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

Chapter 2

I Technology Transported; 1788-1840

II Technology Established; 1840-1940

III The Coming Of Science

IV From Science To Technology: The Post-war Years

V Products And Processes

VI Conclusion

VII Acknowledgements



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Technology Transported; 1788-1840 [5]

The First Fleet brought with it flour, wheat, ships' biscuits, salted meat and the sanguine expectations of the London officials that the infant settlement would quickly be able to supply itself with fish and the 'vegetable productions' of the land which, it was confidently hoped, would rapidly be tilled. The difficulties of bringing the land under cultivation have been well documented[6] and the reliance of Sydney Cove on the imported provisions for many a long day is also well known. Wheat from India and the Cape and salted meat from Tahiti were, for many years, the major foods of the colony.

Milling, and its concomitant baking, was the first branch of food technology practised at Sydney. Within a few weeks of the arrival of the fleet some forty iron hand mills were landed and put to use grinding wheat to produce flour. There was no provision, however, for their maintenance and they rapidly became blunt and almost useless. Nevertheless, they, and various other hand grinding methods, such as querns and pestles and mortars, were used night and day for long periods to prepare flour for baking. It was less a technology than a technique and the unremitting labour required led to innovation, and man-powered treadmills and capstan mills were built. The latter were more efficient and easily powered by horses, so that the former lasted only a short time.

The most common source of power in England at that time was the water-race. Watermills were installed at Norfolk Island in 1795, but, in spite of earlier attempts, the first on the mainland was that at Parramatta in 1804. Unfortunately, it suffered from an intermittent water supply. Windmills were the obvious answer but Phillip had no competent millwright, though two windmills were operating at Norfolk Island in 1796. In 1795, Governor Hunter brought with him the essential working parts of a windmill, but it was not until he found a convict who knew a little about the subject that they were assembled and Sydney's first windmill began operation on Millers' Point in January 1797. By 1809 there were seven windmills working in Sydney, and the first steam driven mill was John Dickson's, opened by Governor Macquarie in 1815.

By this time agriculture was becoming established and farmers were beginning to realise that they were losing yield by transporting grain to Sydney for milling. Accordingly, milling became decentralized and from 1820, there was a sharp increase in the number of mills in New South Wales. There were 46 in 1830, most of them small and many of them on individual farms. Only 13 of them were in Sydney. By 1840 there were about 100 in the colony and from 1850 to the new roller technology of the early 1880s, the number fluctuated between 140 and 200.

The pattern was repeated in all the Australian colonies, the sources of energy being steam, water, wind, or horse, but the milling technology was the same in them all; a fixed bed stone, and a rotating 'runner' on top with feed through a central 'eye'. Both stones were grooved in such a way that the wheat grain was cut and the starch granules released for further size reduction by grinding. The ground meal was delivered to the edges of the stones and refined by sieving through silk screens. It was a very ancient technology and it remained in use until the Hungarian system of roller milling was introduced in 1879. For a long time, however, milling in Australia remained essentially a village technology, though the period under review saw the introduction of some improvements in the pretreatment of wheat, in the sieving of the meal, and in the separation of mill streams.

People in Bright Sparcs - Dickson, John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 72 - 73, Online Edition 2000
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