Washing machine, metal/fibreglass/paint/plastic/rubber, Centre for Appropriate Technology, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, 1991
This washing machine is an example of the rugged well-designed products made by the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) for use in remote Australian communities. It was part of a program aimed at providing training and jobs for Indigenous people and making products that would be useful to communities and could be repaired using local resources.
The machine also represents the international appropriate design movement. This approach developed in the late 1960s from the California-based Hippy sub-culture, which practised an alternative and ecologically conservative lifestyle. Its principles were formalised and championed by US product designer Victor Papanek and British economist Ernst Schumacher. Papanek lived for several years in Navajo, Inuit and Balinese communities, and Schumacher worked for a time in Burma and was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.
Many features of the washing machine can be seen in pre-electric machines made for the same purpose. While it, like other early CAT products, is retro in design, the organisation later changed its emphasis to providing solar energy solutions. Through its Bushlight program, it produces robust community-level energy generation, energy management and training in remote parts of Australia. It has reached far beyond its original aims, installing large solar arrays in cities such as Darwin and Sydney and playing a major role in the National Solar Schools Program. Its Bushlight India project, which delivers reliable renewable energy to remote communities in India, won the Engineers Australia top award for 2011. Gandhi would have been impressed!
Debbie Rudder, Curator, 2012
The washing machine was designed and made by the Centre for Appropriate Technology, part of the Community College of Central Australia in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. The Centre was established in 1980, and the machine was made in 1991.
The design brief used client criteria for isolated Aboriginal communities. For example, cultural criteria called for the machine to be used by women and children only, and environmental criteria called for manual rather than electric operation.
The machine was purchased new from the Centre for Appropriate Technology. It was displayed in the Powerhouse Museum exhibition 'Success and Innovation' from 1991, when it opened, until 2011, when it was dismantled.