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

Chapter 11

I The Present Energy Economy

II Australian Energy Consumption

III Research And Development

IV Coal

V Oil And Natural Gas

VI Solar Energy

VII Nuclear Energy

VIII Bagasse Firewood And Other Biomass

IX Electric Power Generation And Distribution electric Power Generation And Distribution

X Manufactured Gas

XI Industrial Process Heat



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Chapter 11 - Energy

The Australian continent's climate and geographical location have had a big impact on the country's industrial and technological development. Australia is arguably the most industrially developed country in the zone 30 degrees North and South of the equator and embraces both temperate and tropical climates. It is well suited to the development, testing, manufacture and export of hardware and knowhow relating to products needed by people who live in hot climates, representing about two-thirds of world population.

The discovery of Australia, its settlement, and subsequent early links with the outside world, were accomplished through the use of wind power for sea transport. The early pioneers concentrated on developing the southern coastal part of the continent, using wood, which was plentiful, for fuel. The semi-arid inland, with its harsh environment, was penetrated quite slowly and the settlers were isolated to an extent which today seems incredible. The only land communication was by saddle horse, horse and buggy, bullock wagon and, eventually, stage coach and railways. Very large tracts of land were available but the only sources of energy were man-power and horse and bullock power for clearing, cultivation, harvesting, and transportation. Lighting was by candle and, later, by kerosene hurricane lamp and pressure petrol and kerosene lamps.

These factors initially restricted agricultural production to wool, wheat and cattle. The technique of ringbarking trees growing on land needed for grazing or cultivation was an ingenious and extremely energy efficient method of land clearing. It is unclear whether this was an Australian innovation but it was widely practised right up to the 1920s. The dead trees did not interfere with grazing, they could easily be burnt where paddocks were needed for cultivation and they were a prolific source of firewood.

As railways extended further inland, using coal for fuel, the situation substantially improved. Corrugated galvanized iron became available for roofs and tanks. The homestead became a central block surrounded on all four sides by a wide verandah for shade. A wood fuel stove for cooking was universal, except for tiny huts which had only an open fireplace. Wood-fired steam traction engines were used on some large properties and steam stationary engines powered pumps for water supply and irrigation.

Water supply was a major problem and windmills were used extensively to pump from creeks and underground sources. The canvas water bag provided cool drinking water and the Coolgardie safe could keep fresh food edible for short periods. A major improvement to the quality of life in this harsh environment, however, was initiated in 1857 by the development of mechanical refrigeration by James Harrison in Geelong. This led to the construction of freezing works and the growth of a new industry to supply frozen beef, mutton and lamb throughout the country and also for export in refrigerated ships. Townspeople and those close enough to ice plants could also get regular supplies of ice for food storage. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington exhibits a model of Harrison's refrigeration plant. It was probably the most important single innovation in terms of its impact on living conditions in a hot climate.

People in Bright Sparcs - Harrison, James

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 779 - 780, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher