Impact Studios

Australia’s no 1 university for research impact

Producer: Olivia Rosenman

Executive Producer: Tom Allinson

Collaborating researcher: Jesse Adams Stein

Sound Design: Ryan Pemberton

Host: Tamson Pietsch

Script Advisors: Lauren Carroll Harris and Ellen Leabeater

Thanks to: The patternmakers – Paul Kay, Debbie and Greg Tyrell, Peter and Bruce Phipps, Peter Williams, and Anthony Freemantle. Sandee Gertz. The National Library of Australia.

Image credit: Bassets Jelly Babies (250g)

History Lab S2E2: Invisible Hands

Paul Kay: I find faces quite tricky

Olivia Rosenman:  You’re sitting at your desk, it’s almost four o’clock.

Paul Kay: And to get a reasonable appearance out of it, rather than something that looks flat or whatever, you need to be a lot more particular.

Olivia Rosenman: You’re having trouble keeping your eyes open

Paul Kay: You know for something like that one there I’ve had to introduce a type of little cheek or a smile into it

Olivia Rosenman: You decide you need  something sweet. Like a sneaky packet of jelly babies. Or something else with lots of sugar – you might even be partial to the odd party mix.

Paul Kay: And I mean the eyelids are exaggerated but that’s what they’re looking for. You know they’re looking for Mr Sleepy or whatever you know.

Olivia Rosenman: But when was the last time you actually stopped before you scoffed, and really  looked at that lolly?

Paul Kay: You have to think of the jube and how it’s going to feel. That’s going to be a little bit thin on the foot end there, and so you would be trying to avoid that. Even though the customer possibly doesn’t realise it, I do.

[Intro MUSIC]

Tamson Pietsch: You’re listening to History Lab, a podcast exploring the gaps between us and the past. I’m your host Tamson Pietsch and in……..

Olivia Rosenman: Tamson, sorry to interrupt, but  I want to show you something. (Rustling sounds of plastic packaging). Don’t eat that. What I would like you to do is describe it.

Tamson Pietsch: Okay. It’s a green jelly person which has a quite pointed set of legs. He’s clutching a very fat belly. He’s got an inny and a really cheeky smile and I don’t know why I call it a him. He does have a tuft of hair at the top and not sort of saide follicles really, at all.

Olivia Rosenman: It’s pretty impressive, right? And since I met the man who made it, I don’t think I’ll ever look at a gummy lolly in the same way again. It’s kind of like my eyes have been opened. I now see the godlike creators, not just of jelly babies like this little guy, but of the entire family confectionary shapes.

Tamson Pietsch: That is our producer Olivia Rosenman and this is History Lab. Today, you’ll start to see the world around you in a new way too. We’re going to go searching for the unique origins forms of all our mass-produced stuff.  And we’ll learn why, even though we’ve never consumed more, the men behind it all, the pattern makers, why they’re becoming a thing of the past.

Olivia Rosenman: Can we get back to the jelly baby? I want to tell you about the guy who made it. Paul Kay. He’s a second generation Pattern Maker.

Tamson Pietsch: Patent as in, you know, people who invent stuff?

Olivia Rosenman: No it’s P-A-T-T-E-R-N. Not patterns like you’d use to knit or sew a piece of clothing.  A different kind of pattern. It’s a model made at very the beginning of the production process. A model that creates a mold used over and over again to form many of the manufactured objects you’re surrounded by.

Tamson Pietsch: So the maker makes the model makes the mould makes the stuff.

Olivia Rosenman: That’s Right. And If hadn’t stopped you from scoffing that jelly baby, do you think you would have noticed the gorgeous tuft of hair, or that cheeky grin?

Tamson Pietsch: Probably not.


Olivia Rosenman: When was the last time you ate a jelly snake?

Tamson Pietsch: Yesterday

Olivia Rosenman: Did you notice the intricate epidermal scales?

Tamson Pietsch: No I was much more focussed on the sugar hit.

Olivia Rosenman: That’s right. But, the truth is even though you might not have noticed them, each one of those intricate details are there because Paul Kay has painstakingly carved each one of those elaborate details by hand.


Paul Kay:  This machine runs relative quietly (LOUD machine noise)

Olivia Rosenman: Right now I’m back in Paul Kay’s workshop. He’s showing me his tools and materials.

Paul Kay: I’ll produce my shape in a polyurethane plastic, or it could be carved in a carved bog literally.

