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Firing on All Engines at the Museum of Fire

An Update From Our CEO, Belinda McMartin

The Museum building as a power station & how it is today.

The Museum of Fire is located in a heritage listed building. Our site was a former power station that was built to alleviate major power shortages to Sydney after World War Two. The building holds a unique place within the history of the development of the local area as well as in industrial (specifically power station) history across NSW due to the unique design and “packaged” nature of the plant. At the time of its construction three other identical stations were erected at Port Kembla, Liverpool and Maitland. They were also amongst the first created by the new Electricity Commission which took control of Sydney’s power supply in May 1950. It was closed in 1970 when more economical and modern stations were completed across the state.

Today the one in Liverpool houses the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre while the one in Port Kembla has been demolished and the one at Maitland is no longer operational.

Around the time of the power stations closure the Museum of Fire was just beginning its life. In March 1969 the Historic Fire Engine Association held their first meeting and this would pave the way for the establishment of the Museum of Fire which was initially located at the NSW Fire Brigades (now FRNSW) Training College at Alexandria before being moved to Walsh Bay when the space was needed by the NSWFB at the college. From Walsh Bay the Museum was moved to Pier 7 at Campbells Cove before it was decided a more permanent home was needed.

It was in the mid-1980s, after over 15 years sitting derelict, that the old Penrith Power Station was suggested as a site for the growing collection. The task of transforming the power station into a hospitable environment was immense and took over 12 months of backbreaking volunteer labor.

The interior of the building before it was transformed into a Museum, 1985

Finally on 16 November 1986, the Museum of Fire was officially opened to the public here in Penrith. Other than the closures due to the pandemic and 2021 and 2022 floods the Museum has remained open to the public consistently throughout this time and today is open 7 days a week, 9:30am-4:30pm only closing on Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Next week, we will be closing the doors to the public for essential fire safety maintenance to take place. The scale of this work has not been undertaken in recent memory and has kept our team very busy making preparations and planning the temporary movement of ALL appliances and some displays to allow access to the areas required within the Museum.

While this work is taking place our team will be busy making some changes to the exhibition space in preparation for projects we have planned for the second half of 2023. I am excited to see these much-awaited projects finally come to life as we work hard to breathe new life into our aging displays.

On the back of this busy period our team are also preparing to attend the Sydney Royal Easter Show at Olympic Park, once again with our heritage partners FRNSW. Our team will be on site with two heritage appliances and a pop-up shop. This year we have two show bags for sale as well as some of the great items from our shop. There are only limited numbers of the show bags available and they can only be purchased at the show (not online or in store) so be sure to visit our pop-up shop!

[Pictured Below: The Museum's 2022 Easter Show Pop-up and the two showbags on offer this year exclusively at the Easter Show!]

Last week was International Women’s Day and the Museum was honoured by being featured on the front page of our local paper the Nepean News. While women make up approximately 50% of the population, women are underrepresented within the work force, especially within governance and management levels. At the Museum of Fire, we are proud to have a large number of women within our staff ranks and as of 2022 we welcomed the largest intake of women onto the Museum’s board in our organisations history. Prior to this just one woman is known to have sat on the Museum’s Board so to have 50% of our Board now comprised of women is something to be proud of. When it comes to our staff women comprise 73% of our overall team and 67% of senior management.

[Pictured Below: Image One; Board of Directors (left to right): Cheryl Steer, Marcus Baker (Chairman), Gina Field, Peter Stathis, Belinda McMartin (Staff - CEO), Gregory Houston, Gabrielle Benkovich, Ben Dickson (Staff - Curator), and Helen Stone. (Absent: Christopher Fish, Belinda Hooker, and Kenneth Murphy) and Image Two; our Senior Management Team (left to right): Ella Murtagh (Assistant Curator), Kate Coleman (Executive Assistant to the CEO), Kris McDonell (Operations Manager), Ben Dickson (Curator), Belinda McMartin (CEO), and Cameron Stafford (Front of House Co-Ordinator).

The Museum hosted our first Heritage Day of the year last month, announcing our 2023 vehicle of the year and launching our limited-edition product line accompanying it. The decision of what our 2023 vehicle of the year was to be an easy one with the 1923 Merryweather Turntable Ladders celebrating its 100th birthday this year!

The turntable ladder was a concept that had been experimented with as early as 1868 however it wasn't until the twentieth century that they were attached to a motor. This vehicle entered service at Adelaide's City Station in 1923 and cost £3,315 (today approx. $282,918).

In 1972 the appliance entered the collection of the National Motor Museum and in 2019 it made the journey from South Australia to here in Penrith where it joined our permanent collection.

To read all about the Merryweather Turntable Ladders check out the blog put together by our Curator Ben:

As always, we have lots planned for the year & we appreciate the ongoing support of the community as we work to engage with new audiences and welcome new visitors to the Museum. Please follow us on social media and subscribe to our blog to keep up to date with all that is going on at the Museum!

-Blog by Belinda McMartin, Museum of Fire CEO


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