What Makes Australia Great: Aussie Inventions


Well before Federation in 1901, Australians had demonstrated how innovative they were. Thousands of years ago, Indigenous Australians developed tools like fish traps, boomerangs and woomeras to assist with hunting. They lived in harmony with nature using the native flora and fauna as a source of food and medicine.

When the European settlers arrived in this harsh, isolated land, they also had to be ingenious to survive and thrive. Early inventions included the windmill, the stump-jump plough, the stripper harvester, mechanical shears, ice-making machines and even lamingtons.

1901: Federation Wheat
William Farrer released the Federation wheat strain, resistant to fungal rust disease and drought.
1901: Flotation Method of Ore Separation
The method for separating ore from rock crushings, using bubbles to float the ore to the surface, was developed by Charles Potter and Guillaume Delprat of NSW.
1905: Thrust Bearing
Anthony Michell invented the tilt-pad thrust bearing, which reduced friction and increased power transmitted. The technology has been used in ship building around the world and also in pumps and turbines.
1906: Surf Lifesaving Reel
Designed by Lyster Ormsby, the reel was first demonstrated at Bondi Beach.
1906: Feature Film
The Story of the Kelly Gang was the world’s first feature length film.
1906: Kiwi Boot Polish
The boot polish that could restore the faded colour of brown shoes was first available for sale.
1909: Improved Sheep Shears
Aboriginal inventor, author and spokesperson, David Unaipon, patented an improved handpiece for sheep shears.
1913: Automatic Totalisator
Invented by George Julius, the tote automated betting at horse races.
1915: Aspro
While the German firm Bayer first produced aspirin, a Melbourne pharmacist George Nicholas and experimenter, Henry Woolf Smith produced a high-grade aspirin product, ‘Aspro’, that later took over the international market.
1918: Anthrax Vaccine
John McGarvie Smith donated his secret discovery of an anthrax vaccine to the NSW Government shortly before his death.
1922: Rotary Hoe
Cliff Howard, with help from his brother Albert built the first full-size rotary hoe cultivator. It uses energy to turn the soil directly, rather than dragging a plough behind a tractor.
1926: Heart Pacemaker
A doctor from the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Sydney, who wished to remain anonymous, invented the original pacemaker in Australia.
1928: Royal Flying Doctor Service
Reverend John Flynn was the founder of the world’s first Aerial Medical Service, now known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). In May 1928, Dr St Vincent Welch made the first official RFDS visit.
1928: First Crossing of the Pacific
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his crew performed the world’s first air crossing of the Pacific Ocean.
1928: Speedo Swimwear
This swimwear originated in Sydney when the MacRae Knitting Mills manufactured the company’s first swimsuit, the razorback, made from silk and joined in the middle of the back. Speedo introduced the world’s first nylon swimsuit in 1957.
1929: Pedal Wireless
The pedal-operated generator, connected to a wireless, was invented by Alfred Traeger.
1930: Letter Sorting Machine
Sydney GPO was the site for the first mechanised letter sorter which was developed by an engineer with the Posmaster-General’s Department.
1933: Utility Vehicle
The ute, with a front like a car and rear like a truck was designed by Lewis Bandt at the Ford Motor Company in Geelong, Victoria.
1941: Penicillin production starts
Penicillin, extracted and refined by a team led by Howard Florey, was trialled successfully on humans, and went into production in time to aid casualties of World War II.
1945: Hills Hoist
This rotary clothesline with a winding mechanism allowing the frame to be raised and lowered was invented by Lance Hill of Adelaide in 1945.
1946: Shepherd Castors
George Shepherd invented strong, easily manoeuvrable dome-shaped castors for furniture. These replaced traditional pivoted wheel castors.
1947: Cloud Seeding
Scientists at CSIRO conducted the first successful cloud seeding experiments, making rain fall near Bathurst, NSW.
1950: School of the Air
The first ever radio lesson was broadcast using the transmitter at the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Base at Alice Springs.
1952: Victa Lawnmower
The Victa version of the petrol lawnmower with rotary blades was developed by Mervyn Victor Richardson, and became an Aussie icon.
1952: Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer
Sir Alan Walsh of the CSIRO invented this instrument used for high speed chemical analysis of metallic elements.
1953: Solar Water Heater
The first prototype of a solar water heater was developed at CSIRO in Victoria.
1956: Redback Spider Antivenom
An antivenom for the bite of the redback spider developed by Dr Saul Weiner was released for use.
1957: Permanent Crease Trousers
The process of producing permanent creases in fabric was developed by Dr Arthur Farnworth of CSIRO by adding a special resin to wool fibres to change their chemical structure.
1957: A.E. Bishop Holdings Pty Ltd
This company was established by Dr Arthur Bishop, beginning his life’s work as an international leader in vehicle steering innovations.
1958: Black Box Flight Recorder
Dr David Warren in Melbourne invented the first black box flight memory recorder. The unit recorded the pilot’s voice and a few instrument readings.
1958: Round-the-World Airline Service
Qantas inaugurated a pioneering round-the-world airline service with two aircraft taking off from Melbourne.
1960: Plastic Spectacle Lenses
Scientific Optical Laboratories designed the world’s first plastic spectacle lenses which are 60% lighter than glass lenses.
1961: Ultrasound
George Kossoff and David Robinson built the first ultrasound scanner at the ultrasonics institute in the Commonwealth Department of Health.
1964: Latex Gloves
The Ansell company had made household gloves since 1925. In 1964 they introduced the disposable latex gloves for use in surgery.
1965: Inflatable Aircraft Escape Slide
Jack Grant of Qantas invented the inflatable aircraft escape slide which can also be used as a raft on water. These slides are now standard safety equipment on all major airlines.
1965: Wiltshire Staysharp Knife
The Wiltshire Staysharp knife was invented with a sheath which sharpens the knife each time it is withdrawn.
1965: Wine Cask
Thomas Angove introduced the wine cask.
1968: Polyvalent Snake Antivenom
A snake antivenom capable of acting against the poison from most Australian snakes was developed by CSIRO.
1969: Australia Shows the First Steps on the Moon
The radio telescope in Parkes, New South Wales, received and relayed to the world the first pictures of the first moon landing.
1970: Microsurgery Pioneered
Professor Earl Owen from Sydney pioneered microsurgery techniques by performing the first microsurgery operation when he rejoined an amputated index finger.
1972: Orbital Internal Combustion Engine
The orbital internal combustion engine was developed by engineer Ralph Sarich of Perth, Western Australia.
1972: Rowcar
Rotary Club members designed a small four-wheeled vehicle, with hand propulsion and steering, to give mobility to disabled and incapacitated children.
1973: Pop Top Can
Sir Ian McLennan of BHP came up with the idea of press-buttons where the button is hinged to the can and does not cause a litter problem.
1973: In-vitro Fertilisation
The world’s first pregnancy using IVF technology was reported from Monash Medical Centre.
1974: Super Sopper
Sydney inventor Gordon Withnall invented this device which soaks up water from wet sportsgrounds.
1974: PSZ
CSIRO developed partially stabilised zirconia; an extremely tough ceramic with a wide range of industrial applications.
1975: Interscan
An aircraft approach and landing guidance system using microwaves was successfully tested at Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne.
1976: Electronic Ignition System
A silicon-chip ignition system for small engines in lawnmowers and chainsaws was developed by the Notarus brothers in Sydney.
1978: Synroc
Professor Ted Ringwood led a team at the Australian National University to develop synthetic rock to contain high-level nuclear waste with safety.
1979: Bionic Ear
The cochlear implant, designed to help the hearing impaired and profoundly deaf, was invented by Professor Graeme Clark of the University of Melbourne.
1979: Race Cam
A lightweight, fixed camera used in car racing and other sports broadcasts was developed by Australian engineer, Geoff Healey.
1979: Cool Lightweight Wool Fabrics
The technique for spinning lightweight wool was invented at CSIRO.
