List of Australian inventions

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Plan of the original single-furrow stump-jump plough

This is a list of Australian inventions consisting of products and technology invented in Australia from pre-European-settlement in 1788 to the present. The inventions are listed in chronological order based on the date of their introduction.

Australian inventions include the very old, such as woomera, and the very new, such as the scramjet, first fired at the Woomera rocket range. The Australian government has suggested that Australian inventiveness springs from the nation's geography and isolation.[1] Perhaps due to its status as an island continent connected to the rest of the world only by air and sea, Australians have been leaders in inventions relating to both maritime and aeronautical matters, including powered flight, the black box flight recorder, the inflatable escape slide, the surf ski, the wave-piercing catamaran winged keel. Since the earliest days of European settlement, Australia's main industries have been agriculture and mining, and Australian inventions in these areas have included the grain stripper, the stump jump plough, mechanical sheep shears, the Dethridge water wheel, the froth flotation ore separation process, the instream ore analysis process and the buffalo fly trap.

Australian inventions also include a number of weapons or weapons systems, including the woomera, the tank, and the underwater torpedo. In recent years, Australians have been at the forefront of medical technology with inventions including ultrasound, the bionic ear, the first plastic spectacle lenses, the electronic pacemaker, the multi-focal contact lens, spray-on artificial skin and anti-flu medication. Australians also developed a number of useful household items, including Vegemite, and the process for producing permanently creased fabric.

Many of Australia's inventions were realised by individuals who get little credit or who are often overlooked for more famous Americans or Europeans.[1]

Australian Aborigine David Unaipon is known as "Australia's Leonardo" for his contributions to science and the Aboriginal people.[1] His inventions include a tool for sheep-shearing, a centrifugal motor, a multi-radial wheel and mechanical propulsion device. Unaipon appears on Australia's $50 note.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is an Australian-government-funded institution. A number of CSIRO funded scientists and engineers are featured in this list. CSIRO scientists lead Australian research across a number of different fields, and work with industry and government to solve problems such as using insects to tackle weeds, growing more sustainable crops and improving transportation.[1]

Aboriginal technology – before 1788[edit]

A didgeridoo
Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera lies at his feet.
  • The original inventors of these uniquely Australian inventions are unknown.

Didgeridoo – The didgeridoo is a wind instrument of northern Australia.[2] It is sometimes described as a "drone pipe," but musicologists classify it as an aerophone. Traditionally, the didgeridoo was made by selecting a section of Eucalyptus branch, then buried near a termite mound to be hollowed out by the termites to produce a long, hollow piece of wood suitable for fashioning the instrument.

Woomera – The woomera is a type of spear thrower, adding thrust to a spear as part of a throwing action.[1]

Colonial era – 19th century[edit]

1843 – Grain stripper – John Wrathall Bull invented and John Ridley manufactured in South Australia the world's first mechanised grain stripper. It utilised a comb to lift the ears of the crop to where revolving beaters deposited the grain into a bin.[3]

1856 – Refrigerator – Using the principle of vapour compression, James Harrison produced the world's first practical ice making machine and refrigerator.[4]

Statue next to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the approximate site of the 1858 "foot-ball" match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College. Tom Wills is depicted umpiring behind two young players contesting the ball.

1858 – Australian rules football – began its development when Tom Wills wrote a letter published in Bell's Life in Victoria & Sporting Chronicle on 10 July 1858, calling for a "foot-ball club, a rifle club, or other athletic pursuits" to keep cricketers fit during winter.[5] An experimental match was played by Wills and others at the Richmond Paddock, later known as Yarra Park next to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 31 July 1858. The Melbourne Football Club rules of 1859 are the oldest surviving set of laws for Australian football. They were drawn up at the Parade Hotel, East Melbourne, on 17 May, by Wills, W. J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson and Thomas Smith.[6] The Melbourne club’s game was not immediately adopted by neighbouring clubs. Before each match the rules had to be agreed by the two teams involved. By 1866, several other clubs had agreed to play by an updated version of Melbourne's rules.

1874 – Underwater torpedo – Invented by Louis Brennan, the torpedo had two propellers, rotated by wires which were attached to winding engines on the shore station. By varying the speed at which the two wires were extracted, the torpedo could be steered to the left or right by an operator on the shore.[7]

1876 – Stump jump plough – Richard and Clarence Bowyer Smith developed a plough which could jump over stumps and stones, enabling newly cleared land to be cultivated.[8]

1877 – Mechanical clippers – Various mechanical shearing patents were registered in Australia before Frederick York Wolseley finally succeeded in developing a practical hand piece with a comb and reciprocating cutter driven by power transmitted from a stationary engine.[9]

1889 – Electric drillArthur James Arnot patented the world's first electric drill on 20 August 1889 while working for the Union Electric Company in Melbourne. He designed it primarily to drill rock and to dig coal.[10]

Coolgardie safe in the WA Museum

1892 – Coolgardie safe – Arthur Patrick McCormick noticed that a wet bag placed over a bottle cooled its contents, and the cooling was more pronounced in a breeze. The Coolgardie safe was a box made of wire and hessian sitting in water, which was placed on a verandah so that any breeze would evaporate the water in the hessian and via the principle of evaporation, cool the air inside the box. The Coolgardie safe was used into the middle of the 20th century as a means of preserving food. [11][12]

20th Century Post-Federation – 1901–1945[edit]

1902 – Notepad – For 500 years, paper had been supplied in loose sheets. Launceston stationer J.A. Birchall decided that it would be a good idea to cut the sheets in half, back them with cardboard and glue them together at the top.[13]

1903 – Froth flotation – The process of separating minerals from rock by flotation was developed by Charles Potter and Guillaume Delprat in New South Wales. Both worked independently at the same time on different parts of the process for the mining company Broken Hill Pty. Ltd. (BHP) [14][15]

Still from 'Story of the Kelly Gang'

1906 – Feature film – The world's first feature length film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was a little over an hour long.[16]

1906 – Surf life-saving reel – The first surf life-saving reel in the world was demonstrated at Bondi Beach on 23 December 1906 by its designer, Bondi surfer Lester Ormsby.[13]

A fluid film thrust bearing

1907 – Michell thrust block bearing – Fluid-film thrust bearings were invented by Australian engineer George Michell. Michell bearings contain a number of sector-shaped pads, arranged in a circle around the shaft, and that are free to tilt. These create wedge-shaped regions of oil inside the bearing between the pads and a rotating disk, which support the applied thrust and eliminate metal-on-metal contact. The small size (one-tenth the size of old bearing designs), low friction and long life of Michell's invention made possible the development of larger propellers and engines in ships. They were used extensively in ships built during World War I, and have become the standard bearing used on turbine shafts in ships and power plants worldwide.[17]

1910 – Humespun pipe-making process – The Humespun process was developed by Walter Hume of Humes Ltd for making concrete pipes of high strength and low permeability. The process used centrifugal force to evenly distribute concrete onto wire reinforcing, revolutionising pipe manufacture.[18]

Dethridge wheel in 1936

1910 – Dethridge wheel – The wheel, used to measure the water flow in an irrigation channel, consisting of a drum on an axle, with eight v-shaped vanes fixed to its outside, was invented by John Dethridge, Commissioner of the Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.[19]

Harry McLaren, the first maker of surf skis, second from the left, with Ray Dick, Herb Reckless and Bert McLaren, left to right. 1919 on the Hastings River, Port Macquarie

1912 – Surf ski – Harry McLaren and his brother Jack used an early version of the surf ski for use around the family's oyster beds on Lake Innes, near Port Macquarie, New South Wales, and the brothers used them in the surf on Port Macquarie's beaches. The board was propelled in a sitting position with two small hand blades, which was probably not a highly efficient method to negotiate the surf. The deck is flat with a bung plug at the rear and a nose ring with a leash, possibly originally required for mooring. The rails are square and there is pronounced rocker. The boards' obvious buoyancy indicates hollow construction, with thin boards of cedar fixed longtitudinally down the board.[20]

1912 – Tank – South Australian Lance de Mole submitted a proposal to the British War Office, for a 'chain-rail vehicle which could be easily steered and carry heavy loads over rough ground and trenches,' complete with extensive drawings. The British war office rejected the idea at the time, but De Mole made several more proposals to the British War Office in 1914 and 1916, and formally requested he be recognised as the inventor of the Mark I tank. The British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors eventually made a payment of £987 to De Mole to cover his expenses and promoted him to an honorary corporal.[21]

1912 – Self-Propelled Rotary Hoe – At the age of 16 Cliff Howard of Gilgandra invented a machine with rotating hoe blades on an axle that simultaneously hoed the ground and pulled the machine forward.[22]

1913 – Automatic totalisator -The world's first automatic totalisator for calculating horse-racing bets was made by Sir George Julius.[23]

1928 – Electronic Pacemaker – The heart pacemaker had a portable apparatus which 'plugged into a lighting point. One pole was applied to a skin pad soaked in strong salt solution' while the other pole 'consisted of a needle insulated except at its point, and was plunged into the appropriate cardiac chamber'. 'The pacemaker rate was not good from about 80 to 120 pulses per minute, and likewise the voltage variable from 1.5 to 120 volts.' The apparatus was used to revive a potentially stillborn infant at Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney whose heart continued 'to beat on its own accord', 'at the end of 10 minutes' of stimulation.[24]

