History of Australian Science Newsletter

No. 32, March 1994



(Setting off along the information super-highway)

So Bill Gates, Microsoft guru, has been and gone, but the clichés are still ringing in our ears. Concerned residents groups are already organising to ensure that the information superhighway does not pass through their own quiet, leafy suburbs. But behind all the hype, networked information systems like AARNet and Internet do provide new opportunities for communication and the exchange of data that are particularly valuable for research communities such as our own. In co-operation with the Coombs Computing Unit at the ANU, ASAP has begun to make a number of its resources available through AARNet. What? Where? How? Read on...

For Internet novices

I haven't the space here to go into detail about the history or technical details of the Internet. In simplest terms it's just a world-wide computer network, linking up educational institutions, government organisations and an increasing number of businesses. AARNet is the network that connects up Australian institutions, which is of course linked to the rest of the Internet. So from a computer in Australia you can search the catalogue at the Library of Congress, retrieve a file from an archive in Germany, or just spend hours wandering aimlessly in cyberspace...

If you have a networked computer in a university, you're probably already using email, perhaps ftp and telnet as well. Ask your computer people about setting up Gopher or Mosaic on your own computer. All the software you need is available free on the Internet. Alternatively, you might have an account on a mainframe computer where Gopher and Lynx are already available - try and see.

If you don't have AARNet access through your workplace, don't despair! There are commercial services such as Compuserve and Oz-E- mail that provide at least an email connection to the Internet (through which you can use Listservs). There's also a co-operative called APANA, whose members have set up their own services to provide Internet access at a reasonable price.

For more background information on the Internet, I'd suggest you have a browse in your local bookshop. A number of relevant books have been published in the last few months. (See, print technology is not outmoded!)

Coombs Computing Unit

The Coombs Computing Unit is located within the Research Schools of Social Sciences and Pacific & Asian Studies (RSSS/RSPacAS) at the Australian National University. It commenced its networked social sciences information services in December 1991 with the establishment of the 'Coombspapers' electronic archive - an anonymous ftp facility. In April 1993 the 'Coombsquest' gopher was established with the aim of providing the world's leading electronic social sciences and humanities information facility. A World Wide Web server was added in January 1994.

The current range of information facilities made available world-wide by the Coombs Computing Unit include:

ASAP resources

ASAP began downloading files to the Coombspapers Data Bank in July 1993. This material is added to regularly, and it is our aim that all ASAP Guides to archival collections, as well as future editions of HASN, will be simultaneously published in electronic and hardcopy format. We are also investigating the further development of hypertext resources and on-line databases.

As of March 1994, the following ASAP publications and information facilities were available through the Coombs Computing Unit:

The publications are all in plain-text (ASCII) format, ie. they are saved with a minimum of formatting so that you can use them no matter what your computer or software. They can be accessed via Anonymous FTP, Gopher or WWW as described below.

Anonymous FTP

From your host computer just type 'ftp coombs.anu.edu.au', login as 'anonymous' and give your email address as a password. In the directory coombspapers/index-files you will find a number of index files that list the entire contents of the Data Bank. To save them to your own computer just use the command 'get [insert filename]'. The complete listing of ASAP's files are listed in INDEX4-4. Once you know what files you want to retrieve, just change directory ('cd') to the one given in the INDEX file and give a 'get' command. To move directly to ASAP's area in the Data Bank, change directory to: coombspapers/otherarchives/australian-sci-archives-project. Type 'dir' to find out the contents of the current directory, and 'cd [insert directory name]' and 'cdup' to move around.


Gopher (no, for once it's not an acronym, it's named after the mascot of the University of Minnesota) is a menu-based system for moving around the Internet. If you are using a mainframe account, just type 'gopher coombs.anu.edu.au'. If your computer service has installed the gopher client software, you will see the opening menu of the Coombsquest gopher. If you're using a PC or Mac on a network, you can obtain gopher client software that will work directly from your own machine. Ask your computer people!

