Category Archives: Australia

What Malcolm Turnbull might have learned from Alfred Deakin


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In jettisoning Alfred Deakin, the Liberals made a great mistake and showed the thinness of their historical memory.
National Library of Australia

Judith Brett, La Trobe University

Australia’s federal Liberal Party began not with Robert Menzies in 1945, but with Alfred Deakin’s Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909, and before that with his Liberal Protectionists.

As a leadership party, the Liberals have always needed heroes. But in the 1980s, as Liberals embraced deregulation, they turned against Deakin and the policies he championed.

In his brilliantly succinct description of Australian settlement, Paul Kelly identified the core policies of the early Commonwealth with Deakin, and compulsory arbitration and the basic wage with his Liberal colleague, Henry Bournes Higgins.

Deakin’s support for protection and for state paternalism were his key sins in the eyes of the Liberal Party as it rehabilitated the free-trade legacy of New South Wales Liberal premier George Reid. Reid is not a well-known figure, so this left the Liberals with only Robert Menzies for their hero, although he has now been joined by John Howard.

In jettisoning Deakin, the Liberals made a great mistake and showed the thinness of their historical memory. The party and its traditions did not begin with Menzies, but stretched back to the nation-building of the new Commonwealth, and into the optimism and democratic energies of the 19th-century settlers.

Indeed, Deakin was one of Menzies’ heroes. The Menzies family came from Ballarat, where Deakin was the local member, and his Cornish miner grandfather was a great fan.

Accepting his papers at the Australian National Library just before his retirement, Menzies described Deakin as “a remarkable man” who laid Australia’s foundational policies. It must be remembered that in 1965, Menzies supported all these policies the Liberals were later to discard.

When it came to choosing a name for the new non-labour party being formed from the wreckage of the United Australia Party, it was to the name of Deakin’s party that Menzies turned, so that the party would be identified as “a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary”.

Alfred Deakin In England, 1907.
National Library of Australia

This is a direct invocation of Deakin and his rejection of those he called “the obstructionists”, the conservatives and nay-sayers, who put their energies into blocking progressive policies rather than pursuing positive initiatives of their own.

In June this year, Turnbull quoted these words of Menzies, in his struggle with the conservatives of the party. Clearly Turnbull wants to be a strong leader of a progressive party, rather than the front man for a shambolic do-nothing government. He does have some superficial resemblances to Deakin: he is super-smart, urbane, charming and a smooth talker who looks like a leader. But as we all now know, he lacks substance.

When I first began thinking about this piece I was going to call it “What Malcolm Turnbull could learn from Alfred Deakin”. But I fear it may now too late for him to save his government, and might be more accurately called “What Malcolm Turnbull might have learned from Alfred Deakin”.

First, he could learn the courage of his convictions.

Deakin too was sometimes accused of lacking substance. He was not only a stirring platform orator, but he was quick with words in debate, and could shift positions seamlessly when the need arose. But he had core political commitments from which he never wavered. The need for a tariff to protect Australia’s manufacturers and so provide employment and living wages for Australian workers was one.

One may now disagree with this policy, but there was never any doubt that Deakin would fight for it.

Federation was another. In the early 1890s, after the collapse of the land boom and the bank crashes of the early 1890s, Deakin thought of leaving politics altogether. What kept him there was the cause of federation, and he did everything he could to bring it about.

He addressed hundreds of meetings and persuading Victoria’s majoritarian democrats that all would be wrecked if they did not compromise with the smaller states over the composition of the Senate.

Deakin had a dramatic sense of history. He knew that historical opportunities were fleeting, that the moment could pass and history move on, as it did for Australian republicans when they were outwitted by Howard in 1999.

In March 1898, the prospects for federation were not good. The politicians had finalised the Constitution that was to be put to a referendum of the people later in the year, but the prospects were not good. There was strong opposition in NSW and its premier, George Reid, was ambivalent.

Alfred Deakin at Point Lonsdale front beach, 1910.
Brookes family and Deakin University library

In Victoria, David Syme and The Age were hostile and threatening to campaign for a “No” vote. If the referendum were lost in NSW and Victoria, federation would not be achieved.

Knowing this, Deakin made a passionate appeal to the men of the Australian Natives Association, who were holding their annual conference in Bendigo. Delivered without notes, this was the supreme oratorical feat of Deakin’s life and it turned the tide in Victoria. Although there were still hurdles to cross, Deakin’s speech saved the federation.

The second lesson Turnbull could have learnt is to have put the interests of the nation ahead of the interests of the party and the management of its internal differences.

Deakin always put his conception of the national interest before considerations of party politics or personal advantage. And he fiercely protected his independence.

He too was faced with the challenges of minority government, but it is inconceivable that he would have made a secret deal with a coalition partner to win office. Or that he would have abandoned core beliefs, such as the need for action on climate change, just to hold on to power.

As the Commonwealth’s first attorney-general, and three times prime minister, Deakin had a clear set of goals: from the legislation to establish the machinery of the new government, or the fight to persuade a parsimonious parliament to establish the High Court, to laying the foundations for independent defence, and, within the confines of imperial foreign policy, establishing the outlines of Australia’s international personality.

Party discipline and party identification were looser in the early 20th century than they were to become as Labor’s superior organisation and electoral strength forced itself on its opponents.

But as the contemporary major parties fray at the edges, and their core identities hollow out, Australians are crying out for leaders with Deakin’s clear policy commitments, and his skills in compromise and negotiation.

Had Turnbull had the courage to crash through or crash on the differences within his party on the causes we know he believes in, he too might have become a great leader and an Australian hero.


The ConversationJudith Brett’s new book The Enigmatic Mr Deakin is published by Text.

Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Powerful and ignored: the history of the electric drill in Australia


Tom Lee, University of Technology Sydney and Berto Pandolfo, University of Technology Sydney

Portable electric drills didn’t always look like oversized handguns.

Before Alonzo G. Decker and Samuel D. Black intervened in the 1910s, the machines typically required the use of both hands. The two men, founders of the eponymous American company Black & Decker, developed a portable electric drill that incorporated a pistol grip and trigger switch, apparently inspired by Samuel Colt’s pistol.