Olivia Rosenman: A what?

Paul Kay: Well it’s what you’d repair a car with. Or fill up a hole or something in your house. We just call it bog.

Olivia Rosenman: I pretended I got it there Tamson, but the truth is I had to Google it later. Bog is basically a solid plastic that’s quite soft, so it’s really easy to carve.

Tamson Pietsch: Maybe I’ve seen that at Bunnings

Olivia Rosenman:  All this industrial work… it’s happening in the basement of Paul’s family home. So while me and Paul are downstairs in the workshop, his teenage daughter was watching an action movie upstairs in the living room, surrounded by furniture and cabinetry and beautiful sculptures made by Paul in his spare time. But downstairs, Paul has a library of patterns, the original shapes of gummies and jubes and chocolates and marshmallows across the globe. It’s an archive of the originals. invisible world of objects that are the original forms of the things that occupy our world.

Paul Kay: I would have seen every aspect of confectionery subjects, every aspect. This is a more recent set for Korea.

Olivia Rosenman: Using specialised tools and fifty years of experience, Paul carves exquisite detail into miniature fruits, starfish, penguins, policemen, boats, airplanes….

Paul Kay:  That is for the Ukraine. So that was some sort of transport assortment that they made.

Olivia Rosenman: But Paul’s not deluded, he’s well aware that most people are more interested in the sugar than the shape.

Paul Kay:  I’m sure they would look at that and go oh you know ‘Wow have a look at this!’ sort of thing, then you know after you’ve looked at it two or three times and it’s just you probably already start making jokes about I’m eating him or eating her or I’ve just eaten a radio, you know.

Olivia Rosenman: The more pattern makers I visited, the more I started to see almost everything around us had an original form, an original maker.

Debbie Tyrrell: Even the salad bowls, all the salad bowls and strawberry punnets that you’re buying Woolworths.

Olivia Rosenman: That’s Debbie Tyrell. She and her husband Greg have run a pattern making business in Sydney’s northern beaches for 30 years. They’ve carved out their niche in patternmaking for plastic vacuum forming. That’s making patterns to make a moulds for heaps of the everyday light plastic stuff that you’ve probably never thought about how it’s made.

Debbie Tyrrell: If you walk into a chemist and there’s a plastic tray holding lots of bottles of cosmetics and the bottles are all different shapes and they fit perfectly in these little holes in the tray. That is a vacuum formed tray.

Olivia Rosenman: When I started exploring this story, I had a hard time getting my head around the whole process. Like what is the difference between the original form and the objects made from it? So I went to visit a bunch of pattern makers, to see what it all looked like.

I met the patternmaker who crafted the blade of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel exhaust fan. And then I met another guy who shaped the handle on the side of the seat in Melbourne’s metro trains. And then I went a foundry where molten metal was being poured to make hose fittings of petrol tankers.

Tamson Pietsch:  Petrol tanker hose fittings? My brain is blowing. And then?

Olivia Rosenman: I met a man who made the pattern for the side panel of the Hilux while working at Toyota’s Plant in South Africa in the nineties.

Tamson Pietsch: So basically, everything but the kitchen sink?

Olivia Rosenman: Actually, one patternmaker showed me a picture of the pattern of a sink that looks just like the one in my kitchen.

Tamson Pietsch: So what did the patterns look like?

Olivia Rosenman: Well that’s the thing, I didn’t really get to see them.

Tasmon: What? They don’t exist?

Olivia Rosenman: Pattern makers rarely keep the patterns – Paul Kay’s jelly babies   they’re an exception.

Usually, a patternmaker hands the pattern over to the production line and when that thing stops being made, the pattern is just chucked out. Or sometimes it’s even burnt!

Tamson Pietsch: What?! It’s like setting fire to an archive?! That’s sacrilege. So what did you do?

Olivia Rosenman: Well, the funny thing is it didn’t matter, Speaking to pattern makers opened my eyes to something bigger. All the mass-produced things in our lives are like shadows of a world of originals. And each one of those originals is exactly the opposite of the anonymous objects we imagine on a factory production line. It’s got a personal story. It’s comes from a world that is all but invisible, and it’s also about to disappear.


Jesse Adams Stein: Well pattern making as a distinct trade has a 19th century beginning.

Olivia Rosenman: This is Jesse Adams Stein. She’s a design historian at UTS and she’s been doing some oral histories with many of the pattern makers I’ve been speaking to.

