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

Chapter 10

I 1. Introduction

II 2. The Role Of Technology

III 3. Some Highlights Of Australian Minerals Technology

IV 4. Other Technological Achievements (in brief)

V 5. Export Of Technology

VI 6. Education And Research

VII 7. The Scientific Societies

VIII 8. Conclusion



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2. The Role Of Technology

Mineral industries are by their very nature technological and have been so throughout history, commencing with the earliest ceramics ranging from the utilitarian to the exquisitely beautiful, through to the jewels of antiquity and the tools and weapons of early Man. In the modern context the industries are characterised by a wealth of tradition, a voluminous literature, an extraordinary propensity for adaptation and innovation, an unquenchable optimism, a remarkable freemasonry in the exchange of information and experience, and a marked mobility among the operators in all parts of the world. It is in keeping with this framework that among the earliest arrivals to the coalfields of New South Wales, the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria and the copper fields of South Australia were mining engineers, metallurgists and chemists, engineers, geologists and surveyors, in addition to experienced miners from the British Isles, Germany and North America. Also it was natural that the first operations were adaptations of practices learned in those countries. The early iron smelting practice was English. The coal mining practices were mostly English, Scottish and Welsh. The copper mining and smelting were mostly Cornish, Welsh and German, and Cornish and Californian technology were basic to the gold era, especially when the surface alluvial mining had to be followed by deep leads and reef mining where water problems were intense and quartz crushing required steam driven machinery of the stamp battery, the Berdan pan and kindred types.

Even in those early days, however, innovations were common and remarkable ingenuity was displayed by the operators in improving and enlarging the devices inherited from European and Californian practice and in the introduction of roasting the sulphides associated with the gold. This in turn stimulated the establishment of iron and bronze foundries and engineering workshops. Railways and telegraph lines were constructed and waterworks established, and consolidation of towns and agriculture was achieved. In the mining centres themselves schools of mines, libraries and mechanics institutes were set up, for example, Ballarat School of Mines in 1871 and Bendigo School of Mines in 1873. The University of Melbourne, founded in 1853, commenced the teaching of mining within the civil engineering course in 1874. With the epochmaking discovery of the Broken Hill lead-silver-zinc deposit in 1883, and in recognition of the need for advanced professional, technical and management training, the forerunner of The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy was formed in 1893 by the joint efforts of Broken Hill and Ballarat managers. This preceded by a decade the development of the flotation process at Broken Hill and its spread throughout the entire mining world.

The gold discoveries in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in the early 1890s were followed by developments similar to those in eastern Australia, and the complex character of the sulpho-telluride ores aroused much metallurgical innovation which was to spread, like the Broken Hill flotation process, to international gold mining operations. The inward flow of innovations from sources outside Australia, including major processes such as cyanidation and chlorination, has thus been matched by an outward flow of original Australian technology in exploration, mining and metallurgy. This export of technology is a continuing feature of the Australian mineral and metal scene. Australian techniques, and to some extent investment, have features in mining development in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, Philippines, and in more recent times in North and South America and Japan. Australian consultants and contractors are increasingly active, especially in the South East Asian region, and Asian students and research workers are being trained in Australian universities, colleges and research establishments. Australian geoscientists have a notable historical and continuing record in Antarctic research.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy; Ballarat School of Mines; Bendigo School of Mines

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 736 - 737, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher