"We've finally been able to secure it but we have to sign a memorandum of understanding ensuring we can keep it safe and secure," he said.
"Once that's done we'll get it back as soon as possible."
The Waterworks is the council's preferred location but some adaptation may be needed. It would complement the 1883 Appleby beam steam engine. If realised, they would be the only two working steam engines in the one location in the Southern Hemisphere.
Old Goulburn Brewery owner and avid historian, Michael O'Halloran, says it's high time to bring the equipment "home."
"I want it back here because it makes sense of (Brewery architect) Francis Greenway's vision," he said.
"Without it, it has lost its heart."
It is thought to be the only one of its type remaining in the world.
William Bradley had the six-column beam engine brought to Goulburn in 1837 to power the flour mill, maltings, cooperage and brewery. It drove the machinery, lifted grain to the fourth level and pumped water from an underground well.
Mr O'Halloran said Greenway, who died in 1837, had specially designed a room at the entry for the engine.
The Brewery was closed in 1854 but resurrected by William Bartlett in 1875 who kept brewing the old recipes until 1921 when he sold to Tooths.
"In the contract of sale, Bartlett inserted a clause that enabled him, if Tooths stopped brewing, to take possession of the engine. They stopped in 1929 but used the place as a depot," Mr O'Halloran said.
In our view it (the engine) was to be part of the Goulburn Museum, not The Powerhouse.Michael O'Halloran
Bartlett reclaimed the equipment but later struck a deal with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The Museum had an annex in Goulburn that operated from sometime after a Mechanics Institute was built in 1853 to 1982. It was on the site of the current Roses Cafe.
Mr O'Halloran said he'd never been able to discover the terms of the deal but the Museum, which shifted it to Sydney in the 1920s claimed that it was a gift. The Goulburn annex closed in 1982.
"The only evidence they've given (that they own it) is a newspaper cutting of Bartlett standing next to the machine in Goulburn ready for it to go to the Sydney museum," he told The Post.
"But that runs counter to everything Bartlett wanted...In our view it was to be part of the Goulburn Museum, not The Powerhouse. I suspect the motivation was to restore it but it never was and it stayed in pieces until naval apprentices were given the job in the early 1980s."
It was only displayed in Sydney after the Goulburn annex closed. One of its boilers, retrieved from the Breadalbane Hotel in about the 1990s, remains at The Brewery.
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Mr O'Halloran said The Powerhouse was not averse to handing the engine back but the question was to whom and where.
Meantime, a group is trying to establish a social enterprise in Goulburn under public ownership showcasing the contribution of steam to the colony's industrial development. It would be housed at various locations. A not-for-profit company has been established to this end.
Mr O'Halloran said as the Powerhouse's focus had shifted to more of an "entertainment" venue, it was unlikely the engine would be displayed there.
"I think Goulburn has an interest in these things being returned, particularly the beam engine. It would make us unique in the world," he said.
"It should be in public ownership and to have it at the heart of an industrial complex designed by Greenway - how many more credentials of history and heritage are needed?"
A spokeswoman for The Powerhouse did not answer a series of questions but in statement said:
"The Powerhouse regional program is about giving communities access to the incredible collection during this exciting phase for the institution."
The facility also regularly loans items to regional museums and galleries and is extending its "behind the scenes" heritage tours until the end of 2020.
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