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100 years of Australian inventions
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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.


Nobel laureates

Every year since 1901 the Nobel Prize has been awarded for achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for peace. The Nobel Prize is an international award administered by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. Australia has produced 13 Nobel laureates, which is the highest number per head of population of any country. The Australian Nobel Prize winners are:







  • Stone tools - Aboriginal people are thought to be the first to use ground edges on stone cutting tools and the first to use stone tools to grind seeds.
  • Boomerang - a throwing stick used for many purposes whose design allows it to return to the (skilled) thrower.
  • Woomera - a spear throwing holder that acts as an extension of the arm thus allowing greater power and range for the spear. "Woomera" was adopted as an appropriate name for the rocket launching range and associated settlement in outback South Australia.
  • Didgeridoo - a musical instrument whose sound is immediately recognisable. It first appeared 2,000 or more years ago and at the time of European arrival was used in the north western corner of Australia.
See also Why are there so few Aboriginal inventions?


  • The stump-jump plough - developed by Richard and Clarence Smith in 1876. Its design allowed it to jump over stumps and other obstructions without breaking the ploughshare.

  • The Combine Harvester (later called the 'Sunshine Harvester') - which both stripped and collected the grain was developed by  Hugh Victor McKay of Drummartin, Victoria in 1882. It advanced the earlier stripper which had been developed by John Ridley and John Bull of South Australia. (see more information at Who Was the Inventor?) In 1916 Headlie Taylor of Henty designed and built a header harvester that could remove the heads from grain which had been flattened by adverse weather. H.V.McKay was now a successful industrialist and manufactured Taylor's improved design in the McKay factories.
  • Many superior varieties of produce including Federation Wheat and the Granny Smith Apple.
  • The Self-Propelled Rotary Hoe - In 1912 Cliff Howard of Gilgandra invented a machine with rotating hoe blades on an axle that simultaneously hoed the ground and pulled the machine forward. You can now find rotary hoes in back yards and small farms throughout the world and for many years the manufacture and export of the Rotovator hoe helped spread this invention across the globe. Cliff was aged 16 when he invented his rotary hoe.
  • Permaculture - an integrated system of sustainable environmental use of land adaptable to a large number of environments to provide shelter, food and human habitat developed by Dr Bill Mollison from the 1970s onwards.
  • The world's first pneumatic broadacre air seeder was invented and patented by Albert Fuss in 1956. It was first used that same year to sow wheat near Dalby in Queensland. The patented technology is now used internationally.
  • Dynamic Lifter fertiliser - From 1969 to the mid 1970s, Norm Jennings developed his patented method of collecting and treating chicken droppings to create the fertiliser pellets branded as Dynamic Lifter. The product is now widely used in the USA, Europe, the Middle East and Asia

Why is the Black Box orange?

David Warren's father had died in one of Australia's first commercial airline crashes in 1926, and it was during the 1950s that Warren invented a device for recording voice and data from a plane, analysis of which after a crash may help prevent similar disasters.
However, he could not get it developed in Australia, The RAAF weren't interested and the Federation of Australian Airline Pilots declared that "no plane would take off in Australia with Big Brother listening". As a result the invention was championed by the British and manufactured in America.
Black Boxes have expanded from their original home on aircrafts and are now fitted on many millions of vehicles worldwide.
David Warren's original invention was housed in black bakelite so the British dubbed it the 'Black Box'.  Nowadays, aircraft Black Boxes are made in bright orange to make them easy to detect after a crash.

Automotive and transportation

  • The Box Kite (or cellular kite) invented by William Hargrave in the early 1890s during his investigation into the lifting properties of curved surfaces. Hargrave's work was to form the basis of much manned flight that followed. Hargraves himself flew 16 feet on 12 November 1894 by linking a group of such kites together and adding a seat.

  • The Sarich Engine - an orbital combustion engine invented by Perth engineer Ralph Sarich in 1972. (For more information see orbital engine.)