Clapperboard

1930 – Clapperboard – The wooden marker used to synchronise sound and film was invented by Frank Thring Sr of Efftee Studios in Melbourne.[25]

1951–53 Holden Ute

1934 – Coupé utility – The car body style, known colloquially as the ute in Australia and New Zealand, combines a two-door "coupé" cabin with an integral cargo bed behind the cabin—using a light-duty passenger vehicle-derived platform. It was designed by Lewis Brandt at the Ford Motor Company in Geelong, Victoria. The first ute rolled off the Ford production lines in 1934. The idea came from a Geelong farmer's wife who wrote to Ford in 1933 advising the need for a new sort of vehicle to take her 'to church on Sundays and pigs to market on Mondays.'[26]

1938 – Polocrosse – Inspired by a training exercise witnessed at the National School of Equitation at Kingston Vale near London, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hirst of Sydney invented the combination polo and lacrosse sport which was first played at Ingleburn near Sydney in 1939.[27]

1940 – Zinc Cream – This white sun block made from zinc oxide was developed by the Fauldings pharmaceutical company.[28]

Splayd gift pack

1943 – Splayd – The combination of knife, fork and spoon was invented by William McArthur after seeing ladies struggle to eat at barbecues with standard cutlery from plates on their laps.[29]

20th century Post-World War II[edit]

1945 – Hills Hoist – The famous Hills Hoist rotary clothes line with a winding mechanism allowing the frame to be lowered and raised with ease was developed by Lance Hill in 1945, although the clothes line design itself was originally patented by Gilbert Toyne in Adelaide in 1926.[30]

Atomic absorption spectroscopy

1952 – Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer – The atomic absorption spectrophotometer is a complex analytical instrument incorporating micro-computer electronics and precision optics and mechanics, used in chemical analysis to determine low concentrations of metals in a wide variety of substances. It was first developed by Sir Alan Walsh of the CSIRO.[31]

1953 – Solar hot water – Developed by a team at the CSIRO led by Roger N Morse[32]

1955 – Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) – Invented and developed by Edward George Bowen of the CSIRO, the first DME network, operating in the 200 MHz band, became operational in Australia.[33]

1956 – Pneumatic broadacre air seeder – Invented and patented by Albert Fuss in 1956, the lightweight air seeder uses a spinning distributor, blew the seeds through a pipe into the plating tynes. It was first used that same year to sow wheat near Dalby in Queensland.[34]

1957 – Flame ionisation detector – The flame ionisation detector is one of the most accurate instruments ever developed for the detection of emissions. It was invented by Ian McWilliam. The instrument, which can measure one part in 10 million, has been used in chemical analysis in the petrochemical industry, medical and biochemical research, and in the monitoring of the environment.[35]

1957 – Wool clothing with a permanent crease – "SiroSet," the process for producing permanently creased fabric, was invented by Dr Arthur Farnworth of the CSIRO.[36]

1958 – Black box flight recorder – The 'black box' voice and instrument data recorder was invented by Dr David Warren in Melbourne.[37]

1960 – Plastic spectacle lenses – The world's first plastic spectacle lenses, 60 per cent lighter than glass lenses, were designed by Scientific Optical Laboratories in Adelaide.[38]

1961 – Ultrasound – David Robinson and George Kossoff's work at the Australian Department of Health, resulted in the first commercially practical water path ultrasonic scanner in 1961.[39]

1965 – Inflatable escape slide – The inflatable aircraft escape slide which doubles as a raft was invented by Jack Grant of Qantas.[40]

4L of Australian white wine

1965 – Wine cask – Invented by Thomas Angove of Renmark, South Australia, the wine cask is a cardboard box housing a plastic container which collapses as the wine is drawn off, thus preventing contact with the air. Angroves' original design with a resealable spout was replaced with a tap by the Penfolds wine company in 1972[41]

1970 – Staysharp knife – The self-sharpening knife was developed by Wiltshire.[42]

1971 – Variable rack and pinion steering – The variable ratio rack and pinion steering in motor vehicles allowing smooth steering with minimal feedback was invented by Australian engineer, Arthur Bishop.[43]

1972 – Orbital engine – The orbital internal combustion process engine was invented by engineer Ralph Sarich of Perth, Western Australia. The system uses a single piston to directly inject fuel into 5 orbiting chambers. It has never challenged the dominance of four-stroke combustion engines but has replaced many two-stroke engines with a more efficient, powerful and cleaner system. Orbital engines now appear in boats, motorcycles and small cars.[44]

1972 – Instream analysis – To speed-up analysis of metals during the recovery process, which used to take up to 24 hours, Amdel Limited developed an on-the-spot analysis equipment called the In-Stream Analysis System, for the processing of copper, zinc, lead and platinum – and the washing of coal. This computerised system allowed continuous analysis of key metals and meant greater productivity for the mineral industry worldwide.