1981: Bodyguard Power Protector
Gerard Industries developed a power point with an inbuilt electronic circuit that cuts the power if there is a power leakage and virtually eliminates the chance of electric shock.
1983: Footrot Vaccine
CSIRO produced a vaccine against footrot using genetic engineering techniques.
1983: Winged Keel
Australia II won the America’s Cup in part due to the revolutionary winged keel designed by Ben Lexcen.
1984: In-vitro Fertilisation
The first frozen embryo baby was born in Melbourne using a technique developed by Dr Alan Trounsen and Dr Linda Mohr.
1985: World’s Most Efficient Solar Cells
Dr Stuart Wenham and Professor Martin Green from the University of New South Wales produced the world’s first 20% efficient solar cell.
1985: Dynasphere Lightning Protection
A Tasmanian company, Global Lightning Technologies, developed the Dynasphere lightning terminal. The company exports its products to over 30 countries.
1985: Broncostat
The oral vaccine to prevent bronchitis, was developed by Professor Robert Clancy at the University of Newcastle. It reduces attacks of acute bronchitis by up to 90%.
1986: Gene Shears
The discovery of gene shears – molecules used to prevent harmful and unwanted genes in plants and animals – was made by CSIRO scientists, Dr Wayne Gerlach and Dr Jim Haseloff.
1987: Wave Piercing Catamaran
Ship builder Incat Australia Pty Ltd designed a low buoyancy bow which helps the catamaran pierce through waves, resulting in a faster and smoother journey.
1988: Plastic Banknotes
CSIRO and Note Printing Australia developed the world’s first polymer banknote made from tough flexible polypropylene plastics. These notes last longer and are more difficult to counterfeit than paper money.
1988: Biological Pesticides
The world’s first non-chemical biological pesticide was invented at the University of Adelaide.
1990: Reading Machine for the Blind
Milan Hudecek of Melbourne invented the world’s first reading machine for the blind.
1991: Plastic Rod Bone Repair
The technique of using plastic rods in place of metal pins and screws was developed by Dr Michael Ryan and Dr Stephen Ruff at Sydney’s North Shore Hospital.
1991: Biodegradable Marine Degreaser
The world’s first biodegradable marine degreaser, made from naturally-occurring marine oils, was developed by the CSIRO and Beku Environmental Products Ltd.
1992: Multi-focal Contact Lens
The world’s first multi-focal contact lenses were invented by optical research scientist, Stephen Newman of QLD.
1993: Underwater Computer
Bruce Macdonald at the Australian Institute of Marine Science developed the world’s first underwater computer with a multi-button hand-held keypad that mimics a conventional keyboard.
1994: Sportswool
CSIRO developed a new bi–layer fabric consisting of wool and polyester, ideal for sportswear because the fabric allows rapid dissipation of moisture.
1995: Calicivirus
CSIRO developed this rabbit–specific virus that resulted in the number of rabbits declining up to 8% in some areas of Australia.
1996: Australian in Space
Dr Andy Thomas completed his first mission in space aboard the NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour. In 1998 he spent 141 days aboard the Russian Mir Space Station.
1996: Relenza
The world’s first anti-influenza drug was developed by the Victorian College of Pharmacy, Monash University and Biota Holdings. In 2000, the drug was approved for release in Australia, Europe and the USA.
1998: Hybrid Toilet
A lightweight, fully–enclosed toilet system which requires no water and minimal maintenance was released for sale.
1998: Skin Polarprobe
Polartechnics Ltd, the Sydney Melanoma Unit and CSIRO developed the Solarscan™, a device to scan the skin and quickly assess sunspots to determine if they are melanomas.
1999: Night and Day Contact Lenses
The Cooperative Research Centre for Eye Research and Technology developed this contact lens made of revolutionary material capable of transmitting six times more oxygen to the eye, allowing extended wear for up to 30 days and nights.
2000: Biodegradable Packaging
The Cooperative Research Centre for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science developed new biodegradable packaging materials based on starch.

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