A half sectioned and a whole lawn bowl
The museum's plastics collection began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. The collection was driven largely by Arthur de Ramon Penfold (1890-1980), a former industrial chemist, who worked as curator and later director of the museum from 1927 until 1955.
Between 26 and 28 of September 1934, Sydney Technical College's Chemical Society and the Sydney Technological Museum collaborated to develop what was advocated as the first Plastics Industry Exhibition in Australia. A permanent display of plastics was established at the museum, and was described by the Sunday Telegraph as 'the best display of plastics and fibres in the world ... show(ing) the complete history of plastics from first experiments to the latest developments' (Sunday Telegraph, 1945).
These lawn bowls are significant in the history of lawn bowls and in the history of plastics manufacturing. Lawn bowls has been a popular game for many centuries. The development of solid plastic lawn bowls transformed this sport in the twentieth century. Previously lawn bowls were produced from lignum vitae wood or rubber. In these bowls the bias, an essential element of the game, was created by inserts in the bowl. With the invention of the plastic lawn bowl inserts were not necessary as the weight of the bowl created the bias. In addition, plastic bowls were not affected by climate and needed little upkeep. They also meant that bowls could be produced more cheaply.
This half sectioned bowl was made by Henselite. Raymond W Hensell developed the first plastic (composite) lawn bowl in 1930. It was and still is the thickest solid mass of plastic manufactured. This invention was the beginning of an Australian family business, Henselite, which still produces lawn bowls today.
These lawn bowls are part of a large collection of plastics and plastic moulding powders acquired by the museum during Arthur Penfold's career. The collection gives insight into a period of great social, material, technological and scientific development, along with some of the aims and collecting practices of the museum at the time.
Written by Rachel Dowling, Assistant Curator, February 2008
Henselite, About Us: Henselite History, available at: http://www.henselite.com.au/, accessed 20/02/08
ABC TV Online. Dimensions in Time episode 14 2002: Lawn Bowls, available at:
http://www.abc.net.au/dimensions/dimensions_in_time/Transcripts/s555036.htm, accessed 20/02/08
Sunday Telegraph, 'For plastics he saw great things', 11 November 1945
The Australasian Manufacturer Plastics Review Supplement, January 25, 1936.