Workers at Victa Mowers on the production line

Australian Design, Trades and Manufacturing: Connecting Histories

Funded by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship (DECRA)

Project commencing July 2021

Histories of Australian design and histories of Australian manufacturing are usually considered separately. This separation does not reflect the collaborative activity that occurred between the Australian design and Australian manufacturing sectors in the second half of the twentieth century. During this period, designers had a distinct and evolving relationship with manufacturing tradespeople, which manifested in product development, production and educational contexts, particularly vocational educational contexts such as TAFEs and technical institutes.

The project turns attention to the specific relationship between Australian designers and manufacturing tradespeople, covering the period 1945-2007 (post World War II to the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis).

How did Australian designers’ work gradually transform with deindustrialisation, globalisation and technological change? And what happened to the local manufacturing tradespeople who previously had close ties to a local design sector?

At the essence of this inquiry is a focus on generative knowledge-sharing between designers and tradespeople: how did people communicate, what were the shared understandings, and how did people shift in their employment pathways, across and between manufacturing, teaching, and creative fields? This is an investigation into a productive space in which skilled makers of all kinds worked collaboratively.

As with my previous research, this project will involve oral histories (with the National Library of Australia), and a podcast produced with Impact Studios.

Call for Interviews: Australian working lives in Manufacturing, Trades, Education and Design

Do you have a career background that has shifted across and between trades training, manufacturing, vocational education and/or creative practice? Maybe you started in an apprenticeship, worked in manufacturing, then taught at TAFE? Maybe you worked in a technical support role in Australian manufacturing and then shifted to set design or commercial art? Or perhaps you used to work in the rag trade, then retrained when the local textiles industry dissolved? Would you like to tell your life story (as oral history), and have it recorded with the National Library of Australia? If you think you have a story to tell, please email, with a short summary of relevant life history details (300 word max).