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Lowe, Peter G.
Theory, Practice and Engineering Heritage
Eleventh National Conference on Engineering Heritage: Federation Engineering a Nation; Proceedings
Institution of Engineers, Australia, Barton, ACT, 2001, pp. 117-124

This paper continues some themes begun earlier and presented at the 9th and 10th (also = 2nd Australasian) Conferences in this National series. Some of the engineers who were discussed there re-appear again for further consideration, particularly for their achievements in laying the foundations for developments about the time of Federation and later. In the histories where the Federation environment is described there is a very strong emphasis on people, as there is in most histories. Sometimes there are reminders of what was happening in engineering and industrially at the time. Thus Manning Clark makes the point that the first open hearth steel was produced in Australia within months of the celebration of Federation on the first of January 1901. All this was happening when Australasian troops were away at a war in South Africa, and economic hardship was biting deeply into the newly emerging economies of both our countries. The starting point in the paper will again be the educational environment, beginning in the 1850's when Federation was even then a live issue. This was a time for the propagation of engineering theory and practice: what W.J.M. Rankine, an important engineering educator whose influence extended to Australasia, advisedly described as 'the harmony of theory and practice'. It is evident that he was treading a fine line around the edges of established educational practice of the time. Both Australia and New Zealand were at an early developmental stage. The very remarkable, multi-talented Melbourne engineer, A.G.(George)M. Michell (1870-1959), published the first of his three classic papers just before Federation and the other two soon afterwards. The influences from British engineering thinking were strong, though not the sole influences. After filling in some further relevant background not already contained in the earlier papers, the discussion will be brought toward the present day in order to make the case for some actions that we as heritage-minded engineers might usefully lobby for in the near future. The discussion centres on the conservation of biographical and printed materials, alongside the more conventional needs of the buildings and machinery. There is potential for much to be achieved, on both sides of the Tasman!

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