In trying to understand what pattern making means to us today, she’s had to go back to where it all started.

Jesse Adams Stein: In order to understand how patternmaking came about you kind of have to understand the history of metal casting.

Tamson Pietsch: She means melting metal to make stuff out of it, right?

Olivia Rosenman: Right. And you can trace casting way back to Mesopotamia as early as around 3300 B.C.E.

Tasmon: I didn’t know we were doing an ancient history podcast.

Jesse Adams Stein: Pattern makers and other people that work in the casting industry love making a lot of noise about how they work in an ancient trade. How do we know this? One of the oldest mummies if not the oldest preserved mummy is called ötzi was found in northern Italy. And he apparently was buried or died with a cast copper axe.

And then from about 645 B.C.E in China you start getting sand casting. And sand casting is still the way a lot of metal is cast. So it’s a very very old technique.

Olivia Rosenman: And to make objects out of melted metal you need a mould, and to make a mould….

Tamson Pietsch:  You need a pattern maker!

Jesse Adams Stein: By about the 1820s in Great Britain with the Industrial Revolution,  there was so much demand from companies for engineered products, for machinery. And so you start getting specific Engineering Draughtsman. Molders, fitters and turners started emerging, pattern makers. So those all sort of splintered out as demarked trades and there’s great debates between these trades over their demarked zones, what was their specialization. What was their skill that they were in charge of that no one else could touch.

(Archival tape)

The fine finish of the patterns is evidence of the craftsmanship that has gone to their design and construction. Whether they are intended for the hand moulder or for quantity production, the patterns have been designed to give first class results with the greatest economy of labour in the foundry.

Tamson Pietsch: It sounds like patternmaking is a really unusual combination of art and science?

Olivia Rosenman: Right, and patternmakers are a pretty modest bunch, so it took me a while to understand just how impressive their skills really are. But there’s a reason it’s been referred to as the King of trades.

The precision required is just astounding. We’re talking pinpoint measurements, tolerances in fractions of millimetres, calculating exact volumes in all kinds of shapes.

Remember Paul Kay, the jelly baby man? So not only did he have to create those cute tiny shapes, he had to produce his shape so that the final jube would weigh in at precisely what the manufacturer ordered – to the milligram.

Tamson Pietsch: To the miligram? patternmakers must have to have a really good understanding of the materials they are working with?

Olivia Rosenman: Yes! Not only do they have a deep understanding of wood and the other materials the patterns are now made from, but they also understand the properties of the material the final object will be made out of. Like for objects that will be made of metal, they need to take into account that metal shrinks as it cools.

Olivia. And on top of that there’s some pretty complicated maths.

Peter Phipps: You Know White Wings pancake mixes?

Olivia Rosenman: This is Peter Phipps, a third generation pattern maker.

Peter Phipps: Yeah you shake it and stuff. Well they’re still on the shelf and it’s got a handle where you put your hand or it has like three finger grips in the handle, right? You obviously like pancakes!  

Olivia Rosenman: I don’t think I’ve shaken a bottle of White Wings pancake mix for over 15 years, but as soon as he said it, I was filled with warm memories those super sweet and slightly artificially fluffy pancakes. As he was describing the handle, I could feel my fingers in those three perfect grooves .

Peter Phipps: I used to love making that sort of stuff. And we had to get the volume right. So we didn’t have a computer to calculate a volume of odd shape, we’d have to use Archimedes Principle.

Olivia Rosenman: For those of you who don’t remember high school maths….

Peter Phipps: We’d split the pancake bottle in half, put a lead weight inside, close it back up, wrap that with glad wrap, and we’d sink it in water on a set of scales. Because they want to be say three hundred seventy five milliliters and they want it to finish five millimetres below the lid where the volume was. So how do you do that on an odd shape. That’s how we did it.

Tamson Pietsch: I mean, that’s insane.

Olivia Rosenman: And this is what drew Jesse to pattern makers in the first place.

Jesse Adams Stein: The way they talked about making things was so interesting because they had this love of physical objects this love of form materiality. Clearly this very deep knowledge that you know I think in many ways transcended the kind of knowledge I’d come across from designers and I thought shit they really know about the physical world in a way that designers hope to but perhaps don’t always achieve.


Olivia Rosenman: But before the patternmaker even picks up a tool, they apply another almost superhuman skill.
Peter Williams: It was almost secondary, making it happen was almost secondary to that initial excitement of reading a drawing, and seeing the thing in three dimensions in my own mind.

