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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 1

I Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851
i The land and its resources
ii Aboriginal use of resources
iii The arrival of Europeans with their technology
iv Technological adaption for human survival
v Technological adaption for economic survival

II Farmers Take The Initiative: 1851-1888

III Enter Education And Science: 1888-1927

IV Agricultural Science Pays Dividends: 1927-1987

V Examples Of Research And Development 1928-1988

VI International Aspects Of Agricultural Research

VII Future Prospects

VIII Acknowledgements



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Chapter 1 - Innovation, Science and the Farmer

Groping In A Strange Environment: 1788-1851

The land and its resources

Australia is a large country. The distance by air across the continent from Perth in the west to Sydney in the east is 3,284 km, which presently (July, 1987) takes about 4.5 hours flying time by commercial jet. The distance from Hobart in the south to Cape York in the north is further than from London to Tel Aviv. Australia is also a very long way from most other countries and from the main markets of the world. The fastest commercial flights now take 18.5 hours flying time from Sydney to New York, 23 hours to London and 9.5 hours to Tokyo. A container ship today takes just under 4 weeks to sail direct from Sydney to London. This is an improvement on the 15 weeks or more most ships took for the voyage in the 1850s but it still means a long wait for customers in Europe between ordering and receiving goods from Australia.

Such a large country inevitably has a wide range of climates. These vary from temperate in Tasmania, to tropical in Cairns, and hot and dry in Alice Springs. Rainfall is highest around the perimeter of the country and it rapidly decreases inland, so that most of Australia is semi-arid, arid or desert. Characteristically, rainfall is notoriously unreliable as well as sparse, so that severe and long droughts are common over much of the continent. Over such a large area the soils, too, are variable, but they are mostly ancient in origin and are widely deficient in phosphorus and nitrogen. Localised deficiencies of trace elements (particularly copper, cobalt, zinc, molybdenum) also occur in many areas.[1]

At the time of the first European settlement the indigenous tree cover of the continent consisted predominantly of more than 500 species of evergreen Eucalyptus. The most common indigenous specie of grass was the perennial, summer-growing tussockgrass, Themeda australis, commonly known as kangaroo grass, which is closely related to the Themeda triandra that is prevalent in the grazing lands of South Africa. Despite the marked contrasts in climate to the unpractised eye the indigenous vegetation had a sameness about it across the continent. To the first arrivals from Europe it offered few products that were considered useful except wood for timber and fuel, and food for livestock. The settlers brought the livestock with them, for there were no domesticated animals or birds in Australia. The kangaroo, the largest available terrestrial animal, was hunted by the Aborigines, and then by the Europeans, for meat and skins but was not domesticated.

Thus the agriculture that was developed from 1788 onwards was derivative; the crops, livestock, technology and concepts of agricultural production were all imported. The special characteristics of the climate, the soils and the economic circumstances of Australia made necessary immediate and lengthy processes of adaptation and innovation before successful systems of Australian agriculture could be evolved.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 1 - 2, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher