Archive, Metric Conversion Board, consisting of posters, pamphlets, conference papers, annual reports, newsletters, business cards, story boards, metric kits and conversion tables, made for and used by the Metric Conversion Board, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia, 1970-1982
This archival collection is significant in regard to the historic documentation it provides on the decade long program of activities of the Public Relations Advisory Committee, which was one of the many sector committees established by the Metric Conversion Board.
The collection is good in showing the legislative background and framework of the conversion to the metric system of weights and measures as it applied to Australian science and industry.
The collection provides evidence of the didactic methods employed by the Metric Conversion Board during the introduction and development of the metric system of weights and measures in Australia.
The Metric Conversion Board was established on 1 July 1970. The Board's task was to plan, guide and facilitate the conversion in Australia to the sole use of the metric system of weights and measures, with the aim that this conversion would be substantially completed by the end of 1979.
The Metric Conversion Board was a small group, comprising a Chairman, Executive Member, and initially eleven members. The Board was advised by a number of specialist committees (Education and Industrial Training, Primary Industry, Consumer Goods and Service Industries, Engineering Industry, Building and Construction, Industrial Materials, Science and Technology, Transport and Communications, Land, Fuel, Power and Public Services, Health and Recreation and Public Relations). At full employment levels, these advisory committees numbered 1000 people, who worked on a voluntary basis.
This collection of material emanates from the Public Relations Advisory Committee of the Metric Conversion Board, where the donor was the Director between 1975 and 1981. This committee was established in November 1970, and was initially embedded within the framework of the Consumer Goods and Service Industries Advisory Committee. It was a very important advisory committee and its significance for the Board was exemplified by the fact that the Board's Chairman also chaired the meetings of the Public Relations Advisory Committee.
The material in this collection was designed and produced by a variety of specialist firms, but the content always remained under the control and supervision of the Metric Conversion Board.
This collection exemplifies the range of publicity undertaken by the Public Relations Advisory Committee of the Metric Conversion Board, in its campaign for the successful implementation of a metric system of weights and measures throughout Australia during the 1970s.
The Advisory Committee provided advice on public information policy to the Metric Conversion Board and generally argued for a two-phased approach to conversion during the 1970s. In the first phase, a case was made informing the populace of the basis upon which Australia would move toward a metric system of weights and measures. The chief tool in this regard was the 26 page booklet, issued in June 1971, entitled 'Metric Conversion for Australia'.
The material in this collection was produced throughout the decade long operation of the Metric Conversion Board and it was gathered (from 1975 until 1981) by the donor, who was also the Board's Director of Public Relations.
A more detailed history on the origin, development and operations of the Board can be found in the 'Notes' section of the acquisition, however, a more general and brief background on the development of legislation concerned with weights and measures in Australia will be useful here.
The history and development of legislation covering weights and measures in Australia, reflects the demands of technology for the provision of legal units of measurement for a wide range of physical quantities, and for the standards of measurement to be maintained to greater accuracy.
Before Federation, the States controlled the units of measurement used in trade. They were relatively simple and involved only mass, length, volume and area. The units and standards specified were the so-called 'imperial units' and in most cases metric units could not be used. In Australia, there were no legally defined units for many other quantities such as density, pressure, electrical voltage and temperature. Although the Federal Constitution provided the Commonwealth Parliament with the authority to make laws in respect of weights and measures, that power was not exercised until 1948. In that year, the new Weights and Measures (National Standards) Act, provided "...for the establishment and use throughout Australia of uniform units of measurements, and uniform standards of measurement, of physical quantities..." (Metric Conversion Board, First Annual Report 1970-1971, p. 5).
One effect of the Act was to prevail over the power of the States to specify particular units for particular purposes. In 1960, because the Commonwealth felt that the States should be able to exercise certain of these powers, the 1948 Act was repealed and replaced by an Act that allowed the States to legislate in certain areas without conflicting with the Commonwealth legislation.
The need for a more extensive and accurate system of weights and measures had been seen as far back as 1940, when the Commonwealth established the National Standards Laboratory under the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The weights and measures legislation, later introduced by the Commonwealth, validated many of the diverse standards maintained by the Laboratory. Units prescribed in the Commonwealth's Weights and Measures (National Standards) Regulations had a much wider application than those covered by previous State legislation. Interestingly, the original Commonwealth legislation included a full range of metric units as well as the imperial units in common use.
The legislation defined the imperial units used in Australia directly in terms of metric units, which are identical with the internationally defined metric units, hence Australian weights and measures were already closely related to the metric system by definition.
State legislation did not allow the use of metric units in trade, but the Commonwealth legislation made this possible. The States legislated for permissable use of metric units in pharmaceuticals in 1963, and by 1967, they were permissible for general trading activities in most States.
