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

Chapter 5

I 1788 - State Of The Art In Textile Technology

II Australian Textiles - The Early Days

III Australian Textiles - The 20th Century

IV Australian Textiles - To Date

V Acknowledgements



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Chapter 5 - Australian Innovation in Textile Technology (continued)

This outline comparison of textile productivity and quality in the late 18th Century and today sets the scene for the discussion below of Australian innovation in textile technology. Technology is, of course, only one aspect of the manufacturing process. How that technology is used is as important, and what products are made perhaps even more important, for ultimately, no matter how ingenious or efficient manufacture is, if the product is not marketable, i.e. desired or needed by the customer, it is worthless. These two aspects -the efficiency of application of technology and marketing -are not part of this story. They are for others to ponder in assessing the overall success of Australian textiles.

Clearly, then, textiles have been important to Australia from two points of view: firstly, in agriculture, there was the development and role of wool, and, to a much lesser extent, cotton as important exports and, secondly, in secondary industry there was the development of a textile-manufacturing industry that today remains an important albeit continually threatened component of the manufacturing sector. As far as wool and cotton are concerned, both are to some extent quite distinct stories. In the early days of settlement, wool was obviously the principal raw material for local textile manufacture, as well as being an important export as a raw or partially processed product (i.e. scoured). As the problems of growing cotton showed signs of solution in the early 20th Century, local textile manufacturers utilised it fully and also imported considerable quantities. Indeed, it was only in comparatively recent times (the 1970s) that cotton production became so large that exports of the raw product began to dominate local usage.

With the introduction of synthetic fibres in the late 1930s -imported at first and then, after the War, manufactured locally using English technology -the textile manufacturing industry began to take the shape it has today: an industry dominated by cotton and synthetics. Only 3 per cent of the total wool clip is now processed through to end-product in Australia, although a good proportion (about 25 per cent) is partly processed (scoured, carbonized, or made into top) before export.

As a result of the above structure, the pattern of technical innovation in textiles in Australia has been essentially on two levels. Firstly, manufacturers have principally utilised technology developed overseas, innovating by adaptation to improve efficiency or to develop a particular product that satisfies local market conditions. There are few examples of developments arising that have had truly international significance. Nevertheless, some developments have been very important at the company level in maintaining or improving profitability against local competitors and imports.

Secondly, as competition from synthetics developed rapidly after the Second World War, a joint Government/woolgrower-funded commitment to research and development for wool has led to a number of internationally significant technological developments. These have been utilised in improving wool marketing, wool processing and the marketability of the wool end-product. In some cases they have also enabled the development of wool end-products that have opened up new markets for the fibre.

The main threads of this chapter, therefore, are (i) the development of textile manufacture in Australia, (ii) major development in the main technology used at each phase in history (the technology in use at the time of colonization, developments up to the First World War, between Wars, and after the Second World War) and, as appropriate, the nature and role of local innovation, and (iii) the development of new technology for wool to help maintain and improve its position as a world fibre.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 255 - 256, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher