Science Heritage

University of Tasmania Cosmic Ray Observatory on kunanyi/Mt Wellington


Last year's Australian ICOMOS Meeting in Hobart included a symposium on Science Heritage. With the organisers finalising the proceedings of that meeting, the question that sprang to mind was exactly how many science heritage places are recognised in Australia, what percentage of recognised places these represent, and whether there is skewing towards particular scientific fields.

"Science" is not a word often captured in entries in the Tasmanian Heritage Register, yet collectively staff at Heritage Tasmania could provide a number of examples where science, particularly invention and engineering are recognised.

On Penguin's main street, the Former Richardson's Motor and Cycle Garage may seem an unlikely contender for scientific endeavour. The original owner Goachem Swain Richardson had a penchant for engineering and in his garage he designed and built the first Australian cycle pedal flying machine in 1908. Its short flight was the first successful flight in Australia. Richardson went on to develop many other inventions including the Richardson Wire Staples machine which allowed the mass production of staples to be used in wooden fencing.


Amongst the more memorable Register entries are a number of bridges, particularly those designed by prominent Tasmanian engineer Sir Allan Knight, including the floating bridge across the River Derwent. A surviving section of the floating bridge is now part of the Alonnah Jetty Pontoon. Knight's floating bridge was erected in 1943 and was immediately regarded as innovative. When the Tasman Bridge opened in 1964 all but one of its 24 pontoons were sunk in Storm Bay. A Warden of Bruny Island took out an injunction against the Tasmanian Government to prevent it sinking the remaining pontoon. He succeeded and in 1972 the span was landed at Alonnah where it was attached to the jetty. Knight is also recognised for his work on the Bridgewater Bridge, an all-steel truss structure which was completed in 1946 and is still in operation today. The Bridge, including the remains of the convict built causeway and replacement bridges constructed in 1874 and 1893, were recognised in 2018 with a National Heritage Marker from Engineers Australia. Historical footage of the floating bridge at the time the Tasman Bridge is under construction is available via YouTube.


More recently, a Heritage Register entry for a Railway Tunnel was expanded to recognise the scientific endeavours of the University of Tasmania in researching cosmic rays. One half of the tunnel had been entered to the Register in 1998 in recognition of Tasmania's transport heritage. In 2018 the second half of the tunnel, where the cosmic ray research was conducted, was added to the entry. The best way to understand how the railway tunnel was used for scientific research, and the details of the research undertaken, is to watch archival film available through Libraries Tasmania's website here. The film is also a wonderful reminder of how science news was delivered in the late 1950s and 60s.‚Äč

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