Olivia Rosenman: This is Peter Williams, he practised pattern making for almost 25 years.  He started as an apprentice patternmaker in 1978, when he was 16 years old.

Peter Williams: I can remember it as an apprentice, you know, the most exciting thing was going up to Dave’s office, the manager’s office, tapping on the door, and saying, “Dave, I need a job, whaddya you got for me next?” And Dave would go to the plan file, and take out the next job, and we’d roll that drawing out onto the bench, and I’d look at it and go, “yep, yep, righto,” and Dave would say, you know, “We need 400 castings, aluminium bronze”. Sometimes we’d sit there and look at a drawing for 2 hours on a bench, and nut that out, and see it in our minds, and agree on things.

Tamson Pietsch: So the patternmaker visualises a detailed, three dimensional object from a simple sketch on paper?

Olivia Rosenman: Well sometimes the sketches were made on Mylar film, which is basically just a stable plastic film. Because they handled them so much.

Tamson Pietsch: Like bog but flat

Olivia Rosenman: Sometimes Paul Kay will just get a random image from the internet. Like, “we need a bike, here’s a stock image”. He’s also made a lot of gummy lollies for cartoons like Mickey Mouse, or Shrek or Madagascar and the likeness was really impressive. I asked him if he refers to pictures or videos of the characters as he works, but he doesn’t.

Paul Kay: I just start carving away and I’m just using my own skill and my own ability in visualizing where I want to end up at.

Sandee Gertz: Not everyone can be a pattern maker, old men on porches tell me, you have to see things no one else sees.

Olivia Rosenman: This is a line from a collection of poems called The Pattern Maker’s Daughter.

Sandee Gertz: My name is Sandee Gertz and I hail from western Pennsylvania and Johnstown where I am from is filled with steel mills and filled with the immigrants that came at the turn of the century to work the steel mills. And my grandfather came from Germany as an immigrant to work in the steel mills and then my father went into the steel mills and eventually over quite a few years became a pattern maker.

Olivia Rosenman: Sandee’s poetry was inspired by a deep admiration for her father’s work, and a realisation that came to her only later in life.

Sandee Gertz: When I was a little girl I really didn’t know much at all about what he did except I knew that it involved math and I knew that involved blueprints and things.

But I always would notice that my father would draw. I would just find these little pieces of paper in different places in the house and he’d do this elaborate sketch or drawing and I’d say Oh dad you drew this and he never made a big deal of it. I guess I grew to call him what you would say a closet artist.

I remember walking down the street in my hometown he told some old man on a porch one day that my dad was patternmaker. And they just stopped and they said well you know not everyone can be a patternmaker and they said “you have to see things no one else sees”.

Olivia Rosenman: That’s something Jesse’s noticed too

Jesse Adams Stein: They all have creative practices on the side whether they make sculpture, a lot of them make sculpture, whether they make furniture or whether they make toys for the kids. But what they’re doing isn’t necessarily in the realm of what the art world would consider art. So there are those sorts of weird interesting class tensions going on there.

Paul Kay: So I didn’t really have this space when we built the house. It was just dirt under there and brick walls and the ceiling there. I didn’t actually have a floor.

Olivia Rosenman: I’m back with Paul Kay, standing at the entrance to the place his jelly babies are born.

Paul Kay: So I had to really get going and move move let’s say fifty years of accumulation from inside a factory.

Tamson Pietsch: So why has Paul squished two generations of pattern making into the basement of his house?

Paul Kay: Work was getting slower and slower. So I just thought well I can’t really afford to get out there and buy a factory or even lease one. So I took the plunge and we invested under the house.

Olivia Rosenman: It was a story I heard from most of the pattern makers. Peter and Bruce Phipps said the same thing. The factory building bought by Peter’s grandfather is about the size of a basketball court. But now….

Peter Phipps: Now we’ve divided and we just use half of it. So we sublet half out to someone else to help cover costs. When we used to at one stage maybe had 10 people. ..There’s three of us and a robot.

Olivia Rosenman: In the basement, I found the pattern of one of Australia’s most iconic inventions, back from the days when Peter’s dad Bruce was running the business.

Tamson Pietsch: What the hills hoist?

Olivia Rosenman: Close. The Victa lawn mower.


