Australian Comments

Extract from "The Abacus" (B.A.M.Moon)

The metric system violates the natural human requirement of subdivision into 3, 4, 6, 8, ... parts. It is also inadequate for the subdivision of the circle, for the 24 hours in the day, the 12 months in the year, and the 32 points of the compass. All these requirements are met by changing the number base front 10 to 12, as has been pointed out repeatedly. The advantages of the present metric system are retained and the disadvantages are overcome, merely by a change of base.

The metric system was introduced into this chapter merely as an example of the difficulties that the human race encounter, when it slavishly adheres to the Base Ten system. Undoubtedly a better base could be found for general use. Of course, the practical obstacles in the way of changing the thinking of mankind from one base to another are formidable.

We′re halfway to lunacy

(The Bulletin, 25/1/75)

THE NATION, says the Metric Conversion Board. is now more than half metric in thought, word and deed. We are past the point of no return. And a pig's wishbone to that. sirs.

The nation is blundering wretchedly with the metric system. We are not even an eighth - I beg your pardon: 0·125 of the way there. And it would be a great saving and a relief if we stopped at this point and forgot. or tried to forget, all about it. The metric system, in Australia is a bloody disaster. .

Who do you know - take your time about it -- who actually uses metrics? Who speaks comfortably, or even uncomfortably, of metres and litres and hectares? Sports broadcasters. yes. The horse-fanciers are probably closer to the point of no return than any other section of the community. True, a mile and a quarter still sounds unreal as 2,000 m. A jockey riding at 51·5 kg seems nothing short of adipose. And the 200 m mark will never replace the furlong pole. But racing is a world of busy and objective businessmen who'd weigh jockeys in Cypriot okes and punt in ticals and akkers rather than waste time by arguing the toss.

On the other hand cricket will never be a metric sport. It is simply embarrassing to hear Alan MeGilvray and Lindsay Hassett writhingly describe, say, Tony Greig. crouching "about three metres from the edge ofthe wicket" --- or a ball zipping by --- "hardly a centimetre from the off stump".

And where conversion depends on the public en masse nothing good is happening at all. Just about everybody in industry is trying to use the metric system and just about everybody is hating it. Flour miller, and stockfeed packers, who converted as early as December 1972, still say that metrics are --- "a bloody nuisance" and a "hindrance" to business. The chain stores' descriptions range from "an expensive waste of time" to "you wouldn't believe it." It'd suit retailers and it'd suit the public if we went back to Imperial measures right now.

It seems only fair to keep the metre-fanciers on their toes. to let them know that they're getting away with nothing.

Who, for instance, started all this rot? We may never know. The Metric Conversion Board certainly doesn't know who started it. "There was," says a spokesman, "a Senate Select Committee and it recommended metrics to the Gorton Government."

Yes, yes, yes. But who or what got the Senate Select Committee going in the first place? Well, the Weights and Measures Act established a National Standards Commission to 'advise the Minister with respect to weights and measures'." That was in 1949. but it wasn't until 1967 that the Senate Select Committee got busy with its inquiry into "the practicability of the early adoption by Australia of the metric system of weights and measures." It brooded for 18 months, then gave metrics a unanimous okay in a report upon which the Government, in its turn, brooded for two years before adopting.

But we're still no nearer to an answer. WHO wanted metrics? WHOSE idea was this "early adoption?" Who stood to gain so much that he could put the nation to the staggering expense - an expense too great for the United States - of changing a yard to a metre? The MCB claims that "exporters and importers stand to gain".

Which exporters? Which importers?

The fact that Europe is big in metrics is neither here nor there. Uniformity in international trade might be nice but it's by no means essential. Were it so we'd all be speaking Esperanto, because the problems of weights and measures are simply picayune in comparison with problems of language.

The more one looks at the situation the more likely it seems that the original damage was done by some bureaucrat: for the bureaucrat is probably the only man who stands to win with metrics all the way.

As long as there is a three-foot building alignment to be changed to a one-metre alignment; as long as there is some ordinance to be re-written, using litres instead of gallons, there will have to be a pants-polisher to rewrite it. And - angels and ministers of grace defend us'. - we haven't yet started trying with pascals, joules and newtons.

And what, after all, are we adopting? We are adopting a system created in the late 18th century for no better reason than the discovery, by some nameless Frenchman, that he had five fingers on each hand and could thus count up to10.

It's worth noting that his forbear, an ancient Gaul, used a system of measurement based on the figure 20 almost certainly because he wore no boots and could thus count higher.

I for one am ready to say. firmly that things would have been a lot better for us all had the Gauls stayed barefoot.



