A Powerhouse of writing stimuli


For just a few dollars as a general admission fee, it is possible to view any number of interesting, strange, macabre and provocative objects at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum.

Of the collections and exhibitions currently on show, I was most impressed with

  • Recollect Shoes:  a display covering 500 years and seven continents
  • A Fine Possession – Jewellery and Identity: which celebrates the place of 700 iconic pieces and rare objects
  • The Strictly Ballroom Story: showing elaborate performance costumes, stills and highlights from the original film.

Many of these items would be suitable as a starting point for creative writing. It is permissable to take photos (without flash) of objects on general display.


Consider asking students to choose a shoe and write a character sketch:

  • who might have worn these?
  • who is wearing them now?
  • how would they feel to wear?
  • what could these shoes be capable of?

Alternatively, students might write a descriptive pause of where a particular shoe, or pair of shoes, had been on that day. Perhaps a specific event or situation and allow the shoe a voice to describe and narrate.

IMG_3802Writing creatively should be about having fun and it need not be necessary to understand the historical background or owner of an item. Many shoes originate from the Joseph Box Collection, who was a court boot maker and kept meticulous records. Consider this illustration of an actual foot: IMG_3778Students could perhaps visualise, draw and describe the shoes that, over time, would have produced these problems. Alternatively, it might be interesting to write a dialogue between the shoe maker and the duchess where there is a discussion as to the best (or least painful) form of footwear needed.

Similar questions could be posed as a ‘way in’ to writing about a piece of personal jewellery, such as these rings with miniature paintings of a beloved’s eye.


The legend for this display states

Miniature portrait paintings were exchanged among the European elite from the 1500s. They became widely popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s and were often set within jewellery, particularly pendants and lockets. Sometimes miniatures were painted only with the beloved’s eye. These intriguing ‘portraits of the window of the soul’ supposedly expressed the most intimate feelings, without revealing the lover’s identity. The backs of miniatures were often set with intricately braided hair, another keepsake of the beloved.

Other pieces are much more playful, such as Fiona Hall’s tiara, made from sardine cans and depicting the Australian grass tree.


If these ideas have students writing fearlessly, why not consider writing poetry? The Red Room Company hosts an ongoing project and competition where students and teachers are asked to submit poems inspired by important objects. Prizes are awarded for Best Student Poem in both primary and secondary divisions, as well as Best Teacher Poem and Best School Installation.

The competition re-opens in May 2015. Find out more at the Red Room Poetry Object, including  a suite of excellent teaching resources.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s