Once you have the Coombsquest gopher running, you can find ASAP's area under 'Special Projects'. Moving around the menu items is easy. To view a text file just hit 'enter'. To get a copy of it you can either use 's' to save, or 'm' to mail it to yourself (that's on a mainframe - not sure about PC/Macs). Another handy command is '/[insert text string]', which will take you to the next incidence of that text string. Type '?' within gopher to see a full list of commands.

WWW (World Wide Web)

Like gopher, WWW is a way of moving around the Internet, but instead of being based on menus, it uses documents with hypertext links - that is, text within the document is linked to other documents or resources on the net. WWW client programs can use existing gopher, telnet and WAIS systems. Lynx is a basic WWW client that runs on mainframes. Mosaic is a fun program for PCs and Macs that enables you to view graphics as well as text. Both programs are available free on the Internet.

If you're running WWW software, you can access the ANU Social Sciences WWW Server at 'http://coombs.anu.edu.au/CoombesHome.html'. Once again, ASAP's material is found under 'Special Projects'. One day soon I hope that we will make available a hypertext edition of HASN that will include the pictures left out of the plain text version.


Accessing a Listserv is about the easiest way of getting information out of the Internet. If you can send email you can subscribe to a Listserv. They're basically just automatic mailing lists. If a message is sent to the Listserv's address, it is re-broadcast to all subscribers of that Listserv.

ASAP and the Coombs Computing Unit recently set up a history of Australian science and technology forum called Hist-Aust-Sci-Tech-L. This forum aims to encourage discussion and the sharing of information between all those with an interest in the field. It will act as an adjunct to HASN, allowing immediate communication, regular updates, and ongoing discussions.

To subscribe simply address an email to 'majordomo@coombs.anu.edu.au'. Leave the 'Subject' line blank, and in the message area type the following:

subscribe Hist-Aust-Sci-Tech-L
So I would type:

subscribe Hist-Aust-Sci-Tech-L sherratt@coombs.anu.edu.au.
Just send it off and that's it! You should then receive a message welcoming you to the forum. Once you've subscribed, if you want to send a message to the group just email it to 'Hist-Aust-Sci-Tech- L@coombs.anu.edu.au', and it will be automatically distributed. The 'majordomo' address is for automated administrative tasks like 'subscribe' and 'unsubscribe' only.


All contributions to Hist-Aust-Sci-Tech-L are archived in a WAIS (Wide Area Information Server) database. WAIS provides an easy way of searching data for text strings. You can access the ANU-Hist-Aust- Sci-Tech-L WAIS database easily through gopher or WWW. Just type in the text you want to search for, hit 'enter', and you will be presented with a list of messages in which that text string appears. You can then read and copy them as you desire.

Feedback wanted!

Let me know if you have any problems accessing the ASAP material. Also, if you find any resources on the Internet that you think might be of interest to HASN readers, please send me the details. I will try to make this a regular feature, updating the information as necessary, so send in your comments, questions and corrections.

Science Studies Archive

The University of Missouri-Kansas City sponsors an electronic archive called Science Studies. Archived material covers a wide range of disciplines, including history, philosophy, and sociology of science, science education, and other related areas. Several electronic texts of wide interest are available, including fuller and Raman's STS Curricular Guide. Additional topics include job offerings, meetings, e-lists, and pedagogical information.

To reach the UMKC Science Studies archive simply gopher to 'kasey.umkc.edu'. Just arrow-down to Science Studies, hit enter, and you're there.

ASAP guides launch, 15 December 1993

Text of the speech by Dr Ditta Bartels

[BW photo]Dr Ditta Bartels speaking at the launch. (42kb jpeg.)

I am very pleased to have been invited by Professor Rod Home to undertake the launch today of four guides completed recently by ASAP, the Australian Science Archives Project. I guess invitations such as this are issued based on one of two guiding principles: in general they are issued to people who are experts in the field, and here I certainly do not qualify. But sometimes there is a different objective, namely to involve people who don't yet know much about the subject matter, but would be well advised to find out about it. This is where I fit in. In particular I was pleased to recognise this guiding principle in ASAP's Strategic Plan, in Section 3.3.1. The relevant passage is: 'Small, but specific tasks might be allocated to members of the Council of Friends, in order to foster a sense of direct involvement with ASAP.' So I have started to inform myself a little about ASAP, and to become excited about it. From my position as an outsider, it appears that ASAP is about to become one of the significant institutions in the new Australian science and technology landscape.