We are documenting a collection of more than 50 portable electric drills made roughly between 1930 and 1980.

Seen as part of a history of technology, they have a lot to teach us about function and form, masculine values and the history of Australian craft.


Read more: Reengineering elevators could transform 21st-century cities


The collection also represents an important chapter in Australian manufacturing, and includes drills produced by local companies such as Sher, KBC and Lightburn that have since disappeared. It also features models made by Black & Decker, which once had manufacturing operations in Australia.

The CP2 manufactured by Black & Decker in Croydon, Victoria. There is evidence of this model being on the market from 1963 to 1966, although we suspect it was available earlier and for much longer.
Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

Design historians and collectors have paid little attention to the electric drill. It’s seen as an object of work, unlike domestic items such as the tea kettle, which can be statements of taste and luxury.

But the device deserves our attention. It’s considered the first portable electric power tool, and arguably helped to democratise the industry, putting construction in the hands of everyone from labourers to hobbyists.

The electric drill in Australia

Australia once played a significant role in producing the portable electric drill.

Ken Bowes & Co. Ltd, known as KBC, was a South Australian manufacturing company founded in 1936. Although it produced domestic appliances such as the bean slicer, die casting of military components such as ammunition parts (shell and bomb noses) and tank attack guns kept the company busy during World War II.

It appears that KBC entered the hardware market in 1948 with its first portable electric drill, designed for the cabinet maker and general handyman. The body of the drill was made from die-cast zinc alloy and it had a unique removable front plate on the handle to allow the user easy access to the connection terminals.

KBC drill and label (note the lack of integration between handle and body), circa 1950s.
Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

In 1956, Black & Decker established an Australian manufacturing plant in Croydon, Victoria, where drills such as the CP2 were manufactured.

Between 1960 and 1982, many power tool brands had a media presence. KBC sponsored a radio program called, appropriately enough, That’s The Drill. Wolf power tools were awarded as prizes on the television program Pick-A-Box.

Black & Decker ran advertisements that appeared during popular television programs and used endorsements by sporting celebrities such as cricketer Dennis Lillee.

While the popularity of portable power drills has endured, the manufacture of these objects in Australia more or less vanished by the end of the 20th century.

Why we value some objects and not others

The portable electric drill has been poorly documented by designers, historians and museums.

Obvious repositories for their collection, such as museums of technology or innovation, are increasingly challenged by space and funding pressures. Apart from a few token examples, many everyday objects have not managed to establish a museum presence.

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney holds at least two vintage portable electric drills: one is a Desouthers, made in England, and another drill of unknown origin. Museums Victoria has one example of a Black & Decker electric drill from the 1960s in its digital archive.

The crude utility of the portable drill is part of the reason why it has escaped much academic scrutiny.

The Black and Decker U-500 drill. The first drill to be completely manufactured in Australia at the Crodyon factory in Victoria.
Berto Pandolfo, Author provided

Design studies and collections tend to focus on luxury objects such as Ferrari sports cars and Rolex wristwatches. Even kitchen and home appliances get more attention, especially those designs associated with high-end companies such as Alessi and designers such as Dieter Rams and Jasper Morrison.

By contrast, the electric drill remains a B-grade object. It is a stock weapon in horror films, although even there it lacks the status reserved for the more sublimely threatening implements of violence such as swords, spears and guns.

The case for the drill

Hard yakka and aesthetics have not typically been happy bedfellows. However, labour and its associated objects can provide a compelling look at contemporary life.

Like the laptop computer, the shape of which is tied to the “macho mystique” of the briefcase, the pistol form of the portable drill seems to be significantly influenced by ideas of power and masculinity.

The symbolic association with the pistol is also practical, and would have no doubt eased the burden for those early users struggling with the device’s weight.


Read More: Apple’s goodbye to the MP3 player reminds us why the iPod became an instant classic


A recent turn towards the everyday as a site for design anthropology will hopefully shift focus towards inconspicuous yet important technologies like portable electric drills.

These objects are part of a rich history that will be forgotten if institutions focus exclusively on luxury items, big name designers and cultures of display and ornament.

The ConversationEven our most anonymous objects are sources of cultural expression, and they should not be overlooked.

Tom Lee, Lecturer, Faculty of Design and Architecture Building, University of Technology Sydney and Berto Pandolfo, Director Industrial Design, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Living blanket, water diviner, wild pet: a cultural history of the dingo



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A watercolour of a dingo, pre-1793, from John Hunter’s drawing books.
By permission of The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

Justine M. Philip, University of New England

In traditional Aboriginal society, women travelled with canine companions draped around their waists like garments of clothing. Dingoes played an important role in the protection and mobility of the women and children, and are believed to have greatly extended women’s contribution to the traditional economy and food supply.

Wongapitcha women carrying dogs which they hold across their backs to enjoy the warmth of the animals’ bodies,
Photo and caption: Herbert Basedow, 1924. Glass plate negative, by permission of the NMG Macintosh collection, J. L. Shellshear Museum, University of Sydney.

Dingo pups were taken from the wild when very young. The pups were a highly valued ritual food source, while others were adopted into human society. They grew up in the company of women and children, providing an effective hunting aid, a living blanket and guarding against intruders.

Nursing young dingo pups was also deeply embedded in traditional customs. Interspecies breastfeeding of mammalian young was common in most human societies pre-industrialisation, historically providing the only safe way to ensure the survival of motherless mammalian young. Technological advances in milk pasteurisation made artificial feeding a viable alternative by the late 1800s.

Cohabitation with human society represented a transient phase of the dingo’s lifecycle: the pups generally returned to the wild once mature (at one or two years of age) to breed. As such, dingoes maintained the dual roles of human companion and top-order predator – retaining their independent and essentially wild nature over thousands of years.


Further reading: Dingoes do bark: why most dingo facts you think you know are wrong


Post-colonisation, it became too dangerous to keep the semi-wild canines in the Aboriginal camps. Dingoes were targeted for eradication as livestock holdings spread across the country. Their removal would have had a profound impact on the women, resulting in a great loss of traditional knowledge and status.

