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

Chapter 12

I The First Half Century - The Initial Struggle

II The Second Fifty Years - The Start Of Expansion

III The Third Fifty Years - Federation And The First World War

IV The Fourth Period - Second World War To The Present



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Eloquence amounts to mentioning the gist of the matter and then stopping. (continued)

The first years of settlement in Australia were years of great hardship maintaining an existence and self-sufficiency in water and food. The first bricks were made at Brickfield Hill, Sydney Cove in 1788 and salt was being produced from sea water by 1790. While the population doubled in the first two years, there was a great lack of skills and mechanical training and little thought was given in Britain to providing such to the colony, partly because technically skilled people were finding ready positions in its own then rapidly developing industries. The position was possibly worsened by the outbreak of war between England and France in 1793 which was not finally settled until 1815.

One notable feature of the early years of settlement in Australia was the importance of government in all activities; it became the major controller of production (mainly foodstuffs and clothing) and the main consumer of goods. This is a feature that has had a considerable influence on technological developments in Australia, even up to the present and it is interesting to note that a NSW Government Cabinet submission in 1912, investigating the establishment of a State steelworks stated ' . . . here the Government would be the biggest customer -for rails, for iron in bridges and plates for ships, and for numerous other purposes.'

Gradually private capital was brought to the colony and in the first two decades there were rapid profits made by a comparatively few people. Unfortunately, these same people had, for the most part, no sense of commitments and made few long term plans. What money was made was reinvested in trade, mainly through the importing of goods for sale, or through sealing and fishing.

While the Government was the mainspring of activity, small private industrial ventures were starting in the first decade mainly associated with flour milling, beer brewing and the making of footwear, soaps and candles, blacksmithing equipment and shipbuilding. Grain was first milled by handmills brought out with the first fleet and Hunter imported the first windmill to be used for this purpose in 1795, but such was the lack of mechanical skills in the colony that it could not be erected for some two years. It was followed in 1798 by a water mill at Parramatta.

Hand ground grain was quite expensive, for example, with wheat at 12/- per bushell in 1796, flour was 26/6 and the high prices tended to stay high as the early powered mills generally failed to give the improved productivity that was expected. Further, a high proportion of the iron grinding mills deteriorated because no one had the skill to resharpen them. In a similar vein, although a printing press arrived in 1788 it could not be put into use until 1795 through lack of the necessary skills. In general it can be said that much enterprise was retarded by the lack of tools, the poor quality of those reaching the colony and the general low level of skills available. In some cases initiative was stifled as with distilling where this was a rapidly growing enterprise in 1794 but this was prohibited by law in 1796 because grain was in short supply in the Colony.

Against this, shipbuilding was prohibited from the beginning by the Charter, presumably so that convicts could not escape but this was reversed in 1798 when private shipbuilding began; by 1805 between 30 and 40 vessels had been launched. Ships had been needed for two reasons, to support travel within the Colony and for sealing, which had become a lucrative trade. Within ten years the population, numbering 5000, had begun to spread out from Sydney Cove to Parramatta and towards the Hawkesbury river, areas which were to become food suppliers to the Colony, but were only viable if cheap water transport was available. In addition, coal had been discovered by Lieutenant John Shortland at Newcastle in 1797 and regular visits were made, for example by the Martha built in Sydney in 1799, as coal was in demand in other parts of the British Empire at that time.

People in Bright Sparcs - Shortland, Lieut. John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 850 - 851, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher