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Expanding the economy

Expanding the economy

Explores how Australians developed new industries and sources of wealth in the decades after 1945.

At the end of the Second World War, Australia faced the prospect of economic depression. Governments responded with ambitious development programs, funding infrastructure projects to harness natural resources and create jobs, and assisting the arrival of thousands of migrants.

The domestic market grew and manufacturers turned to creating consumer products. Then, as global trade expanded and Australia's economy was opened to international markets, mining and agriculture boomed and financial industries took on a new, more central role in the nation's prosperity.

Mount Tom Price, Western Australia

Rock shovel bucket

Lang Hancock's prospecting jacket

Tom Price is about 1500 kilometres north of Perth and lies in the middle of the vast Pilbara region, spanning more than 1800 square kilometres. At 747 metres above sea level, it is the highest town in Western Australia. Within its boundaries lies part of the Great Plateau that covers nearly two-thirds of Australia.

Open cut mine and surrounding landscape
The Mount Tom Price iron ore mine. Photo: Daniel Oakman.

Geologists know the plateau as a complex of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock.

While gold was discovered in Western Australia in the 1880s and iron ore in the Pilbara around the same time, the iron ore mining industry did not start in the Pilbara region until the early 1960s.

Tom Price is the service centre for the world's largest known iron ore reserve and is dominated by the mining companies BHP Billiton, and Hamersley Iron and Robe River Iron Associates, now part of Rio Tinto International.

Many who reflect on their journey to the Pilbara remark on a feeling of being in another land. Writers have typically portrayed the Pilbara landscape as a vast and dangerous wilderness. Yet other accounts of seeing the region from the air render the Pilbara landscape safer and more manageable, both physically and psychologically. Landmarks are more easily located and lifesaving tracks are more easily discerned from above.

The exhibition includes a 2008 painting by artist Loreen Samson, Iron Ore Train Through Ngarluma Country; a rock shovel bucket from a Terex mining excavator; and Lang Hangcock's prospecting jacket.

Rock shovel bucket

A loader with two forks extending from the front sits to the left of a large metal bucket which towers over two people and has five metal teeth protruding from the bottom.
The rock shovel bucket is manoeuvred into the Landmarks gallery after being used to haul iron ore at Mount Tom Price for many years. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The bucket pictured above comes from a Terex mining excavator, used in the pit at Mount Tom Price mine to load iron ore into trucks that transported it to the crushing plant. The solid steel bucket, weighing more than 15 tonnes, can hold nearly 30 tonnes — or 300 wheelbarrow loads — of iron ore.

By 2010 Mount Tom Price mine was eight kilometres long, two kilometres wide and about a quarter of a kilometre deep. It was then using iron ore excavators weighing between 280 and 1000 tonnes, operated by a single person and mounted with rock buckets with a capacity more than three times greater than this one.

It was donated to the National Museum by Rio Tinto and is on show in Landmarks.


See the bucket being installed in the gallery

See the bucket arriving in Canberra

pdf Download the rock shovel bucket object biography (PDF 72kb)

Lang Hancock's prospecting jacket

A white short-sleeved jacket style shirts with two pockets on either side
Lang Hancock's prospecting jacket. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Lang Hancock was an Australian iron ore magnate from Western Australia who maintained a high business and political profile and was one of the nation's richest men. Hancock was born in Perth, in Western Australia, to one of the state's oldest land-owning families. The story of Hancock's iron ore discovery in the Pilbara has entered Australian mining folklore. In 1952 Hancock encountered bad weather and was forced to divert and fly low over the region, where he identified iron ore in the rusty-coloured walls of a gorge.

At the time of his discovery the Commonwealth Government had enacted an embargo on the export of iron ore, while the state government banned the pegging of claims for iron ore prospects, under the belief that mineral resources were scarce. Hancock lobbied furiously for a decade to get the ban lifted, and in 1961 was finally able to reveal his discovery and stake his claim. Hancock and his partner entered into a deal with the Rio Tinto Group to develop the find.

Hancock's image as an unpretentious man-of-action also manifested itself in his appearance. Many photographs and films show Hancock wearing his plain white jackets while flying and prospecting in the Pilbara. Understated, plain clothing became hallmarks of Hancock's personal style, as were his black, horn-rimmed glasses.

Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, Victoria

Art-deco style building facade
Former headquarters of General Motors-Holden, Fishermans Bend, Melbourne. Photo: Daniel Oakman.

Fishermans Bend has been central to the emergence of Australian manufacturing since the early 20th century. Important aviation technologies were developed at the site and in 1936 the American company General Motors established a new Australian headquarters and assembly plant on 20 hectares of land at Fishermans Bend.

The company's plans for an Australian car were shelved during the Second World War when factories were diverted for the war effort.

General Motors-Holden was the first company in Australia to manufacture internal combustion engines, for aircraft, ships and a torpedo, and when the war ended the company rapidly made the change to peacetime production of vehicles.

The early model Holden car is one of the most recognisable cultural artefacts of 1950s Australia. It was a vivid manifestation of Australian dreams of prosperity, made more intense by years of wartime austerity.

More than just a car, the early Holdens were complex symbols of freedom and independence, as well as suburban conformity.

Holden Prototype Car No. 1

This particular car is the only survivor of three test sedans which became the definitive model for millions of Holden cars. Prototype No. 1 was built by hand in 1946 by American and Australian engineers at the General Motors workshop in Detroit. The cars were shipped to Australia and legend has it that they were driven under cover of darkness to Fishermans Bend.

Four door, blue-gunmetal grey sedan with chrome-plated radiator grille, bumper bars, and hub caps. The red entryway to the Museum forms a backdrop.
The Holden Prototype Car No. 1. Photo: Dragi Markovic.

