High-voltage history

23 MarExhibitions

Have you ever heard the diesel generators of the Keith Street Power Station? It’s an astounding experience: the thunder of those two British Polar K48M engines rattles your ribs, and the sound seems to fill the whole world, your ears forgetting they ever heard anything else.

From 25 March, with Te Manawa’s help, you can take a look inside one of Palmerston North’s last pieces of industrial heritage. Power to the People – Keith Street Power Station is an exhibition of photographs by members of the Applied Photography Group, an affiliate of the Manawatu Camera Club. Always striving to improve their photographic technique, the APG went to Keith St to challenge themselves in the station’s historic halls.

By today’s standards, Keith St didn’t make a lot of electricity, but it generates untold power as a photographic subject. Whether it’s showing the grimy guts of the generators themselves, the volunteer engineers who keep them in working order, or the quiet spots away from the high-voltage action, Power to the People is a fascinating look into our industrial past, courtesy of some of Manawatu’s most skilled photographers.

The pictures themselves capture the haunting nature of the station’s spaces, places that 90 years ago would have bustled with activity but now stand silent. Tools lie untouched on benches, rickety staircases ascend into attics that moan with the wind, and banks of brass dials wait to report the flow of electricity that will never come again.

The building was declared an earthquake risk in 2013, and although the annual Palmerston North Electric Power Station society open days continue, in November, in concert with Local History Week, they now come with government-mandated “enter at your own risk” caveats (visits are also possible by arrangement). The dedicated PNEPS team have only a shoestring budget to work with; the exhibition will become another vital facet to the work of documenting, preserving, and perhaps one day restoring this historic site. Learn more about their efforts here.

Power to the People is your opportunity to see this part of our heritage beautifully framed by discerning eyes, and runs at the Te Manawa Gallery until 12 June.

Image credits: “Diesel Power” by Ross Hyde, and “Power to the People” by Ian Porritt

WwOl62BhRob Mildon has worked in the energy sector, at one point generating up to 12kW per day.