Theme Convener: Penrose Angwin, M.B.E.
Display Designers: Stefan Buzas and Ronald Sandiford
In shaping Britain and nurturing her, nature has been peculiarly moderate. We have no extremes of climate; our driest places are not deserts, our waterways are modest and our mountains would be lost in the shadows of the Andes. Yet, by some persistent anomaly, the British have always been lured to discovery and exploration by those very regions of the world where nature has been most extravagant or most severe – Livingstone by the jungles and lakes of Africa, Scott by the icy Antarctic, Sturt by Australia’s barren heart, Mallory by the supreme isolation of Everest.
This urge is within all of us to some degree. So, when we recall how much of the present world our forebears have made known, we do not experience wonder so much as admiration of their courage in accepting the challenge we all have felt and of the endurance it drew from them. Their discovery has lcd to exploration, and exploration to development of new lands by those skills we learned at home. Thus have we served whole continents.
This is the theme of the opening section of the Dome. Apart from a brief glance-back to the past, its setting is the intensive exploration and development of the present time.
Inseparable from exploration nowadays is accurate surveying and making maps without which development is impossible. The British have surveyed vast areas of the globe, steadily improving methods and evolving better instruments as part of this achievement. Nor is this work done yet; yearly, standards are getting higher and the scope is widening as aircraft, for example, and new physical devices are added to the equipment. These new methods are illustrated in the displays.
In developing the land, control of water is one of the first essentials. Without control it floods and destroys at random; its absence means aridity and useless soils. Properly constrained it brings fertility; harnessed, it gives up a mighty power. A great river is like a living thing, for all its parts are related together in behaviour and change in one will bring about change in the rest. So, any permanent alteration in its course or habit must be made with due regard to the whole of its catchment area.
Even in the mild land of Britain we have our river problems, and the way we are dealing with one of them – the Great Ouse – is illustrated in this section. But it is in overseas lands, where the scales are vastly larger, that British achievements in water engineering can be seen at their peak – damming, irrigating and delivering the hydro-electric power essential for the advancement of primitive or undeveloped territories.
Of the world’s exports, the Commonwealth countries provide two-thirds of its butter, half its cheese, much of its wheat, nearly half its tinned meat and, in addition, provide about half the worlds wool supply. The tropical areas contribute a very large percentage of the worlds supply of sisal, sugar, cocoa, palm oil, rubber and tea. But even all this is not enough, for, viewed as a whole, the world is grievously short of food. The modern trend, therefore, is even further development of overseas producing areas, but with a vastly increasing application of scientific knowledge which is already saving bitter years of trial and error. Some examples of this are shown in the displays. Our own Kew Gardens plays a vital part in all this, for it is here that new crop plants are tried out and, if successful, distributed to new growing areas. It was Kew, in fact, that reared wild rubber plants from Brazil, reproduced them, and sent the seedlings out to found a new and great industry in Malaya.
An essential factor in the success of all these agricultural operations is the interchange of ideas and information. This is provided by the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux, a unique service for the collection, abstraction and dissemination of scientific and technical knowledge.
Science, too, is ensuring that we make the best of what we have already by providing the most suitable weapons to fight the pests and diseases which are inevitably mans rivals in bidding for the yield of food. Among other instances, we show that even the locust, one of the oldest enemies of agriculture, is slowly being brought under control.
But, if these new lands are to continue producing the food and raw materials the world so sorely needs, they must be fit for man to live and work in. Tropical disease is a many-headed horror which the British have been particularly eager to seek out and kill. Sleeping sickness and malaria they have already subdued in many areas by a combined assault of doctors, scientists and administrators; now one of the targets for attack is leprosy. For the last five thousand years it has been a scourge and, even now, its victims number seven million, but at last new drugs have been found that promise to bring its ravages to an end.
The great witness of British exploration by land is the Commonwealth of Nations. By now its strongest binding force is common ideas and ideals, and visual evidence of this is the vast communications system which came into being as a result of British enterprise-sea lanes, air routes, railways, cables and, now, radio. Speech is the most intimate of all ways of communicating. Our sons and daughters have left Britain and set up their own homes overseas, our adopted children are coming into their own estates. But we can still speak to them – and do so every day, using 44 languages, some of which the visitor can hear – on a radio system which itself is part of our contribution to the welfare of mankind.