Steam’s up for the Prime Minister

Posted on September 16, 2008


Jeremy, Aaron and Daniel at Dunedin Gasworks museumWell that was an interesting afternoon.     We’ve been to the opening of the Emperor’s Dragons at the Otago Museum.  Then, after nearly 90 minutes of speeches (being translated three ways), Phil and I dashed to the Dunedin Gas Works Museum for for another  function.  The reason for the busyness was the Prime Minister.  Dunedin was on show and, I’m pleased to say, so were our students.

The Dunedin Gas Works Museum is described as “the only surviving and preserved example of a city gasworks where the process is explained and the equipment demonstrated.”   Other Gasworks Museums are situated in Scotland and Eastern England, and are much smaller, representing gas making for much smaller communities.

After the formality of the opening at the Otago Museum, Helen Clark seemed very happy to wander around the gas work exhibits talking to volunteers.  She stayed for more an hour giving a great impromptu speech.    She met with our  IT students and those from Communication Design and referred to them when she talked about the importance of building generations of people interested in heritage. 

I talked with the PM for a good five minutes.  She seemed genuinely interested in what Otago Polytechnic was doing at the Museum.  I told her about our goal of sustainable practitioners and the LivingCampus. 

Model wtith LED lights showing process, Dunedin gasworks museumAs I’ve written before, an understanding of systems is critical to sustainability education.   Industrial heritage sites such as the gasworks are a really good opportunity to demonstrate such systems.  Just like the LivingCampus tackling the centre of people’s systems being the supermarket, knowing what happens behind the switch is equally important.   Unfortunately, at present the Gasworks Museum is little more than a collection of lovingly maintained old machines.   My children and I still have no idea about the process of producing/distributing gas.   There is some intereptive signage, but it tends to be about the date and manufacturer of the machine.   I would love to get some feel for the whole – how the sum of the machines is greater than the sum of the machines.  

Fortunately the museum folk know this.  I had a good talk with my old friend archaeologist Peter Petchey who is looking forward to the work our students doing in engaging people in the processes.     One display, tucked out the back shows well system behind the failed experiment of capturing gas at the landfill.  I hope we can do some exciting things with augmented reality, mixing the old and new technologies.

I had my kids in tow, the Prime Minister shook their hands “even though they’re just kids” as Oliver put it.  Big news for show and tell tomorrow. 

 Scale model at Dunedin Gasworks museumMore images on Flickr