  • Wave Piercing Catamaran - designed by Sydney naval architect Phillip Hercus. His design went on to form the basis for the ocean going catamarans produced by Incat in Tasmania. Australia's leadership in the design of multi-hulled vessels continued with the launch in 2005 of first commercial aluminium trimaran, the Benchijigua Express, designed by a team of engineers in Perth led by Dr Tony Armstrong.Engineers Australia, Vol 79 No,4, p.32
  • The 'Diff' (differential gears) - David Shearer designed a differential gear which he incorporated into the steam car he built in South Australia in 1897.
  • The 'Ute' - A vehicle with the cabin of a car and the rear of a small truck was designed by Lewis Brandt at the Ford Motor Company in Geelong, Victoria.1934 and called a 'Utility Vehicle'. The 'ute' has long been a favourite vehicle for farmers and tradesmen and is part of the Australian landscape.
  • Degaussing of ships to help protect them from magnetic mines was patented by Frankin Barnes of Scoresby (Victoria) in 1939.
  • Black Box Flight Recorder - this famous device was invented in 1958 by Dr David Warren at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne.
  • The Inflatable Aircraft Escape Slide & Raft was invented by Jack Grant while working for Qantas in 1965. It is now standard safety equipment on most passenger airliners in the world.
  • Variable Ratio Rack & Pinion Steering - invented by the engineer Arthur Bishop in 1970. This was quickly adopted by vehicle manufacturers throughout the world.
  • The Zeta Platform, a global drive architecture for rear wheel drive vehicles, was developed by a Melbourne engineering team led by Tony Hyde. It is expected to be used in all GM rear wheel drive vehicles produced throughout the world. Engineers Australia, Vol 79 No,4, p.38
  • Premix cement truck? - (we have reason to believe that the cement trucks with large rotating mixing cylinders on the back are an Australian invention, but we are still in the process of  confirming this.)
  • Hyshot Scramjet Engine - a very high speed air-breathing jet engine currently in the testing stage developed by a team from the University of Queensland led by Professor Allan Paull. In June 2007 in a combined American-Australian test it was successfully used to boost a test vehicle to hypersonic speeds.
  • The Deakin T2 (T squared) Car - When the Ford Motor Company issued a challenge to design "A T Model Ford for the 21st century" to celebrate the centenary of the original, the joint winners were a team from Deakin University in Geelong and a team from Aachen University of Cologne in Germany. Read more about the Deakin T2 (T squared) Car.

Domestic and consumer products

  • Hills Hoist - the rotary washing line with hoist quickly became and remains a fixture in Australian back yards. The original rotary clothes hoist had been designed by Gilbert Toyne in Geelong in 1912, but Lance Hill of Adelaide further developed the design from 1945 onwards and marketed it under the name of the Hills Hoist. He later added and patented the winding mechanism in 1956.

  • The Electric Drill - was patented by Melbourne inventor Arthur James in 1889.
  • Kiwi Shoe Polish - invented by Melbourne businessman William Ramsay together with his partner Hamilton McKellan in 1904 and launched as 'Kiwi' in 1906, this soon became and still remains the most successful shoe polish in the world. He chose the word 'Kiwi' because of his New Zealand wife.
  • The Two Stroke Lawn Mower - developed in Australia in 1930. Both the two stroke mower and the Hills Hoist featured in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000.
  • Latex Gloves  - developed in Australia in 1945.
  • The notepad was created In 1902 by J.A.Birchall of Launceston when he had the idea of gluing individual sheets of paper together into a conveniently usable form
  • Telephane - This invention which used telegraph lines to transmit visual information was an important precursor to television. It was invented by Henry Sutton in Ballarat in 1885. 
  • The Record Changer - The centre spindle designed by Tasmanian Eric Waterworth in 1925 for the 'Salonola' record player was soon adopted for use in record changers throughout the world.
  • In 1932 R.M.Williams designed a pair of elastic sided boots suitable for use by stockmen. Although not the first boot of this kind, Williams' classic design and workmanship soon established its reputation. Variants of this design of elastic sided work boot are now sold around the world as The Australian Boot.
  • Shepherd's Castors - the dome shaped castors invented by George Shepherd in 1946 soon became the world standard.
  • Aerogard Insect Repellent - the essential ingredient to this famous insect repellent was invented by the entomologist Dr Doug Waterhouse at the CSIRO in 1963. He revealed the formula to representatives of the Mortein company who patented it and made substantial returns from the sale of the product.
  • The garage roller door in the form of a rolling overhead metal door was first produced by B&D in 1956 and soon became an icon of Australian suburbia. It is now exported to or produced under licence in a number of countries throughout the world. White Hat is still attempting to verify whether this style of door can legitimately be claimed as an Australian invention.

