Shipping wool: exporting natural resources
By 1900 wool was Australia’s major export. Most of it was shipped to Britain.
Historically, Australia has been a supplier of raw materials, growing or digging up precious resources and sending them overseas to be transformed into higher-value products.
Today, agricultural commodities and minerals still make up most of our exports.
Australia could become more ecologically sustainable if it exported ideas, expertise and sophisticated manufactured goods instead of natural resources.
- What are Australia’s main exports today?
- Which minerals does Australia export?
- List some innovative manufactured items created by Australians.
- List five Australian innovations that have been successful on world markets.
Shearing by machinery: a contentious change
Mechanised shearing was developed by Frederick Wolseley and associates in Victoria between 1868 and 1885.
It was demonstrated around the country in 1886, much to the dismay of blade shearers who thought fewer men would be needed in the sheds. A shearers’ union that formed at the time became the basis of what is now the Amalgamated Workers Union.
Mechanised shears changed the wool industry.
Shearing became easier and faster, sheep suffered fewer injuries, the yield of wool per sheep increased, and the fleece was cut at a uniform length. Flocks expanded as the business became more profitable, which meant that eventually there was more work for shearers.
- What sort of engine and fuel was originally used to power mechanised handshears?
- What sort of energy source is used today?
- Describe and evaluate how technology changed the wool shed.
- Describe how this changed the wool industry in Australia.
Bullock team hauling timber: clearing coastal forests
In the years after European settlement in 1788, timber was needed for furniture, firewood, housing, fencing, water troughs, water pipes and animal yokes.
Softwoods such as red cedar and hoop pine were highly prized because they were light and easy to work.
By 1825 English ships carried Australian timber on their return journeys home.
Accessible forests on the east coast of the state were quickly stripped of large trees. Red cedar trees take hundreds of years to grow so it is now rare to see a mature specimen in any NSW forest.
- What kind of damage to the environment was caused by cutting this tree down?
- What kind of things might have been made from the tree in this photo?
- What would be an alternative building material today?
- Describe some environmentally-friendly building materials.
Aboriginal fish traps: effective and efficient technology
Aboriginal people who live in the Brewarrina region of NSW are custodians of an intricate series of stone fish traps across the Barwon River.
The traps form a complex net of linked weirs and ponds along 500 metres of the river. They operate at varying water heights and can be altered to suit seasonal changes. People use their expert knowledge of fish species and the environment to maximise their catch.
It is believed that Ngemba, Wonkamurra, Wailwan and Gomolaroi people have shared and maintained the traps for thousands of years.
- Explain why the fishing method in this photo is environmentally friendly.
- What other environmentally sustainable practices have been used by Indigenous Australians?
- What are some of the sustainable practices used in commercial fishing today?
- List the effects commercial fishing can have on ecosystems.
Harvesting sugarcane using imported labour
Sugarcane was brought to Australia in 1788.
Attempts to grow it at Port Macquarie failed but, by 1862, a successful plantation was established near Brisbane.
Many plantations employed South Sea Islanders, also known as ‘kanakas’. They worked under an exploitative system known as indentured labour, often without pay, in exchange for accommodation, food and travel costs.
Between 1864 and 1904, 61,000 Pacific Islanders were brought to work in Queensland in a form of human trafficking known as ‘blackbirding’.
The issue divided politics and was partly responsible for the rise of the White Australia Policy.
- Why were Pacific Islanders vulnerable to this type of exploitation?
- Was this a form of slavery?
- Were Indigenous Australians also exploited by other industries?
- How is sugarcane harvested today?
Ploughing match creating deep straight furrows
In the late 1800s governments realised the survival of the Australian colonies depended on the expertise of farmers.
Ploughing matches were organised to encourage excellence, and to inform farmers about new practices and machinery. The matches were competitive, but also had an important social role.
Ploughing matches, and the exhibitions held with them, were forerunners to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.
‘The Show’ still plays the important roles of bringing farmers together and showcasing new technologies today.
- Indigenous people had plenty of food for 40000 years. Why did European people almost starve in the early years after they landed in Australia?
- What did settlers learn from Indigenous people about obtaining food?
- How have farmed crops affected the Australian landscape?
- How have new technologies affected the way crops are planted in the last 120 years?