Olivia Rosenman: In 1958 Victa was making 143,000 lawn mowers a year and exporting them around the world. Producing the pattern for the mower’s engine was a really lucrative job for the Phipps. But now, while the mowers are still assembled in Australia, their components are made in China and America.

Tamson Pietsch: And what about the Tyrells who make the salad bowls and strawberry punnets?

Olivia Rosenman: They’re also winding things down

Debbie Tyrell: We have been trying for 18 months to buy a factory. We’ve just we’ve actually just this weekend decided we’ve given up. By this point we’ve only probably got another five years and. We’ll see what happens.

Olivia Rosenman: It was kind of surprising, I mean, our lives are increasingly filled with manufactured stuff. I wanted to find out why all these pattern makers are struggling to find work. So I got Jesse back into the studio for a chat.

Jesse Adams Stein: There are two sides to that answer. Technology and political economy but it’s complicated.

Tamson Pietsch: OK well let’s start with political economy – what do you mean by it?

Jesse: Well basically that political decisions have economic effects and that affects people’s livelihoods.

Well from the 1980’s. Australia started opening up its global trade – so reducing tariffs. So suddenly Australia was competing against a lot of other countries In addition to that you’re competing on the basis of wages and also environmental regulations, things like that. So it wasn’t really a level playing field for Australian manufacturers.

Tamson Pietsch: What does that mean on the ground for a manufacturing business.

Jesse Adams Stein: Well first of all it means that money is a massive issue. And so sometimes it results in a race to the bottom, in terms of making things cheaper and cheaper

Paul Kay: You just can’t tell. It… It’s all about cost in manufacturing. If someone can do something cheaper, which is acceptable, that’s what they’re going to go for.

Jesse Adams Stein: So much manufacturing is cost driven.  So many of the discussions are just about how much is it going to cost to get it made, how much is going to cost to get a prototype. You can see why they’re trying to work within really really tight constraints because their customers saying it has to be done for this amount. Otherwise I’m going somewhere else.

Debbie Tyrell: Our cosmetic trade for instance before they went overseas… You had to be had to shake it without the bottle rattling. If there was a mark on the forming etc, it was a reject. Now they’re happy to bring it in from China and they might scrap half of what they bring in. And that’s just acceptable.

Olivia Rosenman:  So you can kind of think of Australian manufacturing as a damaged and fragile ecosystem. And within it, patternmakers, well they’re like a critically endangered species.

Jesse Adams Stein: Businesses were faced with actually three options. The first one was just close down. And a lot of them did. The second one was maybe you could offshore your operations if you had enough capital and the willingness to do that. That was another option. Medium sized businesses often did this. The third option was to upgrade your technology. So bring in the CNC machines for example.   


Valve bodies, manifolds, gear housings, regulators, pump components, fuel systems parts, motor bases, prototypes of all kinds. These are just a fraction of a vast array of parts being produced on this astounding numerically controlled machining center

Tamson Pietsch: So what exactly was or is a numerically controlled machining center?

Olivia Rosenman: It’s basically just a really big machine that is programmed by a computer to cut away material to form shapes. These days it’s just called a CNC Machine.

Jesse Adams Stein: There’s a bit of debate around when you say the first numerically controlled machine came about. It’s generally traced to the late 1940s immediately post-war in the United States.


It has long been the dream of the metal working industry to mill, drill, bore, ream and tap in one setup, automatically on a single machine.

Jesse Adams Stein: By about the 60s and 70s in the United States, CNC machines were becoming much more widely taken up in all different industries.

Olivia Rosenman: But, like most things, it took them a while to get to Australia.

Jesse Adams Stein: In terms of the Australian context you didn’t see a wide rollout of CNC machines until the early 2000s. Might have been a bit of 1990s but these machines were really expensive. Employers were reluctant to put out that much money for a big machine that was possibly going to be out of date in a few years.

Olivia Rosenman: And now they are pretty ubiquitous. And they have changed the way pattern makers work.

Peter Phipps: I don’t do anything by hand anymore other than put my fingers on a keyboard on  a computer. So it comes out the other end in a lump of aluminium that’s really it.

Jesse Adams Stein: And that’s why so many pattern makers have opted to leave the industry. Because standing in front of a CNC was not how they imagined their lives were going to be and they’re bored. These people are highly skilled often very creative as well. And they imagined they were going to spend their lives making stuff with their hands.

You can see from an employer perspective, If you have the money to actually buy a machine then you’re basically hiring yourself a very very efficient all night worker.