The first Holden rolled off the assembly line at the Fishermans Bend factory in 1948.

Many saw the event as evidence of national maturity, proof that Australia had escaped its pastoral beginnings and embraced the modern industrial age.

The Holden 48-215, commonly known as the FX, was a robust and economical family sedan, designed for the Australian environment. Holdens soon dominated the roads.

Following the public release of the sedans, Prototype No. 1 was sold to Holden foreman Arthur Ling. The car was later traded to a Holden dealership in Morwell, Victoria, where it remained for 40 years, falling steadily into disrepair. In 1999, Melbourne-based Holden enthusiasts Gavin and Graham Strongman purchased the car and restored it to its final pre-production form. The prototype was then purchased by Ian Metherall, who sold the car to the National Museum in 2004. It is on display in Landmarks.

Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, New South Wales

Snowy Mountains Scheme model presented to Ben Chifley

Pelican tool and plastic pants

In 1949 Prime Minister Ben Chifley launched the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, a massive system of dams and tunnels diverting the Snowy River inland to the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

Watercourse with hills on the horizon
The upper reaches of Lake Eucumbene, near Old Adaminaby.
Photo: Daniel Oakman.

The Snowy River rises on the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko,the highest point of the Australian Alps in southern New South Wales, and reaches the sea near Orbost in Victoria.

For thousands of years the river provided food and water for the Ngarigo and Walgalu peoples.

From the 1830s, pastoralists began arriving in the region, occupying Ngarigo country on the tablelands and disrupting Walgalu lives by moving cattle into the high country.

In the late 19th century, government engineers began planning to direct the Snowy westward to irrigate agricultural land, encourage inland settlement and provide hydro-electric power for Australia's growing cities.

After thousands of men and women migrated to Australia to work on the project, the Snowy Scheme was completed in 1974. It now generates 65 per cent of Australia's renewable energy and sends about 2100 gigalitres of water a year to regions producing almost half the nation's agricultural produce.

The exhibition includes the Snowy Mountains Computer, used in the construction of the Scheme; a model presented to Ben Chifley; and a digging tool and waterproof pants worn by a worker on the Scheme.

Topographic model of the Snowy Mountains Scheme
The Snowy Mountains Scheme model presented to Ben Chifley. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Snowy Mountains Scheme model presented to Ben Chifley

This model is one of 14 made for dignitaries who spoke at the Snowy Scheme's inauguration ceremony at Adaminaby on 17 October 1949. It was presented to Prime Minister Ben Chifley.

The model depicts the topography of the Snowy Mountains and shows some of the main features of the scheme, with lights indicating power stations and dams. Power stations are indicated by small red illuminated dots, and tunnels by rows of small engraved parallel lines. The reservoir dams are represented by patches of clear resin.


Take a closer look at the Snowy model (Requires Flash - download Flash)

Collection database record

Snowy Scheme collection highlight

Snowy Mountains Computer collection database record

'Pelican' tool and plastic pants

Landmarks also includes a 'pelican' digging tool and waterproof pants used by Bill Fegan when he worked on the Snowy Scheme, at the Talbingo diversion tunnel, in 1967. Rock was blasted loose from inside the tunnel and removed by machines. Workers used tools such as the pelican, a combination pick and shovel, to remove lighter rubble. Pelicans were introduced to the scheme by Norwegian workers employed by Selmer Engineering of Oslo. Fegan's supervisor gave him the tool as a memento. The waterproof clothing was needed because water was sprayed on the drills used to make holes for explosives to keep them cool.

Australian Securities Exchange, Brisbane, Queensland

Trading boards

Multi-storey highrise building
The Riverside Centre, home of the Brisbane Stock Exchange.
Photo: Shaun Johnston.

The Brisbane Stock Exchange opened in 1884 and remained central to the Queensland economy for over a century. Traders met on the exchange floor to buy and sell shares and bonds in, at first, mining and pastoral companies. Over time, the listings grew to include tourism, property development, banking, insurance, health care, marketing and construction enterprises.

Queensland's economy boomed during the 1870s, as gold rushes fostered the creation of hundreds of companies providing goods and services to a growing population.

A number of mining exchanges and broking associations formed to bring together capital hungry companies and cashed-up investors. Then, to simplify the search for shares and allow the regulation of transactions, the Brisbane business community began pushing for a single exchange.

In 1987, the Brisbane Stock Exchange amalgamated with other autonomous exchanges around Australia and became the Brisbane office of the Australian Stock Exchange. By this time, more powerful computer systems had developed to process trading data and brokers sought a transparent national market place.

Trading became fully automated and centralised and exchange floors around the country closed in 1990. In 2006, the Australian Stock Exchange merged with the Sydney Futures Exchange to become the Australian Securities Exchange.

A photograph of a section of green trading board with lists of stock prices and their codes, written in white chalk.
Detail, Brisbane Stock Exchange trading board, recording prices the day before the chalk boards were replaced by a computerised system in 1990.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Trading boards

Landmarks includes a selection of trading boards from the Brisbane Stock Exchange. They feature the chalk marks left on the boards the day before they were replaced by the computerised system in 1990.

Also on show is a bottle of Brisbane Stock Exchange centenary run, issued in 1984 to mark its centenary.

Bundaberg Rum has been produced in Bundaberg, 400km north of Brisbane, since 1888. It has become a popular symbol of Queensland life. While the product retains a strong connection to Queensland and the state's sugar cane industry, in 2000 the Bundaberg Rum company and distillery were sold to British company Diageo, the largest multinational beer, wine and spirits company in the world.


See images of the Brisbane Stock Exchange board conservation