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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
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Sir Lindesay Clark


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The title of this book was not finally decided until most of the text had been written. When the idea was first put to the Academy of giving recognition in our bicentennial year to the massive contribution of technology to the development of our Australian way of life and standard of living it seemed that what we were engaged in was The History of Technology in Australia. But as the work proceeded it became clear that this was too comprehensive. The final title was arrived at by an evolutionary process which does much to explain the nature of this work and its essence.

Technology, pervading as it does all arts and sciences, indeed everything we do, puts a definitive history out of range, even of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering; but a careful selection of chapter headings has provided a coverage of the field wide enough for practical purposes, although no doubt risking the censure of omissions.

The decision which, more than anything else, controlled the evolution of the title, was that individual chapters were to be assigned to Fellows of the Academy, to whom authorship was to be attributed. This ensured that the authenticity of the contents was certified by acknowledged experts in their fields. It was a concomitant of this decision that each author should treat his subject in the way he thought suited it best, and that his own idiolect should be allowed to prevail over the alternative of editorial standardisation.

The authors were, however, asked to conform to some general principles in presenting their material. Whenever pertinent, they were to identify and describe, in the way of historians, the impact of the technology in their care on the social development of our society, our character, and our way of life. In this way it was hoped to compromise between the subjective and potentially controversial views of the professional historian and the scientific exactitude of the technologist.

Also, because Technology in Australia does not delimit the book's scope, and every author, if unrestricted, could write a whole book on his own subject, special attention was given to what is peculiarly Australian by way of innovation and adaptation. Initially all our technology had to be imported with our pioneers and much of this cannot be left out of a coherent account. Furthermore, the recognition, importation and adaptation of technology which has been developed overseas, but is of special relevance to Australia, is even sometimes a superior achievement to a local invention, however original. So the authors had to select the material which best illustrated the objectives of the volume. By economy of writing they seem to have met these conditions within the limitations of space set by the Academy without having had to exclude anything of great significance.

The individual chapter headings do not always fully describe their contents and this may perhaps give rise to criticisms of omission which may not be justified. The extensive index, an important feature of the book, will to some extent cure this deficiency, but there are two areas worth special mention, as their specific omissions are unlikely otherwise to escape comment. These are Aboriginal technology, and technology relating to the environment. These technologies were both discussed as possible chapters on their own, but in the end the view prevailed that they were better assimilated, where appropriate, into the other chapters. The application of new technology will almost inevitably affect the preservation of the status quo, and must be modified or adapted where it is necessary to resolve a conflict of interest. In this context Environmental Technology is hardly a separate species.

The Aborigines in 1788 were a strictly palaeolithic race, so that they had to develop without the benefit of the metals which produced the various Ages of Man in other parts of the world. Their achievements, great as they were, are difficult to put in the same context as a ready-made technology imported from industrialising Britain, and perhaps belong more in the realm of anthropology. If the book purported to be a complete history, or were not specifically limited to the last 200 years, a special place for Aboriginal technology would, of course, be necessary.

So Technology in Australia - 1788 to 1988 was conceived, born, and eventually christened, a finite work about an infinite subject, with a name that picked itself; part history, part sociology but, it is hoped, authentic and objective. To make each chapter a story in itself, the possibility of some repetition into the penumbra of adjacent fields was not excluded, but turned out to be minimal. The publication of this volume will fill a gap in the technical libraries of the world, but will also bring to the public at large some recognition of the essential role that technology has played in delivering to it the good things in life.

A work of this magnitude cannot be completed without the involvement of more people than it is possible to acknowledge here. Collectively I extend to them, on behalf of the Academy, our warmest thanks and gratitude. Special thanks, however, must be given to the Fellows who wrote or took responsibility for compiling individual chapters; to those others who contributed to the actual writing of the text including those specialists who contributed segments of chapters (all of whose work is acknowledged elsewhere in its proper place); and to the three authors who took over at a late stage chapters whose original authors had been obliged to withdraw, Mr. Geoff O'Malley, Mr. Roger Morse, and Dr. Peter Richards. In all well over a hundred contributors and advisers were involved. I would also like to make special mention of the editor, Frank Eyre, who sadly did not live to see the book through the press, but without whose experience, encouragement, and tactful coercion the Volume might never have been finished, and certainly not on time; Mr. Jim Woodcock, who filled in as editor in the final stages; and the indexer, Mrs. Dorothy Prescott, for her valuable assistance.

To Western Mining Corporation Limited, and its chairman, Fellow Sir Arvi Parbo, the Academy is most grateful for such generous support in financing this publication. It is hoped that the Volume will be seen as a fitting memorial to the late Sir Lindesay Clark, a former chairman of Western Mining Corporation, a foundation Fellow of the Academy, and a very considerable contributor to the development of Technology in Australia.

R. T. Madigan Chairman Publications Committee

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