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Goodman, Ross
Have We Missed the Train?: A Discussion on the Passing on of Dying Trade Skills
Sustaining Heritage: Second International and Thirteenth National Engineering Heritage Conference and NSW Railways Seminar
Engineers Australia, Sydney, New South Wales, 2005, pp. 3-5

We live in a world where production times are cut to the bare minimum, where machine centres carry out operations that machinists of fifty years ago could only dream of with an accuracy seldom found even in a tool room. Why then should we seek to keep old trade skills alive? The need to perform a job in the same manner as tradesmen in times gone by and not take the often easier course of using today's technology to improve the process, is part of the realisation that the skill, as well as the final objective, is also important. As the composition of our workforce changes, terms such as 'rivet boy' are no longer acceptable, and a shout for a dozen by 3 inch rivets can no longer be heard ringing through a workshop; a part of our history dies forever with their disappearance. These skills cannot be taught in a classroom by people who have not spent most of their lives "on the tools", on the workshop floor. Should these dying trade skills become "core business" for cultural institutions as much as the objects themselves are, and if so, should a secure and on-going funding stream be established? As the last keepers of these old trade skills reach the end of their working lives, and the risk of losing these skills becomes a reality, have we missed the opportunities to transfer this expertise to another generation of tradespeople? Mainstream industry is not in the business nurturing skills that will probably never give them a return on their investment, and the public institutions are struggling with ever tighter funding constraints and are unwilling to commit valuable resources to such projects. The traditional work spaces, such as the Large Erecting Shop at Eveleigh, are also being lost as they are converted to more cost efficient applications. Have we, as cultural institutions, preservation groups and others concerned about our heritage, missed the train with our lost opportunities, or are these skills simply not worth saving?

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