Inside the Collection

Meet the curator- Debbie Rudder

Portrait of curator Debbie Rudder
Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved

Debbie Rudder

What is your speciality area?
Energy. I inherited an amazing collection of engines, electricity generators, model engines and related material. I’ve acquired some interesting objects and archival material to complement this collection and bring it up to date. My main research interests are: how our past use of energy informs present and future energy use; and the history and practice of innovation. I studied chemistry and history and philosophy of science at university and I’m passionate about understanding how things work (in a very broad sense), the language of science and technology (especially the use of metaphor), the history of mass production, and sharing my enthusiasm for big ideas.

How long have you been working at the Museum?
18 years.

What is your favourite object in the collection?
I can’t go past the Boulton and Watt engine: the most valuable object in the collection; a visual feast, especially when it moves majestically under steam; a source of endless interest; and frequently the subject of my interaction with our wonderful volunteers, who present talks about it daily and answer visitors’ questions.

It is amazing that the world’s oldest rotative steam engine is here in Sydney, having been installed at Whitbread’s London brewery in 1785 and having worked there for 102 years. It was saved from the scrapheap by a request from one of the founders of this museum. Over its working life, it underwent such change that few parts now date from 1785, but it retained the same form and function and still incorporates the four innovations that made Boulton and Watt rotative engines successful and allowed them to change the world.

What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
The Australian innovation project has been a great team effort. To date it has resulted in an exhibition (Success and Innovation), database, book (Making it), CD-ROM, website (Australia Innovates), new object acquisitions, deeper collection knowledge, and interaction with many interesting innovators. I learnt to be a curator during the exhibition, widened my skills and knowledge as one of the developers of the CD-ROM, and enjoyed leading the website team.

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