An Australian power board – one of many not manufactured by Kambrook

1972 – Power board – Peter Talbot, working under Frank Bannigan at Kambrook, invented the power board. This allows multiple electrical devices to be powered where only a single wall socket is available. This is a well-known example of failing to protect intellectual property. Kambrook was more interested in immediate commercial release than patenting its idea and has never received any royalties from this now ubiquitous product.[45]

1974 – Super Sopper – Gordon Withnall at the age of 56 invented the Super Sopper, a giant rolling sponge used to quickly soak up water from sporting grounds so that play can continue.[46]

1978 – Synroc – The synthetic ceramic Synroc that incorporates radioactive waste into its crystal structure was invented in 1978 by a team led by Dr Ted Ringwood at the Australian National University.[47]

Fairlight CMI keyboard

1979 – Digital sampler – The Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument) was the first polyphonic digital sampling synthesizer. It was designed in 1979 by the founders of Fairlight, Peter Vogel and Kim Ryrie in Sydney, Australia.[48]

1979 – RaceCam – Race Cam was developed by Geoff Healey, an engineer with Australian Television Network Seven in Sydney. The tiny lightweight camera is used in sports broadcasts and provides viewers with spectacular views of events such as motor racing, which are impossible with conventional cameras.[49]

Illustration of internal parts of a cochlear implant

1979 – Bionic ear – The cochlear implant was invented by Professor Graeme Clark of the University of Melbourne.[50]

1980 – Dual flush toilet – Bruce Thompson, working for Caroma in Australia, developed the Duoset cistern, with two buttons, and two flush volumes as a water-saving measure, now responsible for savings in excess of 32000 litres of water per household per year.[51]

1980 – Wave-piercing catamaran – The first high speed, stable catamarans were developed by Phillip Hercus and Robert Clifford of Incat in Tasmania.[52]

1981 – CPAP mask – Professor Colin Sullivan of Sydney University developed the Continuous Positive Airflow Pressure (CPAP) mask. The CPAP system first developed by Sullivan has become the most common treatment for sleep disordered breathing. The invention was commercialised in 1989 by Australian firm ResMed, which is currently one of the world's two largest suppliers of CPAP technology.[53][54][55]

Winged keel of Australia II

1983 – Winged KeelBen Lexcen designed a winged keel that helped Australia II end the New York Yacht Club's 132-year ownership of the America's Cup. The keel gave the yacht better steering and manoeuvrability in heavy winds.[56]

1984 – Frozen embryo baby- The world's first frozen embryo baby was born in Melbourne on 28 March 1984[57]

1984 – Baby Safety Capsule – In 1984, for the first time babies had a bassinette with an air bubble in the base and a harness that distributed forces across the bassinette protecting the baby. New South Wales public hospitals now refuse to allow parents take a baby home by car without one.[58]

1985 - Technegas - Technegas is an inhalable aerosol radioactively labelled with the isotope 99mTc, and is employed in nuclear medicine imaging for lung ventilation scanning. Technegas lung scans in conjunction with lung perfusion scans demonstrate the presence of the life-threatening condition of pulmonary embolism. Technegas was invented in Australia by Dr Richard Fawdry and Dr Bill Burch.[59]

1986 – Gene shears – The discovery of gene shears was made by CSIRO scientists, Wayne Gerlach and Jim Haseloff. So-called hammerhead ribozymes are bits of genetic material that interrupt a DNA code at a particular point, and can be used to cut out genes that cause disease or harmful proteins.[60]

1988 – Polymer banknote – The development of the polymer bank note was made by CSIRO scientists led by Dr. David Solomon. Securency Pty Ltd, a joint venture between the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) and UCB, brought the note into full production and polymer bank notes are now used in 30 countries besides Australia. The chief advantages are high counterfeiting resistance and longer circulation lifetimes.[61][62]

1989 – Polilight forensic lamp – Ron Warrender and Milutin Stoilovic, forensic scientists at the Australian National University in Canberra, developed Unilite which could be set to just the right wavelength to show fingerprints up well against any background. Rofin Australia Pty Ltd, developed this product into the portable Polilight which shows up invisible clues such as fingerprints and writing that has been scribbled over, as well as reworked sections on paintings.[63]