Finance, commerce & business

  • Pre-paid Postage the first system of pre-paid postage was instituted in New South Wales in 1838
  • Xerox Photocopying - the technology behind xerography was developed at The University of Sydney by Professor O U Vonwiller  in 1907.
  • Polymer Bank Notes - the Australian-invented technology used in producing polymer bank notes is now licensed in many countries throughout the world. In addition, Australia currently produces bank notes for export to 18 countries.

  • Blast Glass (also known as Stop Shot). A ballistic and blast resistant glass system. Unlike conventional bullet proof glass it incorporates an air cavity to help absorb the shock wave of explosions. It almost certainly saved many lives in the terrorist bombing of the Australian Embassy in Djakarta in 2004. Invented by Peter Stephinson.

Food and drink

Plaque commemorating James Harrison's refrigeration plant.
Plaque in Melbourne
marking the site of the world's
firstProbably second - see 'Refrigeration' to left commercial ice works

  • Refrigeration - The first mechanical refrigeration plant was built by James Harrison in the 1850s.Despite the plaque in Melbourne (see right) we believe Harrison's first ice works were at Rocky Point on the Barwon River in Geelong.
  • Vegemite - this peculiarly Australian foodstuff created for waste brewers yeast was invented by Dr Cyril Callister and launched by the food entrepreneur, Fred Walker in 1923. See also Who Invented Vegemite?
  • Wine Cask - the flexible bag inside a box was first developed by Thomas Angove of South Australia in 1965Patent no. 280826 issued 20th April, 1965. and later given the now familiar tap by Penfolds Wines and brought to market by Sam Wynn of Wynnvale Wines. This design has now become almost universal.
  • Zip Instant Boiling Water Heater - In 1975, engineers at Zip designed and patented the first instant boiling water heater in which the steam is ingeniously recycled to heat the incoming cold water thus creating a highly energy efficient system. Since then Zip water heaters have been exported to large numbers of countries and have become a standard fixture in many staff rooms and catering organisations throughout the world.

Social Innovations and 'firsts'

  • The Vertically Integrated Migration Service - in the mid 19th century Caroline Chisholm together with her husband set up a private migration support system from the UK to Australia. This included recruitment and education of potential migrants in England and Ireland, preparation and education for their arrival in Australia, overseeing of the humanitarian and health conditions on the transport ships, a loans system to help families establish themselves, and employment and placement services when the migrants arrived in Australia all within a business model that made the operation sustainable. This remarkable achievement would still put to shame the services provided by many governments and wealthy NGOs throughout the world today.

  • The Australian Ballot (Secret Ballot) - the system of casting one's political (or other) vote in a manner that is private and confidential on an anonymous ballot paper. Until the mid 19th century, voting for public office was publicly displayed which left the voter open to intimidation and/or bribery. A secret ballot system was invented by Henry Chapman of Melbourne in 1855 and within a short time of each other in 1856, both the colonies of South Australia and Victoria created a secret ballot system which became known around the world as the Australian Ballot. These Australian colonies were followed at considerable distance by New Zealand in 1870, the UK in 1872, Canada in 1874 and eventually the first presidential election in USA to use Australian Ballot was in 1892. Today the right to a secret ballot as a protection against coercion and intimidation is accepted as a cornerstone for any democratic state or institution.
    (Note: This should not be confused with representative voting. Where a person has been chosen to represent others - such as in parliament - it is usually regarded that the vote should be visible so as to demonstrate that the representative is truly voting in the manner expected by those who they represent. Also closely related to secret ballot is compulsory voting so that individuals cannot be intimidated into not voting - for instance cultural groups who may wish to deny women the vote by intimidating women to stay away from the voting booths. Compulsory voting has been readily accepted by all but a few Australians who want all of the benefits of a democracy without any of the responsibilities. Australia has been a pioneer in both the the areas of secret ballot and compulsory attendance for voting.)