Norman Stoke Chief Information Officer, Metrication Board, London:

"Some traditional weights and measures are funny enough in themselves. I cannot say "Two fardels equal one nooke" to myself with out smiling; I am delighted that the fathom originally meant the distance a Viking encompassed in a hug; the Statute of Henry I which defined the foot in terms of thirty-six barleycorns taken from the width of the ear has a charm of its own; there is something laughable in the fact that the gauge of railways in Britain is the same as the distance between the wheels of a Roman chariot; and who would not be amused at the recollection that the basis of much modern town planning is the acre, an area ploughable in one day by a team of two oxen. It is one furrow long (furlong) by one chain." (1)

Well, well, well! And has the droll Mr. Stone heard of similarly bizarre, but obsolete, units like the decigramme and dekalitre, quaintly related to other well-known units such as the hectogramme and megalitre by certain powers of the number of his fingers? So compelling is the mystique of this number that some simple fishmongers believe they are now required to sell oysters in multiples of it, not in heretical dozens, while many of the more sophisticated amongst us feel that Cambridge and Oxford should each increase the number in their boats so that they both contain a nice round number. What matter if the number of Symphonies Beethoven wrote equalled the number of Muses? He was clearly remiss in failing to write another. After all, the number of Commandments was hiked by two to satisfy this most fundamental of criteria. (2)

Let us also remember to do proper homage to that most profound of all touchstones of scientific virtuosity - the metre. Nearly, but not quite, the length of a second pendulum at the poles at sea level; nearly again, but not quite, a certain mystical fraction of the length of the meridional quadrant of the Earth, it is actually, wonder of wonders (!), equal to 1,650,763·73 vacuum wavelengths of the orange radiation of krypton 86. The commonsense and harmony with nature encapsulated in the choice of this unit will be obvious to philosophers and practical men alike.

By contrast, the naivety of good King Henry in applying sound statistical methods in the definition of the foot as the length of thirty-six barleycorns placed end to end, or the alternative of the year 1514, when the a verage of the lengths of the feet of sixteen men (measured as they happened to pass out of church when the Sunday service was finished) gave a right and lawful standard, very properly permits us to smile indulgently, secu re in the know ledge of our own superior erudition and wisdom. Good for you, Mr. Stone! All right -thinking men will quickly abjure today the old admonition "by their deeds shall ye know them" - will disregard the wrongheaded choice of the foot instead of the metre for the first moon landings - will properly condemn as wilful a comparison of the relative amounts of the oceans of the Earth charted using the metre and that ridicul ous alternative, the distance encompassed by a Viking in a hug.

With a splendid opportunity to adopt with open arms the beautiful, pure and rational metric system that the kind bureaucrats wish to bestow upon them, how pe rverse and ungrateful indeed are the Anglo-Saxon yeomen in continuing to prefer their own rude ways and customs.

  1. R.L.Weber & E. Mendoza (eds): 'A Random Walk in Science', p.123
  2. R. Graves: "The White Goddess", p 471.

    What about a national referendum on that last awful gift of the Menzies era - metrication?

    We can guess that there'd be a loud "Yes" from the Australian people in favor of calling a halt to replacement of our good old pints, inches, pounds, Fahrenheit and the rest by unfamiliar metric measures.

    Decimalisation of our currency WAS overdue, although marred by a poverty of imagination among Our Betters who could think of nothing better than the imitative and confusing "dollar" as our main monetary unit.

    But whom do they think they're benefiting by a rush Into metrics in areas where the Americans won't have a bar of them, and where even European housewives, artisans and merchants stick to pints, inches and dozens?

    The argument that metrication would simplify our overseas trade Is exposed as a furphy. Ninety-five per cent of our exports aren't affected. Of the remaining five per cent some are advantaged, some handicapped.

    Soon it will be too late to stop the next squander - a Board of Works plan to replace all its metres to measure our water consumption In kilolitres instead of gallons, at vast cost to taxpayers and profit to scrap-metal merchants.

    So it's time for the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, to step in and hold that referendum.


    The outcome wouldn't be binding on the states. But an almighty national "Yes" in favor of reverting to century heat waves, inches of rain. and recognisable vital statistics for beauty queens would be a warning to the metric madhatters to go slow.

    The Sun,Tues Mar.18,1975



    I have a great many books on the metric system in our home. I was sitting on the sofa reading one of them. My wife Ruth, was also sitting on the sofa -- also reading a book.

    Suddenly Ruth closed her book and announced: "This system is really designed to be easy!" I closed my book too and listened respectfully. "This system is logically designed for people who cannot count over 20." Ruth continued.

    That made me uneasy. I protested: "You are 165 cm tall; you weigh 60 kg; and when we visited in Europe we bought 200 grams of lunch meat for our sandwiches. How can you say that this system is designed for people who cannot count over 20?"

    With considerably greater calm Ruth answered. "I'm not reading a book about the metric system. I'm reading an English detective novel. They just found a rather heavy corpse-it weighed 17 stone and 13 pounds. This was long before England had gone metric. When they got up to 14 pounds they called it a stone and most people weighed under 20 stones. For human height. when they got up to 12 inches they called it a foot and most people (in those days at least) were under 20 feet tall. As to their money: it took 12 pence to make a shilling and 20 shilling to make a pound and in the days of this novel the pound was worth s0 much that most people had 20 or fewer pounds around the house. So - for human height and weight and for everyday money transactions they could usually get along without ever counting over 20. This system was logically designed to keep numbers low. Without such a logical system the English could not have put together such a large empire and dealt successfully with the many uneducated People in their colonies."

    OGONTZ METRIC NEWS, Jan. 22, 1977

    MERCURY, Tas. 29/1/76.

    The metric rip-off

    A few days ago an article appeared in The Mercury telling the public that it is cheaper to buy butter by the 500gm standard as against the pound (454gm). The 454gm (pound) is selling at 74c, while the 500 gm is 86c. I wonder if people like to be hoodwinked or do they not care?

    On the basis of 74c for 454gm the 500 gm should be 84·5c. Who reaps the extra 4-1/2c on each packet of butter?

    Sandy Bay.