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of Tasmania

McAulay got this enquiry about whether we knew how to make any optical instruments in Tasmania, a most unlikely enquiry. The moment he got the telegram [on July 25, 1940], the first thing he did was to discuss it with me and Cruickshank. Cruickshank was his senior - well, his only - lecturer in the department. We said that if they liked to send us 100 pounds we'd see what we could do. Hartnett wired back straight away, saying to get on with it - Eric Waterworth (1)

The Physics Department at the University of Tasmania was headed by Professor McAulay, assisted by his Senior Lecturer F.D. Cruickshank, and the Department literally worked side-by-side with Waterworth, a local privately owned industrial firm; as the Waterworth Hobart Annexe was built on University land immediately next door to the Physics Department. The Waterworth brothers, Eric and Phillip, were part of the small but effective optical munitions team located in Hobart; they designed the machinery required for optical production, while the physicists (including Hans Buchdahl) and students at the University designed the optical components. Both organisations worked extremely well together and provide a good example of successful collaboration between Australian science and industry during the Second World War.

The major items produced in Hobart were optical flats, high-precision roof prisms (a very difficult task), several other types of prisms, and camera lenses. The University also produced aluminised mirrors and bloomed glass, and developed an ingenious way to fuse pieces of optical glass to form a uniform lump. At the height of prism production during the war, the Hobart Annexe employed 189 people, most of whom were women.

The work of the University of Tasmania is a tribute to all involved, especially considering that Professor Laby was not convinced initially that Tasmania could help at all, and wondered 'whether these half-wits in Tasmania should be trusted with this tremendously valuable asset [optical glass] ... it was absolutely unbelievable to Melbourne University that anybody in Tasmania could be doing [these] things'.(2) All Laby's doubts proved to be unfounded, as the men and women in Tasmania achieved remarkable things. Even Hartnett later said that:

the greatest feat that Australia performed during the war in the way of munitions was the development of a local optical munitions industry, arising out of Physics Departments in the Universities of Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and pre-eminently Hobart.(3)

(1) Interview by Jill Cassidy (1990), Eric Waterworth: an inventive Tasmanian, Exhibition Catalogue, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, p. 8.
(2) Interview by Jill Cassidy (1990), Eric Waterworth: an inventive Tasmanian, Exhibition Catalogue, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, p. 12.
(3) Clive Coogan (1989), 'The Rise and Rise of the Australian Scientific Instrument Industry', Search, vol. 20, no. 3, September/October.

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Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 30 April 1997
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
Prepared by: Denise Sutherland and Elissa Tenkate
Updated by: Elissa Tenkate
Date modified: 19 February 1998

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