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

Chapter 13

I Colonial Origins

II First World War

III Between The World Wars

IV The Second World War

V Post-second World War

VI After The Joint Project

VII Science And Decisions At The Top

VIII Armed Services Technology

IX New Tasks And Projects

X Transfer Of Research And Development

XI Acknowledgement



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Colonial Origins

An adventurous and innovative spirit must have animated the early settlers in Australia who had to contemplate an existence in an unknown environment isolated by distance from their homelands. Possession of skills was a distinct advantage to those who had to make their way in a strange land, where new cities were springing up, land had to be subdued and rich mineral resources exploited. The innovative contributions of colonial Australians to agricultural practice and ready application of the burgeoning Western technology of the nineteenth century to development of the community testify to the ready acceptance of new ideas.

Defence of the individual colonies comprising Australia was not a matter of paramount concern to their governments during the nineteenth century. The ability of the Royal Navy to maintain the Pax Brittanica by subduing hostile movements on the high seas was taken for granted. Some concerted preparations were, however, made to defend the coastline in the vicinity of major settlements by the construction of fortifications against an imagined hostile movement by European or Asian nations, particularly Russia. The lack of factual information about political developments in the Northern Hemisphere and popular emotional response, strengthened by geographical isolation, led to the creation of military and naval forces, particularly in the Colony of Victoria, to meet the supposed menace.[2] The Government decided in 1887 to establish a factory at Maribyrnong for the manufacture of small arms ammunition, adopting the proposals of Captain John Whitney, who had already established his Colonial Ammunition Factory in New Zealand. An Irish immigrant, Louis Brennan, must have been among the first in Australia to have innovative ideas about weapons. He retained the Professor of Engineering at Melbourne University, Professor W. C. Kernot, as a technical consultant to develop his concept of a guided torpedo which could be controlled by wire from a shore installation. He took his idea to England, where the Royal Engineers were favourably impressed and caused the Government to establish a torpedo factory. Difficulty in controlling the device from a moving ship led to its eventual abandonment.

With the recognition by the separate colonies on the continent that responsibility for defence transcended their individual powers, and with thoughts of ultimate Federation being debated at length, little could be done to further technical considerations. Expert advice was sought from the British Government, who sent Major General Sir J. Bevan Edwards to report to each of the colonies on the state of their military forces. One of his recommendations was that a federal small arms factory should be established.

The Colony of Victoria which, before Federation, possessed a defence establishment consisting of an Army, a Navy, a munitions factory and administrative infrastructure, began in 1895 to consider seriously the future supply of explosives and gun propellants.[3] It became interested in the new material, cordite, (which had been recently adopted in the United Kingdom) and was advised by its Inspector of Explosives, C. Napier Hake, to follow suit rather than to consider the more familiar gunpowder. Hake's important technical contribution was recognised by his being appointed Scientific Adviser to the Victorian Government. He inspected cordite production in England and recommended its production in Victoria. Military commanders in conference in 1896 supported this proposition with a Resolution,

The Conference is of the opinion that it is desirable that Federal action should be taken for making cordite in Australia under Government supervision, and for the manufacture of gun and small arms ammunition and they are further of the opinion that, until such a factory is established, the defence of Australia is not in a safe and satisfactory condition.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Colonial Ammunition Factory

People in Bright Sparcs - Brennan, Louis; Edwards, Maj. Gen. Sir J. Bevan; Hake, C. Napier; Kernot, Prof. W. C.; Whitney, Capt. John

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 919 - 920, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher