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Lessons of History : Renewable, Recycle, Repurpose.

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Back to the Future : Lessons in Sustainability

City of Adelaide Clipper, Maiden Voyage 1864

The CITY OF ADELAIDE clipper is the last original composite- hulled clipper-ships. In 2015 the Clipper Hull sits in Port Adelaide Dock 1 having survived in a lonely slipway in Irvine (Scotland) with a demolition order hanging over it. The 14 year lobby to secure this major contribution to South Australia's survival succeeded. It is the sister ship to the CUTTY SARK which found fame from carrying tea from China and wool from Sydney.The CITY OF ADELAIDE is 6 years older than her sister and was designed to carry imported trade goods into South Australia as well as exports such us our grain, wool and copper. As an immigrant ship 889 passengers from England, Scotland, Germany and Ireland made the long passage on the 23 trips between 1864 -1886. The BID TO SAVE THE CITY OF ADELAIDE action group propose that 1/5 South Australians are descended from its passenger list. An 2013 ABC interview with Peter Goers he rightly put, preserving history is not always financially practicable. I insisted even if we cannot save historical icons like the clipper ship, City of Adelaide, let us use the lesson of its existence to improve our future. Fast forward to October 2015 and the Clipper is in Port Adelaide arriving on the M/V Palanpur in February 2014. The determined efforts of the many dedicated South Australians achieved, what many thought impossible.

Rag and Bone Man : Recycling Precious Resources

Into the 20th Century Rag 'n Bone Men patrolled the city streets to gather unwanted recyclable goods to sell to manufacturers ie animal bones to glue makers and potters for bone china...rags to paper makers for pre 1880 paper. Ask most people today what paper is made of and the answer would be “Trees”. However their is the saying 

"Rags make Paper, Paper makes Money, Money makes Banks, Banks make Loans, Loans make Poverty, Poverty makes rags..."

The first handmade paper was made from linen (flax or hemp fibre) rag pulp that was washed, boiled and macerated to separate the fibres.Most paper consists of cellulose materials and pre-1800 also utilized hemp, flax, mulberry and rice fibres. (On this important topic  I urge Adelaidians to visit to the Institute of Economy Botany in the Adelaide Botanical Gardens to experience an excellent display of these elements.) Until 1883, over 75-90 % of paper was made with hemp & flax products, which were sourced from worn-out clothes, curtains, diapers, old hemp fishing lines and worn sail-cloth. The latter items were sold by ship owners to scrap dealers, or “Rag ‘n Bone Men”, who collected unwanted household items and sold them to merchants, in the case of cloth, it was a primary resource of Paper production. Rag paper was the epitome of the phrase ‘waste not want not’. Laid paper was made by dipping a wooden mould and deckle into a fibre suspension slurry. The resulting paper had a “grid” pattern in the sheet, a result of the rag pulp resting against wires stretched across the timber frames.However, Laid paper was handmade and the higher demand created by the industrial revolution had a solution for slow production which was high quality wove paper using netting, like flyscreens. This was invented by James Whatman in 1756. The strength of rag paper is due to the long length of the fibres as opposed to short timber fibres of wod pulp  introduced in 1880s. It is believed that Rag paper containing hemp fibre and mulberry, is the highest quality and the longest lasting ever made, surviving up to five hundred years so far.

Why did the source of paper change from "rag" to timber?

Marine Steam Engine Technology

Demise of the Tallship: After the Steam Engine technology was adapted for ocean travel, this essential primary resource of the paper industry was a threatened species. Some enterprising German inventors started to try out other sources and settled on soft wood conifers which became the default source of paper after 1883. We now know that the element, Lignin, in wood pulp paper guarantees it WILL have a limited life. As Lignin ages it produces acid thereby giving paper the defining feature of an aspirin.

LESSON NO.2 Grow Hemp & Flax not Cotton

In the Conservation Picture Framing where I have evolved my Custom Framing over the past 20 years, cotton was the  renewable product, free of Lignin, that I favoured. However, why have Flax and Hemp, the mainstay of past high quality hand made paper, been ignored? Finance Empire Builders like Dupont (plastics, nylon...) and Hearst Paper Manufacturing catalysts for their demise. So Cotton requires large quantities of fresh fresh water making it unsuitable for any but lands of high rainfall. As proposed by hemp advocate , Professor John Jingles, Flax and Hemp were the most valuable plants the late 1700s due to Naval and Maritime trade demands. Now its value is the adaptability for agricultural as both plants require 25% water per crop. High water requirements of Cotton in Australia eg Cubby Station, has majorly stressed the Murray/ Darling river system and impacting on the environment, the nature it supports and other vital food producers. The different features of both plants can make fabrics, archival paper, construction materials,and  oils is useful in industry as an alternative to petro-chemicals eg linseed oil is prevents the incidence of rust and in the diet provides Omega essential fatty acids so has medicinal qualities as well

Lesson No 3. Wind Power Lessens Carbon Output

With Global concerns about the Human Carbon Output and its effect on climate change (also read the opinions of Ian Plimer in "Heaven & Earth" ), the cargo ship operators sought a way to reduce the cost of producing that carbon by burning the crude fossil fuel necessary to power these huge craft. In the Sydney Morning Herald January 23rd, 2008, the MS Beluga, a the world’s first modern cargo ship, set sail from Germany bound for Venezuela partially powered by a 160-square-metre GIANT KITE (now where have we seen that before?)

Skysail:The old & new technologies blend

“During the next few months we will finally be able to prove that our technology works in practice and significantly reduces fuel consumption and emissions” said Stephen Wrage of Skysails. The huge vessel is pulled along by a computer-controlled kite attached to the bow of the ship. The computer regulated the sail efficiency retracting it when wind conditions changed hence achieving the optimum benefit. The result was the kite and modern technology attached to it assisted the engines , reducing fuel consumption by “up to 35 percent depending on the prevailing conditions”

  • a) Reduces Carbon output hence the amount of Offset when Carbon trading is introduced
  • b) Saves money in fossil fuel costs
  • c) Proves that what worked for human kind for centuries is still relevant and can be made more efficient by the applying modern technology.
  • d) History and the future are symbiotic. If all the generations get together just think of what can be achieve!

CONCLUSION.... and biggest lesson

Most lessons have already been practiced and the results, beneficial or not, are recorded by Historians. As an Antiquary specializing in prints generated by the inhabitants of the past, and a practicing Conservation framer, I maintain Conservation is more cost effective than Restoration (and designed obsolescence = landfill and pointless waste) 

History is a noble teacher: as it is revealed to us we can chuckle at being unaware and benefit from the knowledge it imparts.

Article by Sandra J. Ker,

Antiquarian Print Gallery/History Revisited


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