In October I had the pleasant experience of visiting the Goulburn Historic Waterworks to check out their annual Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. It was brilliant fun, and I will certainly be going along again!
The Waterworks is located next to the Wollondilly River, making it a very picturesque location. I can completely understand why so many events choose this location for a wide variety of shindigs. The official website explains that the pumping station was built in the 1880’s and provided Goulburn’s first reticulated water supply. The original Appleby Bro’s Beam engine is still maintained as a working piece of machinery. I was struck by how surprisingly quiet it was - somehow I has imagined that it would be as loud as the steam powered trains that I have seen. Beyond the original machine, there is a variety of other impressive devices that are somewhat meditative to watch in movement.
The museum space has a complicated past, much like many small museums. It has swung between fully privately funded, to council funding multiple times, but has somehow managed to survive quite solidly. There is a neat little education program available and the volunteers that I met onsite were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The Steampunk & Victoriana Fair is an initiative by the Waterworks to raise funds and profile. The Steampunk & Victoriana Fair has been running since 2014, with an attendance of approximately 250 people in it’s first year. Attendance for 2018 was approximately 3000, which is a fairly good rate of growth for an annual event (I believe this would have been higher is not for the rain). Revenue is also raised by having themed retail stores and food vendors. Cleverly, the food vendors were hidden slightly around a corner, which meant that the steampunk atmosphere could be maintain a little more easily. Multiple competitions (costume, inventions etc) invite participants to join in the fun from early before the events date, keeping it fresh in the public’s mind.
Steampunk is a genre of fiction that imagines a 19th-century inspired world that is influenced by science fiction style elements. There are very few ‘rules’ on what this means exactly - but imagine, it you will, a Victorian Gentleman in a lovely outfit that also includes a fully steam powered mechanical arm, or a set of suitcases that follows along behind the owner using steam powered tank treads. It is an amalgamation of science fiction with steam powered 19th century ingenuity and fashion. As someone who enjoys textile arts and sewing, I was so inspired by the characterful costumes. Admittedly, I am certainly not looking to get involved in another hobby, but I thought the deliberate anachronistic nature of the costuming looked very enjoyable. There is a storytelling element that is very alluring to the whole business.
With that in mind, I think that as a revenue raising event, the Fair is a wonderful choice for the site. The volunteers onsite helped to explain how the actual technology worked and I did notice that people were stopping to read the historic panels. The atmosphere was fabulous, and the users of the site clearly cared for the space. A quick googling brings up plenty of news articles talking about the event, raising the profile and traffic of the Waterworks. It also promotes the historic buildings as a prime site for other private and public events. I love that it both celebrates a history that was, and will never be. I will absolutely be returning to visit again this year!
I have now turned into one of those odd sorts who stay up reading the Hansard report from Parliament House. Recent transcripts were interesting, not only because of Marriage Equality (Yay!), but also some comments by the Honourable Julie Owens MP about the Parramatta Female Factory:
“ The Parramatta Female Factory deserves and needs to be World Heritage listed. The national heritage listing provides protection for part of the site, but the New South Wales state government and UrbanGrowth, its development arm, are intent on developing thousands of units up against the walls of the factory. To join the campaign, I urge people to sign the Parramatta Female Factory Friends petition calling for World Heritage listing so that the community and future generations can enjoy this fantastic piece of history right in the heart of Parramatta. The oldest female convict factory, a Greenway building, right in the heart of Parramatta deserves World Heritage listing.”
Deserves and needs to be World Heritage listed? I’m not sure that holds up entirely. It’s an incredible site but is it of World Heritage standard? I would certainly describe it as nationally significant, which is why it absolutely deserves the National Heritage listing which it already has. And should we be using Heritage listing as a primary method of ‘rescuing’ places?
Sites on the World Heritage List are places of outstanding universal value. Admittedly, for the committee to find a place to potentially of value, it only needs to meet at least one of the selection criteria. Having read back over the available criteria to choose from, I’m not sure it would fit into any of the world heritage list categories. The criteria that marks it as Nationally Significant - women/children’s lives and convict history - is not necessarily of universal significance.
I’m not a huge fan of the emotional push for a building to be listed to ‘rescue’ it. ‘Rescuing’ a building takes a siginicant amount of emotion invested in something other then the evidence of whether a building deserves to be listed. It becomes a case of good-guys vs developers/government. In addition, it means that instead of choosing to list buildings which naturally fit into the selection criteria, the information is sometimes stretched in a bid to contribute towards saving the building. The emotional connection that we have to historic buildings can’t be denied, but not everything should be rescued. Much like museums, there is only so much space and money, and concentration should be placed on the buildings that truely deserve higher recognition.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.