Beyond the black tub: Aussie-born inventions

Illustration by Jena Oakford

When most Gen Y’s think of Aussie inventions, one that may spring to mind is Wifi : an indispensable tool (unless it throws a temper tantrum… looking at you, eduroam). But sitting on my couch binge-watching Shark Tank for no apparent reason made me wonder what other ingenuities Australia has created: apart from Halal Snack Packs, Vegemite and Bunnings BBQs, of course.

So, here are a few home-grown inventions that may surprise you.

The Fridge: This multi-billion dollar idea came from the humble James Harrison, a Geelong politician who also later edited The Age. He patented a vapour-compression refrigeration system, where gas was passed through a condenser and liquefied, becoming cool. The cool liquid was then passed through coils until it turned back into gas. This process cooled the air around the coils, eventually freezing the water that was in the unit and making Harrison a nice bit of profit from ice-making machines. Eventually, the idea was turned into the indispensable frosty safe-house for midnight snacks found in kitchens worldwide, revolutionising food storages and human history.

Google Maps: how else are you supposed to play Pokémon GO get places? The genius idea of Google Maps was cooked up by two brothers at their Sydney based company, Where 2 Technologies, as a C++ desktop program. After pitching their idea to Google, their entire company was purchased by Google in 2004. Shortly afterwards, Google had turned the initial model into the version we couldn’t game live without today.

Notepads: 100% Australian. In 1902, a Tasmanian stationary shop owner got fed up with selling ordinary writing books, where pages were folded in half and stapled or sewn at the crease. So he decided to just stick some glue on the top edge of a stack of pages, and whack a cardboard backing on it. On ya mate.

Dual flush toilets: it’s nice to know that we have made sustainable contributions to the world as well. Bruce Thompson designed and developed the first dual flush toilet in 1980, subsequently saving millions of litres of water, and giving us the freedom of choice in the dunny.

Plastic spectacle lenses: at least someone understood the need for lenses that survive the fall to the solid concrete floor (when you drop them in your unfathomable clumsiness). Scientists from the University of Adelaide, we are sincerely grateful.

Black Box recorders: providing new hope and answers for air crash investigators and those affected by mysterious plane crashes, this device combines a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder to provide an informative overall picture of a flight. Without it, we would never know what happened in those final moments. We can credit this to Australian engineer David Warren.

Baby Safety Capsules: this one is pretty smart. It’s not just ya mum’s baby car seat; this one has a cushion of air between the child’s bassinet and the base of the seat. In the event of a crash, the cushion of air allows the bassinet to rotate within the base, dissipating force and minimising trauma, leaving the little bub safe ‘n’ sound.

And here are a couple of inventors we really should all know about:

Lawrence Hargrave: yes the same cool guy that HAL is half-named after. He made some extremely important advancements, namely that curved surfaces on kite wings provide more lift than fl at ones, and invented the box kite. He was also an admirable academic who, instead of patenting his inventions, decided to publish them openly in the spirit of communication and free access: no wonder our library is named after him! He invented the radial rotary engine which was driven by compressed air and used in planes up until the 1920’s, and in 1894, he attached this engine to four box kites and managed to hoist himself 5 metres off the ground, making aviation history! Although they never credited him, his work was instrumental to the development of the Wright Brothers’ early airplane, and thus to air travel today.

David Unaipon: credited as Australia’s Da Vinci, he was a pioneer in engineering and science, who invented a mechanical motion machine that revolutionised sheep shearing, turning circular movement into straightened motion within the device. He lodged an astounding 19 patents on machines, such as centrifugal motors, but was unable to afford the costs and thus ended up having ideas taken from him, instead of rightfully profiting from them. A member and advocate of the Ngarrindjeri people of South Australia, David Unaipon was a pivotal activist for the Indigenous community, and the first Aboriginal writer to be published in English, writing about many Aboriginal legends in news-papers such as the Sydney Morning Herald. It is only fitting that his work as an inventor and activist, despite a lack of monetary gain, has gained him lasting commemoration on that $50 note you probably don’t have in your pocket.


Medical things:

  • Ultrasound scanner: uses really high pitched sounds to create an image (echolocation) of internal tissue, from a screwed up knee to a pregnant belly.
  • Spray on skin using the patient’s own skin cells
  • Bionic ear or cochlear implant
  • Pacemaker
  • Egg freezing technology required for IVF (thanks Monash)
  • Anti-flu medication
  • HPV vaccine
  • Other things:
  • First ever Feature film: The Story of Ned Kelly, which ran for roughly an hour long, not only brought in its producers a nice profit but also made history.
  • Plastic bank notes- because the Reserve Bank of Australia can invent things too.
  • AFL, duh
  • The Hills Hoist (AKA the rotating clothes line thing you used to swing off in your grandparents’ backyard)
  • Digital music sampler or synthesiser
  • Military tanks
  • The electric drill
  • Goonbags- because what is a better idea than putting cheap wine in a bag in a box?

Note: This list is just my top picks. But even so, I feel happy that now when I pick up a bar of Cadbury top deck, it comes with the awareness and pride that we have invented a fair deal more than seriously good chocolate.

Tags : All Aussie InventionsAustralianinventionsVegemite
Sasha Hall

The author Sasha Hall

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