Olivia Rosenman: When I visited the Phipps, the CNC machine was working non-stop, cutting a pattern for a piece of a mining machine. That’s the the droning sound you can hear in the background.

(In workshop)

Olivia Rosenman: So how would that machine take a cut out something like that.

Peter: What you see there is typically a couple of days in the machine.

Olivia Rosenman: And how long would it have taken to make it out of wood in the old style.

Bruce: It’d take two weeks

Olivia Rosenman: Remember how Peter Phipps said that now there was just three of them and a robot? Well this is how his Peter’s father, Bruce, who ran the business in the 60s and 70s sees it:

Bruce Phipps: All they do now as they draw it up on the computer and send it down on the machine and it does it, so you don’t need any hand tools anymore.

So I’ve got all my dad’s tools and mine at home, which is not worth anything these days you know.

Tamson Pietsch: How old is Bruce?

Olivia Rosenman: He’s 85

Tamson Pietsch: So Bruce has basically watched the arrival of these machines and seen them replace the all men in the business, one by one?

Olivia Rosenman: Yep

Tamson Pietsch: So let me get my head around this these men, who have such expert skills,  either learn a new set of skills to operate the machines that are doing the work in which you’re skilled. Or retrain?

Olivia Rosenman: Yeah, move on and do something else. But it’s just not that simple.

And you’re also right that it was mostly men.

Peter Williams: If I’m a patternmaker and I’m not making patterns, then what am I? And that hit me like a train. That hit me like a freight train. If I’m a patternmaker, and I’m not makin’ patterns, then what am I? And it was a really sobering thought.

And that was when I thought wow you’re gonna to have to be something else,

because patternmaking is not going to be around. Get used to it. So what are you gonna do?

And I didn’t have an answer. I did not have an immediate answer for that.

Olivia Rosenman: For most of the guys I spoke to, I got the feeling that a significant  part of a pattern maker’s identity was formed by their apprenticeship and education through a technical college or tafe. There used to be pattern making courses in every state in Australia. Now there’s only one in the country – in Brisbane – and last year, they had seven apprentices enrolled.

Peter Williams: The challenge for us at that time, all of us fellas on the shop floor was, which way were you going to go, individually. How are you gonna feed yourself? how are you going to stay in work?

Jesse Adams Stein: But I do think there are issues of masculinity there too. That that our society structures itself in such a way that men feel that they have to have a occupationally based definition of themselves.

Tamson Pietsch: Yeah That expectation is  crap. But removing is also going to come with a bunch of difficulties.

Jesse Adams Stein:If you look at say the United States and the kind of political anger  that ultimately resulted in the election of Trump you actually think we really do have to understand these concerns and do a better job at dealing with it rather than just dismissing these people as kind of part of the past and therefore we’ve moved on. So understanding that that anger and that disappointment has political ramifications that made me go okay I do need to understand these people.

Tamson Pietsch: Which brings us back to politics.

Jesse Adams Stein: In Australia manufacturing for a long time had a reputation of being kind of a dirty industry of hard work and also a very working class left wing union based set of industries which some sides of politics weren’t so keen on and therefore didn’t want to support.

Tamson Pietsch: But does it really matter if we don’t manufacture much in Australia any more? If it’s cheaper and quicker to make stuff elsewhere, why not just import it?

Likewise, does it matter if machines take over the work humans used to do? Aren’t they more precise, and more efficient? They certainly don’t need sick leave.

Jesse: It is a fallacy that the decline in manufacturing is this inevitable fact that happens without our involvement. The decline in manufacturing is the result of policy and political maneuvering.

Peter Phipps: And I’m not heavy in the politics but I feel like both parties the two main parties they gave up on us. They leave it open for everything to come in from overseas. And as a consumer I can go and buy all these cheap things on the shelf.

Jesse Adams Stein: I don’t want to fall back on sort of knee-jerk, old, nationalistic claims for kind of a nostalgic manufacturing past. I’m not suggesting that we should go back to the way things were which were not necessarily very environmentally clean or particularly equitable in their employment of women for example. But I do think there’s great value in being a country that still is able to make things. One of the first reasons for that is simply just sustainability and resource use. It makes sense to value add to resources rather than just being the world’s mining pit. Makes a lot of sense for innovation and research and development. Manufacturing is one of the biggest contributors to research and development.