  • Australia has been one of the pioneers of democratic rights. Although Australia was not the first country to have votes for women, it was amongst the first (see this table from the Australian Federal Government web site) and certainly the first to grant women both the right to vote AND the right to sit (first at colony level in South Australia in 1894 then at national level in 1902). Votes for women were granted in South Australia in 1894, Western Australia in 1899, New South Wales in 1902 and Victoria in 1908.

  • The sustained establishment of the Eight Hour Day (or 48 hour working week) was finally achieved in Melbourne in 1856 by a group of skilled tradesmen and small business operators led by James Galloway and James Stephens. This movement was a precursor to the union movement and the condition were later to expand to include both skilled or unskilled employees. Although the 8 hour days had been temporarily achieved in both New Zealand and America at earlier times, they were not sustained, so the Australian movement was seen as a particularly significant since this is where it 'took root'. The 6 day working week was later reduced to 5½  and by the 1950s had mainly changed to a 5 day week and the standard working week for most employees had reduced to 40 hours.



Cochlear Implant

  • Electronic Pacemaker - the heart pacemaker was developed at Sydney's Crown Street Women's Hospital in 1926
  • In the 1930s Sister Elizabeth Kenny, a bush nurse working in country New South Wales and Queensland, developed a radically new and controversial method of treating children with polio. Her work went on to be internationally acclaimed and is regarded as providing important foundations to the discipline now known as physiotherapy.
  • The life saving application of penicillin was developed by Howard Florey and his team (see more information at Who Was the Inventor?). Penicillin has saved millions of lives world wide.
  • In 1948 Dr John Cade, a Melbourne psychiatrist, discovered the use of lithium carbonate (usually just referred to as lithium) in the treatment of bipolar and similar disorders.
  • Many firsts associated with in vitro fertilisation, including the birth of the first frozen embryo baby at the Queen Victoria Medical Centre in Melbourne1984.
  • The Bionic Ear- the cochlear implant was invented by a team led by Professor Graeme Clark at The University of Melbourne and in 1978 the first person received the implant at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. (see more information at Who Was the Inventor?). The Bionic Ear has brought hearing to more than 50,000 people in over 80 countries.
  • Aspro - Aspro was invented by the chemist George Nicholas as a form of Asprin in a tablet. The product was developed in Melbourne between 1915 and 1917, and George's brother Alfred Nicholas together with Henry Woolf Shmith were key to its manufacturing and marketing success By 1940 it had become the world's most widely used headache treatment. (see more information at Who Was the Inventor?)
  • Begg Orthodontics - During the 1940s and 1950s Percy Begg of Adelaide developed a system of using relatively cheap and lightweight stainless steel braces on teeth to replace the expensive and painful systems which had been earlier used for 'training' and straightening teeth. Begg's technique soon spread throughout the world.
  • Australian surgeon Professor Earl Owen not only designed (in association with optical company Zeiss) the initial suite of instruments used for microsurgery, he has also pioneered numbers of the microsurgical techniques. He is regarded as probably the most important pioneer of microsurgery.
  • Relenza - The world's first anti-flu drug was developed at several institutions in Victoria and released onto the market in 1996.
  • Spray-on-skin for burns victims developed by Dr Fiona Wood and used to great effect after the 2002 Bali terrorist bombings.
  • Discovery of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which causes stomach ulcers and gastritis leading to its successful treatment.  Barry Marshall and Robin Warren made this discovery in 1982 and received the Nobel Prize in 2005 for their work.
  • The world's first vaccine to prevent cervical cancer with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives was developed by Professor Ian Frazer and others at the University of Queensland during the 1990s and eventually approved for use in USA in 2006. The vaccine does not act against cancer but against the virus that causes cervical cancer. It was released onto the market in 2006 under the name Gardacil.


General health and wellbeing

  • The Alexander Technique is a set of mental and physical practices developed by F.M. Alexander of Tasmania in the late nineteenth century. It is highly regarded by performing artists for reducing stress and by those suffering back problems. It is now taught in many countries throughout the world.