1991 – Buffalo fly trap – In 1991 the CSIRO developed a low-tech translucent plastic tent with a dark inner tunnel lined with brushes. When a cow walks through, the brushed flies fly upwards toward the light and become trapped in the solar-heated plastic dome where they quickly die from desiccation (drying out) and fall to the ground, where ants eat them.[64]

1992 – Multi-focal contact lens – The world's first multi-focal contact lens was invented by optical research scientist, Stephen Newman in Queensland.[65]

1992 – Spray-on skin – Developed by Dr Fiona Wood at Royal Perth Hospital[66]

1992 – Product Activation – Patented by Ric Richardson of Sydney's northern beaches initially to allow digital distribution of his own software. Now the process is used by the majority of software publishers in the world.[67]

1992 – Wi-Fi – A method developed by CSIRO researchers used to "unsmear" radio waves that echo off indoor surfaces was patented.[68][69] This method has caused WiFi to be attributed as an Australian invention,[70] although the Wi-Fi trademark, under which most products are sold, is under the ownership of the Wi-Fi Alliance based in Austin, Texas.[71]

1993 – Underwater PC – The world's first underwater computer with a five-button hand-held keypad was developed by Bruce Macdonald at the Australian Institute of Marine Science.[72]

1993 – Frazier lens – The Frazier lens is a special camera lens designed by Australian photographer Jim Frazier. The Frazier lens provides a massive depth of field, allowing the foreground and background of an image to be in focus. Frazier's lenses have been widely used in Hollywood and wildlife cinematography.[73]

1995 – EXELGRAM – The world's most sophisticated optical anti-counterfeiting technology was developed by the CSIRO.[74]

1995 - Gene silencing - A CSIRO team led by Dr Peter Waterhouse discovered that double-stranded RNA was the trigger for RNA interference (RNAi) or gene silencing.[75]

1995 – Jindalee Radar System – Developed by Scientists at the CSIRO, the Jindalee Radar System detects stealth aircraft and missiles by searching for the air turbulence generated by such vehicles. [76]

1996 – Anti-flu MedicationRelenza was developed by a team of scientists at the Victorian College of Pharmacy at Monash University in Melbourne. The team was led by Mark von Itzstein in association with the CSIRO. Relenza was discovered as a part of the Australian biotechnology company Biota's project to develop antiviral agents via rational drug design.[77]

21st century[edit]

Hyshot trial-Phase 2

2002 – Scramjet – On 30 July 2002, the University of Queensland's HyShot team and their international partners conducted the first ever successful test flight of a scramjet. This test was conducted at the rocket range in outback South Australia called Woomera.[78][79]

2003 – Blast Glass – A ballistic and blast resistant glass system was invented by Peter Stephinson. Unlike conventional bulletproof glass it incorporates an air cavity to absorb the shock wave of explosions, and was effective in protecting the Australian Embassy in the Jakarta bombings of 2004.[80]

2006 -Cervical Cancer Vaccine - Professor Ian Frazer from University of Queensland the working with researchers in the US created a preventative for cervical cancer. The commercial application, Gardasil, is a vaccine to work against certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).[81]

2010 - Robotic Visual Horizon - An automated system that allows unmanned aeroplanes to perform complex manouvres was adapted from the way a bee's brain processes visual information during flight by researchers and engineers at the Vision Centre, the Queensland Brain Institute and the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Queensland.[82]

2011 - Anti-Hacking Software Kernel - National ICT Australia (NICTA), and Open Kernel Labs (OK Labs) released the seL4 microkernel, a small operating system kernel which regulates access to a computer’s hardware and is able to distinguish between trusted and untrusted software, allowing secure financial or secret data to be used on the same platform as everyday applications, protecting the secure data from hackers.[83]

2012 – Quantum bit – A team of Australian scientists built the first quantum bit, the basic unit of quantum computing, using a single phosphorus atom implanted into a silicon chip. Research leaders include Andrew Dzurak of the University of Sydney and Andrea Morello of the University of NSW.[84]

2012 - Heg - Scott Boocock came up with the idea of a clothes peg with a hook while he was hanging up a black garment for his wife. He needed a hook, so that peg-marks would not be left on the garment. The heg (hooked peg) went into production in September 2013 and was a Gold Winner in the South Australian Design Awards 2013.[85]

2013 - Blood test to prevent stillbirth - A Melbourne medical research institution, Mercy Health, identified a method of analysing RNA fragments in a mother's blood that indicates oxygen and nutrient deprivation in the foetus.[86]

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