DNA studies estimate that the dingo arrived on the Australian continent between 4,700 and 18,000 years ago, representing perhaps the earliest example of human-assisted oceanic migration. They were adopted into Aboriginal society, maintaining a symbiotic partnership that lasted thousands of years, and for this reason have been celebrated as a cultural keystone species.

The dingo’s ability to locate water above and below ground was perhaps its most indispensable skill. Written records, artworks and photographs in museum archives reveal dingo water knowledge as recorded by European explorers. Records reveal a number of accounts of wild/semi-wild dingoes leading Europeans to lifesaving water springs.

In Australian cartography, a “Dingo Soak” refers to a waterhole dug by a mythical or live canine. There are other freshwater landmarks across the continent – “Dingo Springs”, “Dingo Rock”, “Dingo Gap”.

In Aboriginal mythology, the travels of ancestral dingoes map out songlines, graphemic maps tracing pathways across the continent from one water source to the next. Their stories tell of the formation of mountains, waterholes and star constellations. In some accounts, dingoes emerged from the ground as rainbows; in others they dug the waterholes and made waterfalls as they travelled through the landscape.

Ethnographic evidence

Human-dingo heritage is preserved in ethnographic collections in Paris, London and Washington DC. Artefacts include talismans and ornaments made of canine teeth, bones and fur; rain incarnations and love charms. Funerary containers were decorated with dingo teeth, providing protection for the spirit in the afterlife.

In one portrait from the Smithsonian collection, an Aboriginal woman wears a dingo tail headdress – a talisman believed to hold great power and worn by warriors going to battle.

Woman with headdress looking to the side, 1870-1873 by John William Lindt, albumen print 20 x 15cm.
Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives USNM INV 04926900

The Smithsonian Institutional Archives also reveal a wealth of information about the post-colonial social history of the dingo. Many semi-wild dingoes were kept in early Euro-Australian settlements, then transported live to England, France and later to America as diplomatic gifts or exotic animal displays.

It was noted that the dingoes remained essentially wild despite numerous attempts to domesticate them – they failed to respond to any amount of discipline, kindness, bribery or coercion. Despite 230 years of surviving on the fringes of human settlements, travelling in menageries and circus troupes, living in zoos and semi-domestic arrangements, this remains true today. The dingo has retained its independent character and irreversible prey drive.

However, they did breed quite well in captivity and zoos often had excess pups to trade. Occasionally these pups went to private homes. Affectionate and tractable when young, eventually their carnivorous nature would get the better of them. The majority soon ended up in difficult circumstances and back in the hands of officials.

Dingo pup, 1930. Popular official guide to the New York zoological park.
Zoo Ephemera collection, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Library.

A Roosevelt connection

The Smithsonian holds records of the first live dingoes to arrive in Washington DC in 1901, a gift from the US consul to New South Wales. A number of pups were later born at the National Zoo and documented in the daybooks and records of births, deaths, sales and exchange.

One file contains a curious letter, offering a home to one of the dingo pups on display, dated May 14 1908. The request for the pup was signed by Theodore Roosevelt junior. At the time, Theodore’s father was in office as the 26th president of the United States, and the Roosevelt family were in residence at the White House.


Further reading: A wolf in dog’s clothing? Why dingoes may not be Australian wildlife’s saviours


The Roosevelt children were well known for their eclectic pet collection. Many arrived as diplomatic gifts and ended up at the National Zoo, or were traded through the local Schmid’s Bird and Pet Animal Emporium at 712 12th Street NW. The list included snakes (which ended up, uninvited, in the Oval Office) and a pig, smuggled into the presidential residence under the care of a young Quentin Roosevelt.

The pig, once discovered, ended up in Schmid’s Emporium for sale under a sign stating: “this pig slept last night in the White House”. No records have surfaced about the Roosevelts’ dingo. However, five months later – around the time that the pup would have been challenging all boundaries of domestication – a sale notice appeared in The Washington Post, dated October 16 1908, under: DOGS, PETS, ETC.
“JUST RECEIVED, Dingo, Australian wild dog … SCHMID’S BIRD STORE 712 12TH.”

Baudin’s dingoes

The first live exhibit of dingoes in an international display appeared in the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1803. The pair, a male and female, had been collected by Captain Nicholas Baudin in Port Jackson, and transported to France on Le Naturalist in the care of François Péron (zoologist) and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (artist).

Frederick Cuvier, naturalist and zookeeper, was assigned to care for the dingoes in Paris. In 1924, he wrote:

This dog, who was female, was about eighteen months when she arrived in Europe. She lived in freedom in the vessel where she was embarked, and despite the corrections inflicted on her, as well as a young male that died as a result of a punishment too harsh, she continued to evade punishment and consume all that suited her appetite.

The female lived for seven years in the gardens, the male survived just two months after arrival.

Eventually the bodies of both were transferred to the stores of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle and preserved for perpetuity. Notes in the museum state that early on in the voyage of Le Naturalist, before departing King Island for France, the male dingo had “been too brutally castrated because of his independent character” and these injuries eventually killed him.

The taxidermy specimens remain in the vaults of the museum today.

NASA’s dingo encounter

In 2006, a team of NASA scientists from the Smithsonian’s Centre for Earth and Planetary Studies were in Australia’s Simpson Desert studying the formation of parallel desert dunes similar to those found on Mars.

Senior scientist Ted Maxwell took a photo of a wild dingo casually observing the scientists while they were staking out a dune on the Colson Track. Maxwell recorded the co-ordinates of their location, noting that it was a 60-kilometre journey across the desert to Dalhousie Springs, the nearest known permanent water source. The dingo appears completely at ease.

A dingo inspects scientists’ work during their expedition in the Simpson Desert, Australia. May, 2006.
Ted Maxwell, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

Another reference to a dingo appears in the Smithsonian records in 2014, this time as the NASA Curiosity Rover crossed the Martian landscape. The vehicle passed an ancient dried freshwater lake on Mars, before travelling up through “Dingo Gap” in the sand dunes.

The NASA scientists had mapped the surface of Mars into quadrangles, and named the locations after sites on Earth with a similar ancient geology or rock formations. Dingo Gap is named after a location near the remote Kimberly quadrangle in Western Australia.

The ConversationSo, in contemporary celestial narrative, a valley on the Martian landscape is named after the Australian wild dog, the dingo, that thrived for thousands of years in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.

Justine M. Philip, Doctor of Philosophy, Ecosystem Management, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Australia: A History of Massacres


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the history of Aboriginal massacres in colonial Australia.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/05/map-of-massacres-of-indigenous-people-reveal-untold-history-of-australia-painted-in-blood


What we can learn about fighting inequality from Australia’s convict past



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Analysis shows that while land values per acre rose at 2.2% per annum, land rents fell by 0.3% per annum in the 1800s.
Powerhouse Museum/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Laura Panza, University of Melbourne

In Australia’s first century, from initial convict settlement in 1788 to the post gold rush decades, the economy grew rapidly. And despite all the changes going on, we found that during this time Australia gained its equality edge.

In fact, during roughly the same period (1774 to 1870) the United States experienced a steep increase in inequality. So looking at this phase of Australian economic history could teach today’s policymakers some lessons.

In the nineteenth century, Australia enjoyed the fastest rate of GDP growth per worker, between 1821 and 1871 it was about twice that of the US and three times that of Britain. We started to look at data from the 1820s onwards. This was the time when Australia quickly evolved from a colony where convicts were 55% of the labour force to a more conventional “free” economy by 1870.

While both Australia and the United States used forced labour extensively (slaves in the southern US and convicts in Australia), their share of the labour force was much higher in Australia (more than half) than in America (about a fifth). The difference in the two countries’ trajectories on inequality has to do with the timing of the emancipation of forced labour, the duration of their coerced employment and changing economies.

How Australia avoided inequality in the past

In Australia convicts were gradually emancipated following the 1820s. As existing convicts eventually got their freedom, the inflow of new convicts fell sharply after the 1830s (except for Tasmania).

By the 1850s Britain had practically ceased its convict transportation policy. In contrast, the slaves in the American south were used as forced labour for much longer, and emancipated only after the Civil War.

Another key difference between the two countries lies in the fact that while the United States underwent a process of impressive industrial growth, Australia specialised in the export of wool and gold (small scale extraction).

We used a wage to rental ratio to work out income inequality, comparing rental income and land values to workers’ wages. What we noticed is that European settlement in Australia was characterised by labour scarcity and land abundance.

In fact, the ratio of acreage to farm labour rose by a whopping 11.7% per annum between 1828 and 1860 and by 6.3% per annum across the 1860s. This was because land endowments grew very fast after the Blue Mountains were breached in 1815. This trend was also matched by a reduction in the gap between rental income accruing to those who owned land, relative to what unskilled workers were receiving.

Australia specialised in the export of wool and gold (small scale extraction) when the US was undergoing a rapid period of industrialisation.
Powerhouse Museum/Flickr, CC BY

Our analysis shows that while land values per acre rose at 2.2% per annum, land rents fell by 0.3% per annum. This difference was driven by the fall in interest rates, because of the partial integration between Australian and British financial markets.

On the other hand, the annual earnings of unskilled labourers soared, pushing the wage-rental rate up. With the end of British transportation policy, the “emancipated” convicts moved up the earnings ranks. They almost doubled their incomes if they remained unskilled, and moved up even higher if they could exploit their skills.

But there is another important reason behind the rise in unskilled workers’ incomes. As Australia did not undergo a process of industrialisation, it did not experience an increased demand for skilled workers, like the US. So the supply of workers kept pace with the demand for skills.

Lessons to learn for today’s inequality

While today’s economic conditions are different, there is something that we can learn from this episode of Australian history. Australia’s experience shows that it’s possible to achieve fast growth, and at the same time, a reduction in inequality.

Between 1910 and 1980 inequality trends have been similar across OECD countries. As these trends were driven by shared shocks, such as the Great Depression and two World Wars, Australia experienced the same inequality.

Income inequality in Australia has been rising since the mid-1990s. At the start of the 21st century, the income share of the richest 1% of Australians was higher than it had been at any point since 1951.

The ConversationGreater equality obviously can’t be achieved by emancipating convicts now, but policymakers can mimic the same effect by targeting vulnerable segments of society that experience greater disadvantage. For example politicians could improve equality of access to health, education, housing and other services across the country.

Laura Panza, Economist, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Gold Rush Victoria was as wasteful as we are today



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Gold Rush garbage.
S.Hayes. Artefact is part of Heritage Victoria’s collection.

Sarah Hayes, La Trobe University

Australians are some of the biggest producers of waste in the world. Our wasteful ways and “throw away” culture are firmly entrenched. We have a hard time curbing our habits.

To understand why, we might turn our attention to the great social and economic transformation that occurred after the discovery of gold (by Europeans) in Victoria in 1851. Archaeological excavations across Melbourne have uncovered masses of rubbish dating back to the Gold Rush era of the 1850s and 1860s.

Artefacts recovered from sites within Melbourne show that the city’s Gold Rush era occupants were incredibly wasteful. You might think that 150 years ago, Victorians would have been thrifty and mended their belongings or sold them on secondhand. But the evidence suggests otherwise.

Working-class people living in Melbourne’s CBD were throwing out so much stuff that the weekly rubbish collections couldn’t manage all their trash. Residents were stockpiling rubbish under floorboards, in hidden corners of the backyard or digging holes specifically for it.

Cesspits (old-fashioned long drop toilets) were closed across the city in the early 1870s, leaving large empty holes in the ground. Residents took the opportunity to fill them with their surplus rubbish. Many of these rubbish dumps remain under current city buildings and have been found and recorded in cultural heritage management excavations.

Excavation of a cesspit in Little Lonsdale Street.
Green Heritage Compliance and Research

There were also larger rubbish dumps. At Viewbank homestead, on the outskirts of Melbourne, the tip was so big that archaeologists ran out of time to excavate it. Excavations at the Carlton Gardens have also uncovered a substantial amount of household rubbish dumped in the area by opportunistic city residents and night cart men.

Analysing the contents of all these rubbish dumps, it’s clear that people were discarding dinner sets and replacing them with more fashionable designs, buying and chucking out junk jewellery, and throwing out glass bottles in vast numbers in spite of industrial-scale local recycling operations. Sound familiar? They were even using “disposable” clay pipes, a Gold Rush era equivalent of our disposable coffee cups.

This plate was part of a large set discarded in the tip at Viewbank Homestead, likely because it was no longer in fashion.
S.Hayes. Artefact is part of Heritage Victoria’s collection.

Another surprising find was a rubbish pit dug in the backyard of a draper shop and filled with piles of seemingly perfectly good clothes and shoes. Perhaps they had gone out of fashion? Excess, it seems, is in Melbourne’s bones.

You are what you own

The discovery of gold brought a massive increase in population, new wealth, unprecedented access to a global network of consumer goods and great opportunities for social mobility. No one could be sure of your social background in the chaos of this rapid change. The old working, middle and upper class hierarchy became less relevant and it was possible to move up the social ladder.

How, then, did people communicate their status? Through stuff. Cultural capital refers to how people play the “culture game”: their accent, their clothes, their possessions, their manners, their interests. The argument goes that status is determined by the expression of cultural values and particular behaviours rather than wealth alone.

Dress Circle boxes Queens Theatre. Lucky Diggers in Melbourne 1853.
S.T.Gill. State Library of Victoria.

Everyday choices of consumer goods became powerful in carving out a new position and a better life in the new city. Your home, your furniture, your tableware, your drinking glasses, your clothes, all became vital markers of your place in society. You were no longer constrained by your situation of birth.

Melbourne society was reinvented and a new, much larger and more diverse middle class emerged. One that had a new system for determining status based largely on what they bought.

Why do we buy and why can’t we stop?

As a globalised world grapples with the problem of fast fashion, fast consumerism and a throw away culture, with massive landfills and climate change, the question of why we consume is more important than ever.

You might want to consume and waste less. But old habits die hard and it’s important to understand why we consume before we are able to make significant changes to our wasteful habits.

Social mobility might not have the currency that it did in the gold rush era, but we are still purchasing to communicate something. What we buy announces our position in the world and our values. Our possessions place us within one group and distance us from another just as they did in the Gold Rush era.

The ConversationAs the slow movement, anti-consumerism and concerns over sustainability gather pace, a new brand of cultural capital may emerge. A cheap polyester jumper and a disposable coffee cup may become a sign of inappropriate excess. A minimal wardrobe of ethically produced clothes and a reusable coffee cup could become the ultimate marker of status.

Sarah Hayes, Research Fellow in Archaeology and History, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


The ATM celebrates 50 years but we’re using it less


Steve Worthington, Swinburne University of Technology

As the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) celebrates its 50th birthday, it’s actually being used less and less to withdraw cash in Australia. There are currently more than 32,000 ATMs across Australia and cash withdrawals in February 2017 were A$9,924 million, down 10% from the previous year and just above the total of February 2005.

ATM’s (Automatic Teller Machines) were first introduced at the end of June 1967 and were welcomed by both bank customers and the banks themselves. This “hole in the wall” enabled customers to access their cash 24/7. The ATM’s self-service nature enabled the banks to reduce their costs, by closing bank branches, reducing opening hours and laying off staff.

But the Reserve Bank of Australia’s 2016 Consumer Payments Survey reported that cards were used more often than cash for in-person payments, as well as online payments. This is facilitated by Australian consumers and merchants’ rapid adoption of contactless.

The July 2017 changes to the level of merchant service fees for accepting payment cards might even further reduce our reliance on these machines. The changes should reduce surcharging and minimum spends for accepting cards (in theory) and we will then have even less reason to carry cash.

ATMs will need to evolve to remain relevant, perhaps taking on other services entirely.

Lots of cash, just not from ATMs

Paradoxically, there has never been so much cash available in Australia. By April 2017 there were 1.5 billion individual banknotes on issue, an average of 62 notes for every Australian. The RBA has recently opened a new super bank vault to store its contingency reserves of banknotes.

There are similar patterns in other countries. For example, the Bank of England notes in circulation rose by 10% in 2016, the fastest pace in a decade. This is despite technological advances that now allow people to pay by contactless cards and digital devices, such as mobile phones.

Why then is cash still so popular? The RBA’s 2016 survey concluded that cash is widely held as a store of value. If found 70% of respondents to the survey held cash in places other than their purses and wallets.

The government’s Black Economy Taskforce estimates that the Australian black economy is around 1.5% of GDP, or A$25 billion per year. Much of this is enabled by the use of hard cash, as opposed to electronic payments.

Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff wrote that physical cash can facilitate corruption and tax evasion. In his view, many of the disadvantages of cash could be reduced if larger denomination notes were withdrawn from circulation.

As an example, the Euro 500 note is due to be withdrawn from the end of 2018, however it may take more than this to reduce the underlying attraction of cash.

There are many assumptions, attitudes and beliefs which legitimise and perpetuate participation in the black economy. Questioning these will require behavioural change from all citizens, according to the Black Economy Taskforce’s interim report. As an example, if someone else is avoiding GST by paying in cash, others might think “well if they are doing it, I would be a fool not to do it myself”.

Other uses for the ATM

These are services available to bank customers through their ATMs in countries other than Australia. For example, ATMs could be made more efficient by encouraging more customers to deposit cash into the ATM and then recycling that cash in the machine to be used by those seeking to withdraw cash. This would remove many of the costs and security risks of constantly replenishing ATMs with cash.

Additional functions could be added to the ATM. In the United States you can buy postage stamps at the ATM; in Spain tickets to football matches; in Dubai bars of gold; in California fresh cupcakes and elsewhere fishing licenses and tax bills can all be accessed through ATMs.

As regards customer security to ward off identity theft, biometric measures could make access to the ATM more secure. In Japan finger vein scanning is already in use in many ATMs.

The ConversationThese developments could put ATMs in the forefront of an enhanced customer experience, giving the ATM reasons to survive for another 50 years.

Steve Worthington, Adjunct Professor, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Torrens, our land-title pioneer, might have approved of privatised registries



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Our land-title system originated in the mid-19th century when Sir Robert Richard Torrens campaigned to reform Adelaide’s chaotic deeds-based land system.
National Library of Australia

Karen Strojek, La Trobe University

Recent government moves to commercialise Australia’s state-based land-titles registries have generated strong concerns about transparency, security of title and loss of government revenue. It might surprise some readers that Sir Robert Richard Torrens, the man behind Australia’s cadastral “Torrens system” of conveyancing and land-title registration, was an economic liberal who just might have approved of the trend towards privatisation.

The story of Torrens and the Real Property Act of 1858 is fairly well known. Torrens took an interest in reforming South Australia’s chaotic deeds-based land system when an acquaintance lost money on a property, owing to a faulty title.

With help and advice from competent friends, and a sustained campaign for conveyancing reform, Torrens won the seat of Adelaide in the first parliamentary election of 1856. His Real Property Act came into effect in 1858. Soon afterwards, Torrens resigned from government to run the new land titles registry.

Under the new system, the location and dimensions of each land parcel were to be surveyed and registered. Every new land owner received a secure grant of title, guaranteed by the Crown.

Torrens: the man and his motivations

Sir Richard Robert Torrens was an admirer of John Stuart Mill.
Port Adelaide Enfield Local History Photos/flickr, CC BY

Torrens’ interest in market systems is less well known. His father, Colonel Robert Torrens, was both a colonisation commissioner and a noted political economist who wrote extensively on theories of rent, wages, profit and comparative advantages in trade. Colonel Torrens admired the early work of liberal theorist John Stuart Mill, especially his “system of logic” in economic science.

Expert historians, including Douglas Pike, Rosalind F. Croucher, Greg Taylor and Giancarlo de Vivo, have described the lives and works of father and son in detail. Still, the intellectual relationship between them remains unclear. How strongly was the son influenced by the father? Did he develop his own ideas on political economy?

One thing is certain: Torrens (the son) expressed strong admiration for Mill. In his prospectus for a new South Australian land bank, Torrens named him “the great economist” and “the most accurate thinker of our time”. He also quoted Mill:

To make land as easily transferable as stock would be one of the greatest economical improvements that could be bestowed on a country.

Land as a commodity

With the Real Property Act in place, Torrens could argue further that land, being immovable and indestructible, was the safest kind of collateral for loans of money. Its “limited extent” made it “yearly more and more valuable”.

So, freeing up the transfer of land for everyone was a stepping stone to freeing up flows of money, which Torrens saw as a good thing.

On one hand, the institutionalisation of land ownership has allowed the efficient, cheap transfer of land parcels via a single, trusted provider. It minimises costs for home buyers and gives them a certain peace of mind. As long as the transfer process is performed correctly, title holders are immune to claims from former owners and their creditors.

On the other hand, it has allowed faster, easier land speculation and wild fluctuations in property values. It seems that Torrens didn’t anticipate the phenomenon of the commodity price bubble and couldn’t foresee growing, public disquiet over market failures.

Privatising the system

In 2014, Victoria’s Liberal government proposed the sale of the state’s land titles office. Treasurer Michael O’Brien explained that “the market can perform those services just as efficiently, if not more so”. However, the Liberals lost to Labor at the November 2014 election and the sale did not go ahead.

Last year, the New South Wales Liberal government floated the idea of privatising the state’s land titles registry. Despite protests and arguments, the deal has gone through. Responsibility for title transfers has been leased to a consortium of investment fund managers. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian promised “more efficient practices and better outcomes for customers”.

Victoria’s recent 2017-18 budget includes funds for a scoping study to investigate the privatisation of its own land titles office. There have been some negative comments in the news media, but the final decision is still some time away.

Torrens, then and now

Is privatisation consistent with Torrens’ ambitions for land-titles reform? If the aim was to free up the trade in land and money by reforming an unruly, inefficient system, further reform couldn’t be called inconsistent.

Once the new system was established, Torrens didn’t stay put to run it. He travelled widely and, when nominated to run for parliament in Britain in 1865, resigned as registrar-general without returning to Australia. If the system mattered more than the people running it, shifting it back into private hands might not be inconsistent either.

The ConversationBut, if privatisation caused delays, eroded security, or raised the price of conveyancing, it wouldn’t be consistent at all. For better or worse, Torrens really wanted land transfers to be quick, safe and cheap.

Karen Strojek, PhD Candidate in Politics, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


From Joseph Banks to big data, herbaria bring centuries-old science into the digital age



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Specimens in herbaria include “pickled” plants in pots (shown here), dried specimens and fruits or seeds preserved whole.
Ainsley Calladine, State Herbarium of South Australia , Author provided

Michelle Waycott, University of Adelaide

Last month, priceless botanical specimens were destroyed after an apparent miscommunication between scientists and Australian customs officials.

Although unfortunate, the incident has focused attention on the importance of being able to share scientific specimens around the world, and the vital role that herbaria play in modern science.

Despite being sometimes described as “museums for plants”, herbaria aren’t just natural history storage and displays. In this era of DNA barcoding, big data, biosecurity threats, bio-prospecting, and global information sharing, herbaria are complex and evolving institutions.

The modern herbarium is steeped in tradition and full of antiquities, but it also leads the application of modern approaches to understanding our past, present and future natural world.

The power of 8 million specimens

If you tell someone that you work at a herbarium, most will ask “what’s that?”, or perhaps “oh, what kind of herbs do you grow there?”.

Herbaria house historically important plant specimens with precise details of their collection. The card on this 247 year old example reads: Viitadinia scacbra, DC. Australia: Queensland. Bustard Bay 24°05’S 151°28’E. 23 May 1770. Collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, Captain Cook’s first voyage 1768-1771.
The State Herbarium of South Australia, Author provided

Conventionally, a herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens that are stored and managed in an organised and structured way by curators and botanists who specialise in plant taxonomy and systematics.

There are some 3,000 active herbaria worldwide. As a collective, they contain more than 380 million specimens, spanning collections dating back as far as 500 years ago.

In Australia there are nine state, territory or national herbaria that, along with some university collections, hold close to eight million specimens. Four major Australian herbaria hold over a million specimens:

Herbarium specimens exist in many forms, including “pickled” plants or plant parts such as flowers or other delicate structures, dried specimens still attached to the surface on which they grew (like tree bark and rocks), and fruits or seeds preserved whole. But the overwhelming majority are dried, pressed plant specimens attached to archival card. Alongside these specimens there are sometimes drawings, paintings or photographs of the species, which capture details that are not discernible in the preserved specimen.

The Australasian Virtual Herbarium

The plant specimens don’t just exist on their own inside herbaria. Along with the specimens, the accompanying information is vital, such as where and when they were collected, specific details of the environments where they were collected, and who collected them.

In Australia, the major herbaria have been actively adding this information into a digital repository, resulting in a world-leading dataset: the Australasian Virtual Herbarium.

Sites of collection of Australian and New Zealand herbarium samples of the weed ‘Salvation Jane’ as displayed on the Australian Virtual Herbarium website.
Australian Virtual Herbarium

The collation of these resources helped to inspire the development of the Atlas of Living Australia, and gives anyone with an internet connection access to specimen records from around Australia and the world.

Specimen-based, online data sets provide evidence of what species are found in a particular place at a particular time. They are a direct link from the presence of a species in the field, to collections of physical specimens held in herbaria, with the current name (that is, the latest changes in taxonomy) for that specimen.

There are many applications of such evidence including tracking changing species distributions such as ferals and weeds (an example of the weed “Salvation Jane” is shown in the figure above). Herbaria have been active in supporting detection of biosecurity threats. New introductions of species to Australia need careful determination of their identity and herbaria work with agencies to assist with this.

Sometimes, herbarium or museum specimens are the only evidence that a species existed at all. For example Gentianella clelandii, a species of native Gentian, is only known from the collection made of it in 1947 in the South East of South Australia. This species and others like it are likely to have been lost as a result of changing land use in the region at this time.

Samples from Cook, Flinders and Baudin

Australia’s banksia is a well loved plant. This specimen card reads: Banksia serrata L/F New Holland, Banks and Solander, Botany Bay, April 1770.
National Herbarium of Victoria, Author provided

Important historical, scientific or cultural plant specimens exist in herbarium collections.

Plants collected during the voyages of early European explorers – including Dampier, Cook, Flinders and Baudin – are still found in herbaria. Some of these plants were also shipped live back to Europe, and have been grown in gardens and in scientific collections all over the world.

Remarkably, due to the care in methods of preserving them, these specimens are often in excellent condition more than 200 years after their collection and still able to be used productively in scientific research.

Type specimen collected by Robert Brown, who circumnavigated Australia with Matthew Flinders. The card reads: Hakea rugosa R. Br. South Australia: Port Lincoln (Bay 10) March 1802.
State Herbarium of South Australia, Author provided

These historical specimens are often the first known collections of a previously undescribed species. If so, they will be designated as “type” specimens by the taxonomist naming the new species. Type specimens are very important as they allow the work of taxonomists to have a global frame of reference. This allows scientists to work out if two (or more) species have been assigned the same name.

Herbarium records enable resource managers to track distributions of both pest plants and endangered plants, providing a historical and current view of how widely spread and common the various species are across Australia.

You say River Red Gum, I say Yarrow

Taxonomy is the science of describing, classifying and naming plants, animals and microorganisms of the world. Taxonomists do the work of describing and arranging plant species into classifications based on their morphology (what they look like), their genes and sometimes other features.

While highly scientific by nature, taxonomy is also vital to society at large. For invasive plant control, for border control, for environmental management and for urban planning, there must be no ambiguity as to which plant species we are talking about. Common names of plants can be misleading, the same plant often having many different common names. For example, the Australian iconic tree species Eucalyptus camaldulensis is known as River Red Gum, Blue Gum, Murray Red Gum, Red Gum, River Gum and Yarrow. We know these are all the same species, because taxonomists can compare herbarium specimens and determine if they share the same characteristics.

Expansion of the search for new biological compounds for human use — including medicines, food, cosmetics and other applications — exemplifies the problem of misapplied taxonomic names. For example the search for bioactive compounds in marine algae yields very different results for different species.

But imagine if there wasn’t a way to apply the precision of taxonomy in the search for information on the characteristics of a species to be used for biological control? Not only would time and money be lost, but the incorrect species could be used and unforseen outcomes may occur.

An example from the insect world is the Southeast Asian termite. A potentially harmful species of the termite genus Coptotermes was known regionally by another name, affecting its management as a pest causing building damage in the Americas and Malaysia.

A botanist reviews a herbarium sample, in this case Helichrysum gatessi, or ‘the everlasting flower’
State Herbarium of South Australia, Author provided

Herbaria as a research resource

In addition to storing and organising specimens, larger or highly specialised herbaria usually have an associated research program. Focus scientific areas typically include taxonomy, systematics (how living things are classified and named), evolutionary biology, conservation biology and applied botany (using plants for economic benefit) .

Many herbaria have molecular genetics laboratories attached to them. DNA can be extracted from many specimens, even very old ones, and thus they can become a core part of ongoing DNA based scientific research. Today, DNA barcoding can provide a rapid tool for identifying species when flowers or fruits are not available, or if we have only fragments. Globally, DNA barcodes are now available for more than 265,448 species in the BOLD database. This aggregation of DNA sequences, which for plants are linked to herbarium vouchers, are a global resource that can be used in a “big data” context to explore ideas.

The value of herbaria samples extends beyond just the plants themselves. Herbarium specimens have been used to collate data for inferring changes in flowering times, leaf morphology and species ranges with climatic shifts.