  • Calyx Drill - developed by by Francis Davis around 1893, this drill was used for drilling large holes in rock and was adopted in many countries around the world because it reduced waste and was highly economical.
  • Flotation Process - the froth flotation process used in the separation of minerals from rocks was developed during 1901-1903 by Charles Potter and Guillaume Delprat of New South Wales.
  • Thrust Bearing - the tilt-pad thrust bearing was invented by Anthony Mitchell in 1905. It is regarded as probably the single most important invention in the world of thrust technology.
  • HIsmelt, a process of smelting low grade iron ore in a way that significantly lowers cost and environmental impact, was a theory put forward by a German scientist in the 1980s. The idea was converted into reality by a group of engineers who created the first HIsmelt plant at Kwinana near Perth. The process is expected to soon be licensed worldwide.Engineers Australia, Vol 79 No,4, p.40


  • Samba software was initially developed by Andrew Tridgell at the Australian National University in 1992 . It enables interoperability between Unix-type systems and PCs and can be found as an important part of most Unix and Linux systems.
  • Moldflow software - Between 1970 and 1978 Colin Austin developed software that allowed computer simulation of the injection moulding process. This allowed designers of moulds to eliminate much of the lengthy and costly process of test mould designs by trial and error. Today Moldflow software is used by many leading manufacturing companies throughout the world particularly in the area of aircraft and automotive manufacture.

(see also the Fairlight Computer Music Instrument below)

The History of the Kelly Gang

Arts and entertainment

  • The multi-media entertainment Soldiers of the Cross produced by the Limelight Studio of the Salvation Army Melbourne is regarded as the forerunner of the feature film, and The Story of the Kelly Gang, made in 1906 is regarded as the first feature length film ever made. It ran for more than an hour. Australia can be regarded as the birthplace of the feature film since it continued to produce feature films for another five years before any other country created their own.
  • Pat Sullivan, created Felix the cat. 3 March 1917.
  •  Mary Poppins, in 1934 Pamela Lyndon (P L) Travers, The Australian, writer who created Mary Poppins,
  • The painter Pro Hart has also been a prolific inventor,
  • The Free Music Machine - an electronic music machine invented by Percy Grainger that was the forerunner of modern synthesizers.
  • The Fairlight CMI (computer music instrument) revolutionised electronic music by the way it manipulated sampled sounds. It remains the basis of most electronically produced music today. It was designed by Peter Vogel & Kim Ryrie in 1979.
  • The Cineon Digital Film Workstation - a system that takes an image from film, digitally manipulates it and returns it to film - was developed by a group of engineers led by David Mann (whose name appear on the patent) in the Kodak laboratories in Victoria around 1990. (see more information at Who Was the Inventor?)


  • Australian Rules Football - Invented in the 1850s (with roots in other games including local Aboriginal ones). In White Hat's opinion the greatest team game in the world. In 1858-9 Tom Wills and others codified the rules and these handwritten rules are reproduced in large format in one of the entry foyers of the MCG. By the time other football styles such as soccer and rugby were codified in their modern form, Australian Rules Football was well established and attracting large crowds to the weekly competition.
  • Callisthenics is a uniquely Australian form of physical culture. It appears to have originated on the Victorian goldfields and evolved over time to the extent that it was included in eisteddfods and school curricula and attracted large numbers of participants. It involves elements of gymnastics, dance, performance art and theatre and often involves the use of rods, clubs, hoops and other equipment.
  • The 'Australian Crawl' - the style of 'overarm' or 'freestyle' swimming stroke now familiar in competition swimming. It evolved out of the 'trudgen' stroke adopted by certain swimmers in Sydney in the early 1900s. The new stroke was soon known worldwide as 'the Australian Crawl' and its most famous exponent (and quite possibly the inventor of its characteristic version) was Fanny Durack. The year 1912 saw one of the greatest ever sporting achievements by an Australian. Fanny, using an Australian Crawl was not only the first woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, in the process she cut four seconds of the men's world record.
  • The 'Tote' (automatic totalisator) - was invented in 1913 by George Julius. The automatic totalisator records incoming horse racing bets and automatically calculates and adjusts dividends.
  • Polocrosse was invented in Australia in 1938 and has since become an international equestrian sport.
  • Race Cam - was created in Australia by the engineer Geoff Healey.
  • The winged keel created by Ben Lexcen was famously used in the Americas Cup.
  • Access Class Dinghies - designed and built in Melbourne and now sailed in 15 countries, the Access Class Dinghies were designed to be easy for anybody to sail.
  • Speedo swimwear - the continuing innovation in design make this Australian product highly valued for competition swimming and is often seen as giving Australian swimmers an 'unfair' advantage.

