The Oopsatoreum: a fiction by Shaun Tan and friends

tea-timerBehind every enduring innovation lies a vast cemetery of achievement: the world of failed inventions. Award-winning author and illustrator Shaun Tan explores this forgotten world in The Oopsatoreum, a collaboration with the Powerhouse Museum which tells the fictional tale of a strikingly original but spectacularly unsuccessful inventor: Henry Archibald Mintox.

The Oopsatoreum features a selection of ‘inventions’ drawn from the Powerhouse Museum collection, some known treasures such as an early model by Lawrence Hargrave and others largely obscure, but all part of  an exhibition that reminds us that all inventions, no matter how successful, begin as a daring act of imagination.

An automatic tea-maker, sheep clippers, an early hearing aid and a portable typewriter are just some of the artefacts re-imagined by the award-winning author. According to Tan, Mintox was an inventor who produced “a startling range of prototype inventions from his back shed in Burrumbuttock, NSW, and came to be known as the ‘Edison of Australia’”.

In his belief that “fear could be neutralised by a simple association with an object of desire”, Mintox created the Mouse slippers (1938) in the hope of curing his wife’s rodent phobia. Instead Maude Mintox had to be rescued from a lake after running and falling in backwards trying to escape her own feet!

Other inventions include the Handshake gauge (1951), designed to measure the character of a person through their handshake, the Puppy confidant (1948), a mechanical dog with a concealed listening and recording device used for extracting criminal confessions, and the Laptop messenger (1920), an instant messaging device that proved, on occasion, Mintox was well ahead of his time.

A selection of some of Mintox’s own personal possessions is also on display, providing a glimpse into the life of this backyard inventor and his frequent (mis)adventures. These include the 1927 Austin Tourer that he planned to drive to Tasmania and the fat suit he wore to impress his audience at a lecture in the midst of the Great Depression.

Some of Mintox’s inventions have also been re-imagined by children from the Sydney Children’s Choir and visitors are invited to publish their own labels in the space speculating on the exact purpose and context of these objects, and how their maker may have intended them to operate.

The Oopsatoreum combines the genius in Shaun Tan with the remarkable Powerhouse Collection. Our aim is to inspire unbridled creativity in our visitors, and have a little fun!” said Powerhouse Museum Director, Rose Hiscock.

The Oopsatoreum is the third in the Powerhouse Museum’s ‘oreum series of collection-based collaborations with Australian artists, curated by Helen Whitty, and is the second collaboration with Shaun Tan following The Odditoreum in 2009. Interactive, engaging, thoughtful and playful The Oopsatoreum is rated as ‘suitable viewing for anyone who has ever made a mistake’.

Shaun Tan  grew up in Perth, Western Australia, and now works as an artist, author and filmmaker in Melbourne. Books such as The RabbitsThe Red Tree, Tales From Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer and feature film concept artist. He wrote and directed the 2011 Academy Award winning animated short film, The Lost Thing. In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in Sweden for his body of work.

The Oopsatoreum: a fiction by Shaun Tan and friends
Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo (Sydney)
Exhibition: 7 December 2013 – 6 October 2014

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Tea-timer