Peter Phipps: I feel like we’ve all got to just push bits of paper around in a circle and that’s going to keep us afloat. I feel like you need all the different sectors of society work you need the farmers you need the manufacturers you need the insurance companies you need the paper pushers you need all of us to be doing things

Jesse: And if you want to think about this in the context of the future of work there are excellent kinds of jobs that can be created in manufacturing fantastic skilled jobs, not uber driving, maybe something like engineering pattern making.

Peter Williams: I don’t see that I’m ever going to be able to teach anyone else to become a patternmaker because there’s not going to be any point in that.

Tamson Pietsch: You might have been talking to some of the last pattern makers in Australia.

Olivia Rosenman: Yeah that could be true. And I’ve been trying to understand what we lose when they are all gone.

Doorbell, arriving sounds, greeting….

Olivia Rosenman: I went to visit a man called Henry Wilson in his super schmick studio in the inner Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. Henry designs furniture, lighting fittings, and some other accessories – he showed me what is perhaps the most beautiful sticky tape dispenser I’ve ever seen.

Tamson Pietsch: Did Henry have a beard

Olivia Rosenman: He didn’t have a beard but he was a hipster in every other way

Tamson Pietsch: So how does Henry fit in?

Olivia Rosenman: Well that tape dispenser I mentioned. It was commissioned by a very high end cosmetics brand with a very stylish aesthetic and they needed their shop assistants to be able to get a piece of tape with one hand. So not only was it very beautiful but it was also very heavy. It was cast in gunmetal bronze.

And the pattern for the tape dispenser was made by Peter Phipps.

Tamson Pietsch: Pancake shake bottle Peter Phipps?

Olivia Rosenman: Yes! And when I went to visit Peter in his shop, he even took me round the corner to the foundry to show me where his patterns are moulded and case in metal.

So I asked Henry why he got his made locally, rather than sending it off overseas where he could get it cheaper.

Henry Wilson: Why I manufacture really in Australia is that I like the idea that I can go there have a discussion with Peter and go and see the foundry and we can resolve technical problems quite quickly together. It’s a collaborative kind of orchestra of people.

You know a really good experienced manufacturer or patternmaker can can change your design or enhance your design with their skill.

It’s that inventive step and that’s what I think makes industrial design when you have a human involved so much more interesting because they….the computer will never say ‘hey you should you can make it more efficient like this’. And if you program in a mistake it will make that mistake perfectly.

Jesse Adams Stein: If you’re trying to do something that is a mass production run you don’t want to do it by hand. That’s horrible. You know talk to Paul Kay about machining 10000 castings with his son. Horrible mind-numbing injuring work. But if you’re trying to do something as intricate as a glucose jube shape, chances are doing it manually actually makes a lot more sense and I think we have to start thinking really adaptively about technologies for the particular function that we’re trying to use and say “Is it appropriate in this case. Or are there other ways” rather than completely rejecting older methods as just being of the past. Something to look back at nostalgically and that’s it.

I think particularly now in a context where almost a kind of technological triumphalism, where people have just said well this is it. This is the world we’re in. We’re in a completely digital space now. We just have to catch up and retrain and you know jump on board because there’s no other choice. Whereas I think we remind ourselves that the way technologies are outlaid into society, they are also social decisions they are made by people. People with a lot of power. It makes us remember that perhaps we are  not as powerless as we might think we are. But it requires a lot of people to be thinking that way.

Olivia Rosenman: You could say it requires a lot people to see what pattern makers see.


Tamson Pietsch: History Lab closing credits.


Podcast playlist


Making history in audio

December 18 · 24 MIN

History Lab audio makers explore how we’ve tried to understand the past through sound in season two


Skeletons of Empire

December 11 · 37 MIN

In the aftermath of World War One, nations came together in an attempt to ensure war on the same devastating scale could never occur again. The result? The League of Nations: a revolutionary idea to form the world’s first international organisation. But clearly it did not stop the world from going to war.

A century later we are still questioning our ability to come together. In this episode, Glenda Sluga and Ninah Kopel search for the ephemeral traces of a unified past. They find stories of hope, ambition but also skeletons lurking in the closet. Many say the League failed. But did the spirit live on?


The Bank, the Sergeant and his bonus

November 27 · 32 MIN

In 1817, the Bank of New South Wales opened as the first financial institution in the Australian colonies. But when the first customers arrived for the grand opening, they found someone had already made a deposit. Where did the money come from? Our producers, Jason and Nicole, follow the record trail and discover the uncertain foundations of Australia’s first bank.