In April 1967, a Senate Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the metric system of weights and measures. Between then and May 1968 the Committee, under the Chairmanship of Senator K.A. Laught, heard evidence in all capital cities from 141 witnesses and 54 persons or organisations. The committee reported unanimous agreement that it was practicable and desirable for Australia to adopt the metric system of weights and measures at an early date. The committee found that:
***evidence from a wide segment of the community overwhelmingly supported an early change to the sole use of the metric system and indicated that there would be no insuperable difficulties (the archive collection exemplifies the means to educate the public to the simplicity and benefits of metrification for weights, measures, and standards)
*** in 1970, about 90% of the world's population used metric measurements (and the % was then increasing)
*** in 1970, about 75% of the world's trade was carried on in metric terms
*** a metric system, it was claimed, would improve the teaching of mathematics and science, reduce errors and save time
*** it was found that the introduction of a metric system would improve industrial and manufacturing efficiency by rationalising existing practices and reducing unnecessary varieties in sizes and components
*** introduction of a metric system was widely regarded as a natural consequence of Australia's earlier conversion to decimal currency. The full advantages of decimal currency would not be experienced until decimal weights and measures were also used.
*** the Senate Select Committee recommended establishment of a Metric Conversion Board to plan, guide and facilitate the change and that the system to be adopted should be predominantly the International System of Units (SI), which was the system recommended by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
(The curator acknowledges the assistance of the donor, Mr Gavin Handley, and the references in 'Metric Conversion Board, First Annual Report for Year 1970-1971 (The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1971, Parliamentary Paper No. 260), in compiling the history notes.
In April 1967 a Senate Select Committee was appointed to examine the metric system of weights and measures. Under the chairmanship of Senator K A Laught it undertook its deliberations, received 54 written submissions from individuals and organisations, and heard evidence in all capital cities of Australia between April 1967 and May 1968. In its report the Committee recommended the establishment of a board to plan, guide and facilitate the change to the International System of Units (SI). The Metric Conversion Act 1970 was granted Royal Assent on 12 June 1970 [Commonwealth of Australia Act No. 16 of 1970, Metric Conversion Act 1970]. In Section 5 of the Act its objective was stated as "to bring about progressively the use of the metric system of measurement in Australia as the sole system of measurement of physical quantities". It was intended that the conversion be substantially completed by the end of 1979. The Act also provided for a Metric Conversion Board to function as an advisory body to the Minister for Education and Science in relation to the conversion programme. It was to consist of a Chairman, Executive Member, and eleven members. The Act however did not grant the Board powers to require metrification.
On 1 July 1970 the thirteen members of the Metric Conversion Board were appointed. Members were drawn from all parts of Australia and from various fields, with the Chairman being John Davey Norgard, a senior executive with Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP). His office was located in Melbourne. The Executive Member was A F Alan Harper, a research physicist with Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The other eleven original Board members were C R Bunning, J O G Glastonbury, G M Hastie, Sir Albert Jennings, F J McAvoy, D L McBride, Dame Mabel Miller, N N Robertson, W I Stewart, J H Watson and A J Woods. The Board met for the first time on 4 July 1970.
The Board established advisory committees to monitor major areas of society likely to be affected by metric conversion. These were in the areas of Education and Industrial Training, Primary Industry, Consumer Goods and Service Industries, Engineering Industry, Building and Construction, Industrial Materials, Science and Technology, Transport and Communications, Land, Fuel, Power and Public Services, Health and Recreation and Public Relations. Each advisory committee was chaired by a Board member. Sector Committees were also established to support the work of each advisory committee. At its height, the work of the advisory committees was undertaken by 140 committees comprising about 1500 people, all of whom worked on a voluntary basis. A secretariat was established to provide technical and administrative assistance to the Board and its committees.
The Public Relations Advisory Committee of the Metric Conversion Board, from where the material in this archive emanates, operated in its own right from 1971 but before that it had been embedded within the framework of the Board from November 1970 as a sector committee of the Consumer Goods and Service Industries Advisory Committee. The role of the Public Relations Advisory Committee was to provide advice on public information policy to the Board. The Chairman, J D Norgard, also chaired meetings of the Public Relations Advisory Committee. Gavin Handley, the donor of the archive, was Public Relations Director for the Metric Conversion Board from 1975 to 1981.
On 17 June 1981 the Minister for Science and Technology announced that the Commonwealth's metrication program had been formally completed and that the Board would be wound up on 30 June. Its public assistance and information functions were continued by the Department of Science and Technology through a Metric Section.
"Agency notes for agency CA 1741" [Metric Conversion Board], National Archives of Australia, www.naa.gov.au/collection/recordsearch.aspx [Accessed 27 March 2008]
"Agency notes for agency CA 1834" [Metric Conversion Board, Branch Office, Melbourne], National Archives of Australia, www.naa.gov.au/collection/recordsearch.aspx [Accessed 27 March 2008]
"Norgard, John Davey (1914 - )" http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/bsparcs/biogs/P003821b.htm [Accessed 27 March 2008]
2007/85/1-1 Annual reports, Metric Conversion Board, 1970-71 - 1980-81
2007/85/1 Blue File