March 1, 2005 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Frontiers of the future: science and progress in 20th-century Australia’, in Deborah Bird Rose and Richard Davis (editors), Dislocating the frontier: essaying the mystique of the outback, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2006, pp. 121-142.


The glow of his campfire framed a simple tableau of pioneer life. Across this ‘untenanted land’, Edwin Brady mused, ‘little companies’, such as his own, sat by their ‘solitary fires’. ‘They smoked pipes and talked, or watched the coals reflectively’. Around them, the ‘shadowy outlines’ of the bush merged into the dark northern night, and ‘the whispers’ of this ‘unknown’ land gathered about. It seemed to Brady that this camp, this night, represented the ‘actual life’ of the Northern Territory as he had known it. But the future weighed heavily upon that quiet, nostalgic scene. The moment would soon fade, Brady reflected, as the ‘cinematograph of Time’ rolled on. It was 1912, and something new was coming.1 Read MoreFrontiers of the future

  1. Edwin James Brady, Australia Unlimited, p. 570. []
July 31, 2003 /

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. Read MoreAtomic wonderland

November 15, 1998 /

HISTORY OF SCIENCE in Australia is a field intimidated by its subject. Historians have been too slow to examine the local context of knowledge production and use, deferring to scientists and their uncritical catalogues of the past. Historical analysis has given way, too often, to the antiquarian plod or the celebratory frolic. Read MoreThe history of Australian science

November 15, 1998 /

CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and its forbears have undergone many transformations, reflecting twentieth century shifts in the relationship between science and government. Read MoreCSIRO

March 3, 1998 /

On Sunday I was listening to the local ABC station, 2CN, when a bloke came on talking about “unsung heroes” of Australian history. Apparently it’s a regular spot, and it so happened that the two heroes being sung on Sunday were scientists – Ferdinand von Mueller the botanist, and John Tebbutt, the astronomer. However, my initial pleasure at having scientists included in such a forum, quickly turned to frustration. Read MoreUnsung heroes

December 1, 1993 /
Tim Sherratt, review of Scienceworks, in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol. 9, no. 4, December 1993, pp. 387-388 .


As a suburban teenager, one of the highlights of my school holidays was a trip into ‘town’. This expedition into the wilds of central Melbourne always included a wander around the Science Museum, then housed snugly with the National Museum and the State Library behind the imposing columns of 328 Swanston Street.

Naturally I pressed all the buttons I could, making all the engines start and the models come to life. I played noughts and crosses against a ‘computer’ that regularly cheated. But most of all I just stood in front of the glass-fronted cases and marvelled at the collections — the rows and rows of swords, the wax apples, the radioactive sample with its chattering geiger counter. Between visits I embroidered complex daydreams where the deserted building was mine and all its treasures lay waiting. Read MoreScienceworks

January 29, 1989 /
Tim Sherratt, ‘Making science for whom?’, Antithesis, vol. 2, no. 2, 1988/9, pp. 13-18.


The title of this book, Australian Science in the making, strikes me as somewhat ambiguous. In one sense it seems to indicate an ongoing process of creation, while in the other it appears retrospective, reflecting on the establishment or achievement of science in Australia. The difference is significant, I believe, for the two interpretations suggest disparate views about the nature and development of science. The former implies that a continual process of construction and negotiation is involved in producing what we know as ‘science’. Science is a process, or an activity, rather than a discrete entity. There is room, then, in this interpretation, for the work of the social historian or political reformer, who seeks to highlight the cultural roots and social implications of a science. The latter view, however, assumes that there are certain criteria which, when met, enable one to recognize science as ‘made’ or established. Such criteria would be formulated with reference to some fixed model of what science is, and would thus emphasize fulfilment or attainment of that model. This inherently conservative view clearly imposes limits upon the study of science, and thus upon any discussion of its social role. Nonetheless, I would argue, it is this latter conception of science which is embedded in the structure and much of the content of this volume. This raises important questions about the way science is perceived in Australian society, and indeed about the role of the history of science in maintaining such perceptions. Read MoreMaking science for whom?