Powerhouse Museum Collection object 2012/17/1.
‘Save your Burnt-out Lamps. Repairs guaranteed equal to new.’ This line appeared in Sydney newspaper ads from 1918 to 1920. The small ads included an eye-catching drawing of a light globe with ‘OLD LAMPS MADE NEW’ written inside it. The Electric Lamp Repairing Company had a receiving depot in the city and a factory in the inner suburb of Redfern. The company could repair both metal filament lamps like this one and the original type of lamp, which had a carbon filament.
Powerhouse Museum Collection object 94/227/4. Gift of Erica Mann, 1994.
Governor-General Quentin Bryce surprised Australia by mentioning two controversial issues at the conclusion of her final Boyer Lecture. She spoke with her usual grace as she presented positive opinions on both marriage equality and a future Australian republic. While the first issue has only risen to prominence in recent times, the idea of becoming a republic has a long history. This badge, probably made in the 1990s, uses the 1854 Eureka flag as a symbol of republican sympathy. I think it was refreshing to hear Bryce’s forthright declaration that she shares that sympathy, and that she also cares deeply about human rights. The media attention served to prompt me, and I hope others, to listen to her lectures in full.
Aibo entertainment robot. Powerhouse Collection object 2000/12/1.
On 24 November 2013, the Powerhouse Museum will host a Mini Maker Faire. This is a spin-off from the US Maker Faire movement, which encourages individuals to make things and share the joy of making. We don’t plan to have our Aibo robotic dog on display for the event, but we do expect some exciting robots to visit along with their makers. There will be other electronic projects, an interactive musical instrument and 3D printers in action, plus food, jewellery, handbags and other accessories made by people who are passionate about the making process.
Powerhouse Museum Collection object B1465. Gift of the Shell Company, 1961.
Young Sydney engineer Frank Hammond invented the ‘visible volumetric’ petrol pump around 1920 and licensed his patent rights to manufacturers in Australia and the UK. Garages purchased visible pumps to ensure that they were supplying an accurately measured volume of petrol, or ‘motor spirit’, to each customer. They wanted to convince customers that they were getting a fair deal, they didn’t want to lose money by supplying more petrol than customers paid for, and they wanted an innovative edge over competing garages.
Powerhouse Museum collection, object 93/178/4. Gift of Franz Lazi, 1993.
Selfies are rampant today. We can see the phenomenon as harmless fun, as creative self-expression, or perhaps as a threat to civilisation, drowning us in egocentric banality. But of course people have long indulged in self-portraiture, and today I want to focus on an unusual pair of selfies that reveal one man in contrasting settings, telling us two stories about himself. This first image, created in 1947, portrays professional photographer Adolf Lazi as strong and calm, a connoisseur of Chinese sculpture and interested in books. He is playing to the camera without looking into the lens. Because he refuses to let us look into his eyes, the portrait is a little unsettling: while we see something about his relationship to the external world, we are not privileged with a glimpse of the inner Adolf.
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object H3204a. Gift of Navy Office, Department of Defence, 1924.
To mark the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy, I’ve chosen to feature this naval phone, one of several that were crucial to the operation of the navy’s first flagship, HMAS Australia. I have a particular interest in that ship because my grandfather served on it for much of the First World War. The ‘loud-speaking’ hands-free voice-activated phone was used to communicate between the bridge and engine room. It was made by Alfred Graham and Co in London, the company that also supplied phones to the Royal Navy and the Titanic. The speaker’s voice caused a metal diaphragm to vibrate, which moved a wire coil within a magnetic field. This generated sufficient current to power the phone.
Powerhouse Museum Collection object H10497.
The excellent ‘Playing with Light’ exhibition opens at the Powerhouse Museum on 14 September to coincide with Ultimo Science Festival. Developed by Scitech in Perth, the exhibition invites curious visitors of all ages to interact with prisms, lenses, mirrors and colour. To herald its arrival, I’m featuring this playful anamorphic mirror and weird drawing, which live in the Museum’s basement along with two other distorted drawings that reveal their truth when viewed in the mirror.
Powerhouse Museum Collection object K50. Gift of Florence Violet McKenzie, 1976.
To mark this year’s Engineering Week, I decided to feature Florence Violet Wallace, aka Florence McKenzie or Mrs Mac, a 1923 graduate of Sydney Technical College who later donated her diploma to the Museum. She was also a path-breaker, teacher, author, lobbyist and wartime leader, a woman who foresaw a need, set out to address it boldly and selflessly, and did so with great success.
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 2013/7/6. Gift of Caltex Refineries (NSW) Pty Ltd, 2012.
This rugged hand-held precision instrument is unlike any tachometer I’ve ever seen. It’s more musical than mechanical, and it needs no power source other than the piece of machinery whose speed the user wants to check.
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object H8736. Gift of the Australian Museum, 1969.
When I picked up this small bone tool in our basement store, I experienced a visceral reaction, the shock of sudden realisation: it linked me to a great-grandfather I never met. The object evoked thoughts and emotions as I remembered listening to countless stories told by my grandfather, Hal Hooker. He was a warm, fun-loving raconteur, a first-class cricketer and a professional radio and TV sports commentator.
I vividly recalled him telling me that his father George was tall, had huge hands, and was boxing champion of the British merchant navy. Once George’s sailing days were over, he settled in Sydney and set up a canvas-goods business. He must have learned sail-making skills while at sea – and he would have used an object like the one I was holding.