As Australian scientists we have a rich heritage, but we have not yet started to acknowledge this heritage properly and to draw inspiration from it. There are probably many reasons for this, one of them being that working scientists are more concerned with the present than with the past. It is here that ASAP has stepped into the picture.

What ASAP is demonstrating, is that the techniques for dealing with the personal archives of Australian scientists of the past generation, are also relevant to the business of bringing order and understanding to the files of current Australian scientific projects and institutions, such as the CSIRO Plastic Banknote Project; the Bionic Ear project; the Anti-Cancer Council of Australia; the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; the Melbourne Zoo; and so on. In order to deal with the challenges of managing the archives and files of such diverse projects and organisations, ASAP has had to develop new archival skills, namely the high-tech skills of data handling and on- line resources. Recently a series of workshops have been held on the topic of archives in the age of telecommunications.

It seems to me that in the structural changes undergone by ASAP in the last few years, we have a microcosm of what is happening in Australian science and technology generally. From a base of familiar jobs we are forced to look towards entrepreneurial activity, devising new projects with which to move into new niches, in particular to niches with new possibilities for funding. Once we promise to the funding agencies to move into such new niches, we then have to deliver, and quite often this requires us to design new and more efficient methodologies. With a bit of luck, these new methods are actually more advanced than parallel developments in other countries, making us an international resource for innovation.

I feel that this is what has happened to ASAP. In the search for new projects and new project funds, the science archivists at ASAP have developed methodologies which are more advanced and more high tech than the methods and tools used by their somewhat more old fashioned colleagues in Europe. I would be pleased to assist in figuring out with you ways, in which we might undertake joint projects with European science organisations, in order to bring ASAP some new European projects with new sources of funds attached.

But in being dazzled by the new exciting developments and opportunities, we must not forget the core business of ASAP, namely the extensive archival collections of selected Australian scientists. And today we can celebrate the completion of four guides to such collections.

Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet (1899 - 1985)

[BW photo]Can you spot the potential Nobel Prize-winner?This is a photograph of the Honour Group at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, in 1918. It's from the Burnet collection at the University of Melbourne Archives (file 14/4), but which one is Macfarlane Burnet? (75kb jpeg.) Answer at the end of this article.

The first is the guide to the Laurie Coombes (1899 - 1988) This is the second guide that we are launching today. The personal papers of Lloyd Rees (1916 - 1989) The first part of the collection was given to ASAP by Crosbie Morrison (1900 - 1958) When Senator Chris Schacht became Minister for Science, one of his first public statements was that we do not have sufficient high-class communicators on science in Australia. It would have been terrific if at that point we could have presented Conclusion To conclude I would like to come back to my earlier point that our Australian science and technology organisations are becoming more exciting, more innovative and more entrepreneurial. We all know that these changes have been imposed on us by the politics of Canberra. But what is also happening, is that the changes that are now occurring in our science and technology institutions are finally being applauded in Canberra.

Recently I have been involved in a Working Party of the Prime Minister's Science Council on the Future Directions of Australian Science and Technology. What we recognised is that a cultural change is occurring in Australia, which is beginning to view science and technology as crucial to our future in innovation and exporting, especially to Asia. We also recognised a new focus in Australian science and technology to deal with specific Australian problems and challenges. Unfortunately, what we did not bring into our consideration is that we do in fact have a rich heritage of Australian science and technology.

ASAP has taken on the task of being the custodian of this heritage, and the task of teaching others how to preserve it. Through its specially developed methodologies, ASAP is moving into centre stage for linking the past of Australian science to the future. We can all learn a lot from ASAP's achievements and initiatives in the last few years. And with this I would like to wish the organisation well in the future. Thanks.

Can you spot the potential Nobel Prize-winner? Answer: Burnet is second from the left in the back row. I.W. Wark is second from the left in the front row, and T.M. Cherry is the disembodied head in the bottom left-hand corner.

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