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 commenced July 2021

Project CI and Interviewer: Dr Jesse Adams Stein

Second Interviewer: Dr Nikki Henningham

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 the manufacturing sector, 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 the manufacturing sector, covering the period 1945-2007 (post World War II to the 2007-08 Global Financial Crisis). Although this is the stated time span, I remain keenly interested in more recent developments, and so some attention will also be given to contemporary manufacturing issues.

How did Australian designers’ work gradually transform with deindustrialisation, globalisation and technological change? And what happened to the skilled manufacturing workers and business owners 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.

This project will involve oral histories (with the National Library of Australia), and a podcast produced with Impact Studios.


Call for Interview Participants





Stein, JA 2021, Industrial Craft in Australia: Oral Histories of Creativity & Survival (Palgrave Macmillan / Springer, Palgrave Studies in Oral History series, due out December 2021). [This publication informs the positioning of this DECRA project, but also draws on my research from the Reshaping Australian Manufacturing project.)