Ms Rose Hiscock
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Ms Rose Hiscock.
Rose is the Director of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, encompassing the Powerhouse Museum, the Sydney Observatory and Discovery Centre at Castle Hill. Her career focuses on building audiences and experiences within the cultural sector.
Prior to her current role, Rose was the Executive Director of Arts Development at the Australian Council and has also been part of the Australian Government’s art funding and advisory body. She was responsible for building Australian arts, nationally and internationally which included the iconic development of the new Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
Rose is a Board member of Back to Back Theatre, Australia’s highly successful company with a full-time ensemble of actors who have intellectual disabilities and also one of Australia’s premier dance companies, Chunky Move.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Ms Rose Hiscock to deliver the occasional address.
Presiding Chancellor Mr Brian Wilson, Presiding Vice-Chancellor Professor Shirley Alexander, Presiding Deans, staff, distinguished guests, graduates, families and friends, thank you for the invitation to speak today, it is indeed an honour.
I’d like to also acknowledge the Gadigal and Guring-gai people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present.
As this year’s cohort of graduates embark on a new journey, I thought it would be good to talk about the notion of disruption and what impact you might make. And somewhat surprisingly… I’d like talk about mathematics. Don’t groan, bear with me.
As you know humans are defined by singular characteristics – our genetic code ensures we are all unique. However it is combination of a unique identity, and the ability to act with others that achieves the most extraordinary outcomes. Your individual contribution to a greater narrative will define your impact on the world.
To illustrate this point I want to draw inspiration from another time. And as the Director of a Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, it is my duty, and also my passion, to take you on a journey into the museum's collection.
The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences or MAAS, was established in 1890 and includes the Powerhouse, Sydney Observatory and the Discovery Centre in Castle Hill. The museum’s origins come from the World Exhibition movement – these Great Exhibitions were held throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries to demonstrate the marvels, curios and wonders of a society in great technological change. The events, somewhat like today’s ‘World Expos’, attracted extraordinary visitation and led to the genesis of many of the world’s great institutions such as the London Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as our own Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. Since inception we have been a working museum, interested in ideas and learning in a time of great technological change.
So what can we learn from another century to inform our future?
In 1815 a rather remarkable woman was born – her name was Ada Lovelace. I was introduced to Ada through an object in the Museum’s collection - a piece of Charles Babbage’s Difference Machine. Mathematicians in the audience will have heard of Lovelace, Babbage, and the Difference and Analytical Machines.
Babbage was born in 1791. He was a mathematical genius and is broadly accepted as inventing the precursor to the modern calculator and computer. Babbage’s Difference Machine was a mechanical contraption designed to complete polynomial equations. Somewhat remarkably, we have a piece of it in our collection. It is an elegant brass contraption, rather like intertwined clock mechanisms with dials, cogs and mechanics. What’s extraordinary about this machine, is that nearly 200 years ago, Babbage acknowledged the limitations of the human brain and set about inventing a machine that could compute at a faster rate and with more precision.
As he developed his ideas, Babbage held weekly ‘salons’, where he invited up to 300 of London’s luminaries across the arts and sciences for evenings of dancing, reading, poetry, astronomy and ideas. Babbage used these salons to show off his Difference Machine. One of his guests was a young woman called Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace was the daughter of poet Lord Byron, however it is her skills as a mathematician that ensure she is remembered in history. She was tutored in maths with the encouragement of her mother, Lady Byron, who on discovering her husband was having an affair, promptly divorced him and tutored her young daughter in mathematics to counter any vestige of a romantic spirit. In truth Ada maintained a passion for arts and sciences and became an advocate for the period of Romantic Science, or what she called poetical sciences. I rather like this concept.
The young Ada Lovelace was a regular guest at Charles Babbage’s salons and they became strong friends. She was extremely interested in his Difference Machine. She achieved notoriety for her work in translating and publishing one of his lectures, in which she added her own extensive notes about how to feed Banouli’s numbers into his machine. As a result she is credited as the first published computer programmer.
So, why am I telling you about these people from nearly 200 years ago as you graduate in 2015 in a vastly different age. For me the parallels are striking. You graduate in era of immense change – it’s not an industrial revolution however it’s digital, environmental, data and communication Evolution on a grand scale. You graduate as part of a cohort and will continue to build a network of peers, and ideas generators. You will team up with visionaries and geniuses. Your openness to other points of view will define your impact on the world. You must remain curious. Our museum has as its mission: to be a catalyst for creative expression and curious minds. I firmly believe that these two aspects – creativity and curiosity – are at the heart of human endeavor and I urge you to be open to both, through your careers and lives.
So let me leave you on a winter’s night in London, in the early 1800s with astronomers, artists and scientists, excitedly discussing notions of industry, and change in society, marveling at Babbage’s contraptions and exchanging ideas and theories. A society on the cusp of change.
And with this thought let’s return to the basement of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, to our remarkable collection, where this story began:
When the Museum purchased the piece of Babbage’s Difference Machine we also acquired a series of letters to and from Babbage. One is a calling card or thank you note. The envelope is addressed to Charles Babbage, and the sender’s details are: Ada Lovelace. Inside the envelope is a simple card. It is hand written with one word: Interesting !
So in closing, I’d like you to imagine the young Ada Lovelace emerging from Babbage’s Salon flushed with excitement at her first encounter with London’s great minds, and yet to realise her own impact on society.
And as you emerge into your new world, I hope you feel similarly inspired, curious, open to change and ready to make an individual impact on a much grander narrative.