Scientists also analyse chemicals that herbarium specimens have been exposed to, such as heavy metals associated with urban development, and different elements incorporated as leaves grow. Knowledge about waxes on leaf surfaces, as well as inhabitation by insects, fungi and bacteria are all possible through herbarium samples.

The global network of herbaria share specimens so that taxonomists and other researchers can benefit from their existence. With online resources making it known exactly what specimens are in which herbarium, there is an ever growing set of demands made on the use of specimens.

The ConversationCurators who look after collections must balance the requests for using specimens in the present with long term preservation. The ability to track the impact of climate change and other unforeseen influences on plant health may make our current herbaria collections even more priceless in years to come.

Michelle Waycott, Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide and Chief Botanist, State Herbarium of South Australia, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


History textbooks still imply that Australians are white



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Who is portrayed as Australian? ‘Opening of the first parliament’ Tom Roberts c.1903.
Wikipedia

Robyn Moore, University of Tasmania

In this series, we’ll discuss whether progress is being made on Indigenous education, looking at various areas including policy, scholarships, school leadership, literacy and much more.


Despite improvements to their content over time, secondary school history textbooks still imply that Australians are white.

Textbook depictions of Australianness are not only relevant to experiences of national belonging or exclusion. Research has shown that students who aren’t represented in textbooks perform worse academically.

My PhD research analysed portrayals of Australianness in secondary school history textbooks from 1950 to 2010.

This time frame covers a period of significant social change in Australia, symbolised by the transition from the White Australia era of the 1950s and 1960s, to multiculturalism, which has existed since. Textbooks reflect these broad social changes.

1950s and 1960s – a celebratory narrative

Textbooks published in the White Australia era openly taught a celebratory version of history in which Aborigines were either absent or derided.

White people were portrayed as the developers of the nation. This can be seen in the following extract from the preface of A Junior History of Australia by A. L. Meston, published in 1950:

The object of this little book is to tell the wonderful story of our own country. Fewer than one hundred and fifty years ago no white man lived in our land. In so short a space of time by the pluck, hard work, and energy of our grandmothers and grandfathers, and of our mothers and fathers, a splendid heritage has been handed down to us.

This extract assumes the reader is white. Aboriginal students are overlooked. Similarly, Aboriginal contributions to each and every stage of national development are ignored.

Aborigines are only mentioned occasionally in textbooks from this era. When Aborigines are included, the portrayals are usually negative, as shown in the drawing below.

The caption from this image endorses the derisive perception of Aborigines reported by English explorer William Dampier, who first visited north-western Australia in the late 17th century.

This image from a textbook published in 1950 was titled ‘One of Dampier’s miserablest people’.
A Junior History by A L Meston

Has anything changed since the 1960s?

The White Australia Policy was replaced by multiculturalism in the 1970s.

Subsequent changes to textbooks reflected this broader social change: Aborigines and non-white immigrants featured more prominently and were portrayed more respectfully.

For example, most history textbooks published from the 1970s onwards have an initial chapter on pre- and/or post-colonial Aboriginal life and a later chapter on post-war immigrants.

Despite improvements such as these, history textbooks still imply that Australians are white. This occurs due to inconsistencies between what is written (the explicit content) and the underlying messages or meanings (the implicit content).

For example, initial chapters that discuss Aboriginal life prior to colonisation are followed by others on European “discovery” and “exploration”, which imply that the continent was vacant and unknown prior to the arrival of Europeans.

There are also inconsistencies in who is considered Australian. Aborigines are named as Australian in initial chapters on Aboriginal life. However, this description of Aborigines as Australian is contradicted by the exclusion of Aborigines from notions of Australianness in the remainder of the text.

The main narrative describes the experiences of white Australians in various eras such as the gold rushes, Federation, the Depression and the world wars. This implies that Australian history is white history and that Australians are white. By excluding Aborigines from these sections, whites are framed as normative or “real” Australians.

21st-century textbooks

Current textbooks show further, albeit, minor improvements compared to those published in the latter decades of the 20th century. For example, Europeans are portrayed as arriving in Australia, rather than “discovering” it.

Another improvement is that references to Aboriginality are no longer restricted to the initial “Aboriginal” chapter. However, Aborigines appear only momentarily in the main narrative. When contrasted with the detailed coverage of white experiences, the cursory treatment of Aborigines implies that Australian history is the story of white Australians.

This pattern is evident in chapters on the gold rushes. The painting below frequently appears in these chapters in textbooks published in the 2000s. This painting, which depicts white people searching for gold, represents the overall focus of these chapters on white people. Aborigines are absent.

‘An Australian gold diggings’ Edwin Stocqueler c.1855.
Wikipedia

Representations of Aboriginality in these chapters are limited to a throwaway line on the impact of the gold rushes on Aborigines, with no mention of Aboriginal responses.

Some 21st-century textbooks also include fleeting references to Aboriginality in chapters on national identity.

Descriptions of nationalism in these texts often include a section on late 19th-century Australian art. This section typically cover iconic artists such as Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin.

However, some textbooks published this century also include an example of Aboriginal art in this section, typically William Barak’s painting “Figures in possum skin cloaks”.

‘Figures in possum skin cloaks’ William Barak c.1898.
National Gallery of Victoria

The belated inclusion of Aborigines in chapters on Australian national identity is a welcome improvement. Nevertheless, this inclusion is momentary.

Who’s responsible for textbook content?

According to the Australian Constitution, responsibility for school education resides with the states rather than the federal government.

The first steps in the development of a national curriculum were taken in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until the development of a national curriculum in 2013 that textbooks began to be marketed on the basis of meeting curriculum guidelines.

The cross-curricular priorities in the current version of the Australian curriculum state that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students should be able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum. This is supported by research which shows that embedding Aboriginal perspectives within the curriculum improves educational outcomes.

The ConversationAustralian history textbooks have made considerable progress towards presenting more inclusive and balanced narratives. However, this progress has stalled. My research shows that Australian history textbooks continue to portray Australians as white. Further work is needed to ensure textbooks adequately represent all Australians.

Robyn Moore, Graduate reseach assistant, School of Social Sciences, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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