The development and use of the atomic bomb was a turning point in history. It seems so obvious—the world was changed, a new age dawned. But this was not the first turning point, nor the last. History is littered with critical moments, crossroads, watersheds and points of decision. Each brings a new sense of urgency, each draws renewed attention to the fate of humankind, but the moment soon passes and the urgency fades…until next time.
This thesis uses the dawn of the atomic age in Australia as the inspiration for an examination, not of key moments, but of the journey that sweeps through them—this thing we call progress. It is a journey that carries us from past to future, from old to new; a journey where space and time exchange metaphors and meanings. But where do individual hopes fit within the march of civilisation? How are our ambitions and achievements measured alongside the growth of nations or the development of science? Progress imagines a steady passage onwards, but we know that our own journeys are circuitous and intermittent. We stop, we go back, we think ahead, we live in the past.
This thesis shifts between individual and nation, from the dreams of a disappointed poet, to the terrifying power of the atom. Traversing much of twentieth century Australia, it examines the interactions between science and the state, between knowledge and power. Where have we sought the key to progress and who has been granted authority to speak in its name? What dangers have emerged to threaten our destiny, and where have we sought protection? Answers are to be found by charting the shifting boundaries of trust and authority, participation and control, that separate science and public, citizen and state.
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