We are currently investigating the type of cycling race known as the Australian Pursuit. We do not yet know if it was invented in Australia but its name suggests that it was.


  • The Teleprinter - This famous machine for recording telegraph messages onto a paper tape was invented by Donald Murray of Sydney
  • The Pedal Wireless - The  two way radio powered by a pedal-operated generator was invented by Alfred Traeger in 1927 and quickly became the central tool of Royal Flying Doctor Service and distance education in the Australian outback.


  • Pioneering work in the use of X-ray crystallography by William and Lawrence Bragg in examining crystal structures leading to their winning the Nobel Prize in 1916 for their discoveries
  • The Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometer - this important scientific analytical instrument was invented by Sir Alan Walsh of the CSIRO in 1952.
  • The Mills Cross - a radiotelescope design consisting of two long ground antennas either in the form of a cross or a T shape was adopted world wide. It was invented by B. Y. Mills at the CSIRO in 1953
  • Synroc - a synthetic rock designed to 'safely' store high level nuclear waste was invented by Ted Ringwood in 1975. As this process is regarded as working best after the nuclear waste has had a 'cooling down' period of 25-30 years, this invention is likely to more highly recognised in coming decades.
  • Gene Shears - this discovery, central to much biotechnology was made by Wayne Gerlach and Jim Haseloff at the CSIRO in 1986.

Appropriate Technology

Often solutions to problems exist but are too expensive or inappropriate for use in remote communities. Australian inventors have come up with simple solutions which are often appropriate in the Australian outback or third world countries.

  • The Coolgardie Safe was invented by A. P. Mc Cormick on the West Australian goldfields in the late 1890s. It is a simple open-mesh food cabinet covered with hessian. The hessian is kept damp by a water tray at the top and the safe is also sometimes placed on a tray of water to stop access by ants. The latent heat of evaporation  keeps the contents cooler than ambient temperature outside the cabinet. This simple cooling cabinet could be (and often still is) improvised out of materials to hand.
  • The Icy Ball Kerosene Refrigerator was invented by Edward Hallstrom in Sydney in 1923 and manufactured and distributed by him. For most in the outback at the time it was the only practical form of refrigeration and certainly an advance on the Coolgardie Safe.
  • The Stobie Pole is a form of electricity power line pole suitable for deserts or other regions where trees for the more commonly used wooden pole were not readily available. It was created by the engineer James Stobie and patented in 1924. It consists of cement sandwiched between two pieces of steel which are often railway line offcuts. Stobie Poles have excellent survival properties against a range of natural elements and have become a well-known part of the landscape in South Australia.
  • Buffalo Fly Trap - In 1991 the CSIRO designed a low-tech walk through tent for cows where brushes removed the damaging and irritating buffalo flies from the animal. The flies become trapped in an upper chamber of the tent where they eventually die. Over time the cows realise the comfort benefits and self-clean by visiting the tent unbidden.

Design Improvements

Sometimes people come up with design improvements which, although not being 'inventions' in the true sense of the word, can be important in their own right. Here are a few Australian ones.

  • The Dual Flush Toilet. Although Australians in water-scarce circumstances have long used a variety of devices to restrict the amount of water used in a flush toilet (including placing a brick in the cistern) the dual flush cistern with two buttons (one for full-flush and one for half-flush) was a design improvement that helped save water.

Under Development

  • The Flying Electronic Generator was invented by Australian engineer Professor Bryan Roberts. It is a form of tethered flying wind farm which harvests energy from high altitude winds. It is currently being developed and trialled in America. more information >>

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