Museums Report

Australian innovations on CD-ROM

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney is developing a CD-ROM on Australian Innovations, covering about 450 innovations from Aboriginal knowledge to contemporary scientific, industrial and design innovations. This will complement the Success and Innovation exhibition opened last year at the Powerhouse, and the book by Robert Renew, Making It: Innovation and Success in Australia's Industries (Powerhouse Publishing, 1993).

The multimedia CD-ROM will combine text, pictures and sounds, and is aimed especially at secondary school students doing courses on Design and Technology. However, the program will obviously have a wider audience among science students and in museums and libraries. it is anticipated that the CD-ROM will be available at the end of this year; for further information contact Robert Renew on (02) 217 0580.

Scienceworks Collections

Scienceworks, the science and technology centre of the Museum of Victoria, recently produced a detailed report on its collections of science and technology artefacts, trade literature and photographs. The collections include mid-19th century mining models, objects from Melbourne's international exhibitions, collections of photographs of Victorian manufacturing enterprises, scientific equipment, Melbourne Observatory equipment and archives, an important collection of wax models of heritage fruit varieties, agricultural technology, early telegraphs, telephones and radios, and important Australian innovations such as the CSIRAC computer and prototypes of the 'black box' flight recorder.

A 40-page summary of the report is available free from Richard Gillespie, Scienceworks, Booker Street, Spotswood, Victoria 3015. The full 240-page report is available for $30 (postage included).

Adventures from the auction room

The Powerhouse Museum recently acquired a small 180cm high regulator made by Thomas Earnshaw in London around 1790. The clock was used by Matthew Flinders when he charted the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1801, and had previously been used by George Vancouver on Pacific voyages in the 1790s. The highly accurate clock was brought ashore and set up to check and rate the ship's chronometers, thereby ensuring accurate navigation and charting. As such it is an excellent example of the role of science and technology in exploration and empire.

The Powerhouse bought the clock for 32,000 at a Sotheby's auction in London. Several Australian museums were interested in bidding for the clock, but pre-auction discussions among curators soon established that only the Powerhouse had adequate funds. Indeed, it seems that the Powerhouse is unusual among Australian science and technology museums in having a substantial annual acquisitions budget. Nor does the Commonwealth Government have a fund to purchase significant historical items; unless, of course, you happen to be interested in a reproduction regency dining setting.


You may have seen press reports that a 19th century German mechanical calculator sold at auction at Christie's in London last May for the extraordinary sum of 7.7 million (about $18 million). Christie's had expected that the calculator would raise about 20,000.

The sale was notable for other reasons as well. Australian museums and collectors of scientific instruments were astonished to discover that the instrument had been in the hands of a Melbourne family for many years. The family were descendants of an astronomer and mathematician who had worked in the service of an Indian prince in the 19th century.

But the story gets stranger. There are reports that the sale of the calculator was never completed at the knock-down price, evidently because the Swiss collector who purchased it at auction soon received offers of similar instruments at prices closer to the original estimate. And the German museum that had kept the bidding going also got cold feet. Anyone interested in a calculator for 20,000?

- Richard Gillespie, Scienceworks

History of Science, Ideas and Technology Group (SA)

We started the year on an ambitious note, providing some competition for the Adelaide Festival of Arts programme. Yes, a history of science lecture on 28 February to complement a programme that included the Frankfurt Ballet, the Chinese acrobatic circus and the Indonesian Water Puppets at the Botanic Garden. Sara Maroske (from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Melbourne, and the National Herbarium of Victoria) was in Adelaide for a few days and we persuaded her to start our year's programme with a talk entitled 'The life and 10,000 letters of Ferdinand von Mueller'. Sara Maroske, who for the last six years has been working on an international project established in 1987 to collect and publish the correspondence of Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, explained that in 1996 there will be a special conference to commemorate the centenary of von Mueller. By then a new biography will have been published and the project team will be half way through publishing the remnants of von Mueller's mammoth correspondence. Sara sketched von Mueller's life, paying especial attention to his time in, and contact with, South Australia. Amongst his correspondents was F.E.H.W. Krichauff (see a note about Krichauff's own correspondence below).

Donald Beard and 'Surgery on the March'

One of our founding members, orthopaedic surgeon Donald Beard, will speak on Monday 11 April on 'Surgery on the March: some aspects in South Australia and overseas'. This will be held at the Royal Society of South Australia rooms (Plane Tree Court, behind the State Library). Time is 7.30 for 8.00 pm. Members should note that this is a change in the published programme as Uta van Homeyer was previously listed for this date.

Donald Beard notes that there was a time when surgeons did little more than amputations and incisions and drainage of abscesses - the results were frequently disastrous. With the coming of anaesthesia 150 years ago, operations became more refined and delicate - more time was available to work on a patient who was not struggling. A hundred years ago, no one would have dreamt of the extent and variety of surgical techniques that are now possible. Recent technological advances have enabled many organs to be replaced in increasingly complex procedures. Scientific research in surgery has seemed boundless. But where will it go? Can society afford it?

So here we have a talk which combines science, technology and ideas - and if we know Donald Beard, it will be entertaining too!

Our following meeting is scheduled for 20 June, but members should check with us as there may be a change of date to allow for an extra lecture from a visiting British colleague. However, Uta van Homeyer has promised us a talk entitled 'The Employment of Scientific and Technical Enemy Aliens (ESTER) Scheme in Australia - a reparation for World War II?'

It is not well known that German scientists and engineers were recruited during the 1949-52 Cold War period by Australian and Allied teams in occupied Germany. It was designed, in part, to prevent highly skilled and very competent people from being enticed or forced to migrate to the Soviet Union. The scheme made a significant contribution to Australian science and technology in the postwar era. Uta van Homeyer's research has been aided by the fact that she knew a number of the scientists from her childhood. It is a fascinating story.

Those on our mailing list will be sent details and final dates. If you are not on our mailing list you can contact members of our working group: Pauline Payne, 269 6879 (w/h); Lee Torop, 303 5996 (w); Marie Boland, 207 7765 (w); or Richard Ferguson, 362 6324 (h).

Other talks on our programme for 1994 are:

August (time and date to be advised):

October (time and date to be advised)

Correspondence of F.E.H.W. Krichauff

Assistance is being sought to help assess about 500 letters addressed to F.E.H.W. Krichauff, South Australia's 'father of forestry' and first German-born Member of Parliament. The letters, together with some notebooks, have recently come to light and are being assessed by a group of volunteers so that they can be used for historical research. Krichauff's many interests included farming, forestry, mining, government, business and real estate. Some of the letters throw light on middle class family life of the day and others on the political events of the day in Schleswig Holstein. Much of the material has been photocopied in the first phase of the project.

We are suggesting that the preliminary work be divided into two parts. The first task is to transcribe the old German script into modern script and the second is to provide either a summary of contents or a full translation. A German-speaking colleague was able to note in five minutes that a notebook was not, as previously thought, about a mining venture but actually a school report!

We would be very happy if people were willing to assess five letters each initially - we do not want the task to be too daunting. It might be interesting to arrange a small seminar after a couple of months to assess our progress and to advise on future work. Already the letters have attracted considerable interest from a group of researchers in Victoria.

If you would like to discuss the project or volunteer your services please contact Dr Pauline Payne, 2A Thorngate St, Thorngate, SA 5082, ph. (08) 269 6879, fax (08) 269 2412.

- Pauline Payne