Australian inventions

Did you know that many important innovations are actually Australian inventions? Australia, the land down under, as it’s often referred to, is famous for its sport, its scenery, its beaches and its animals (the kangaroo, the koala and many more), but for some reason, inventors from Australia have not received the fame they rightly deserve in the public eye.

Here is a compilation of several notable inventions with Australian origins, and the stories behind them.

Australian inventions #1 - The black box cockpit flight recorder

Now an integral part of every air flight and other types of vehicles as well, the black box is in fact a relatively new invention. It was first conceived at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne, Australia in 1958 by Dr. David Warren, a chemist.

The black box, is simply a recorder, which records the conversations in the cockpit of an airplane as well as the output and data from the different flight instruments on the plane.

The idea behind its invention was that if the plane crashes, the recorder with its transcript of the data would survive and allow investigators to understand the reasons for the crash. It will give a glimpse to the last minutes that led to an accident, in instances where no survivors are available to serve as witnesses and tell the story of the event.

The rationality was that if investigators could learn from previous crashes and accidents they could educate pilots and learn from experience to, hopefully, prevent future tragedies and accidents.

The original first recorder was housed in a black Bakelite box, which gave it its famous name. Today, however, black boxes are actually painted in heat resistant paint, usually bright orange, to help investigators find it, in the debris after a crash.

Interestingly, while the invention originally came about in Australia, by an Australian, it was never developed there. Both the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Federation of Australian airline pilots resisted the idea and showed no interest.

It ended up being developed in the UK and US. Later on, however, Australia became the first country to make flight recorders compulsory, obviously seeing the benefit of the invention.

The back story of the inventor of the black box, Dr. David Warren, is also an interesting one. Warren has lost his father in a famous commercial airline crash in 1934. That early experience has no doubt contributed and incentivized his research and invention of the famous black box.  

Australian inventions #2 – The electric drill 

Arthur James Arnot and William Blanch Brain are known as the inventors of the first electric drill, in 1889 in Melbourne, Australia.  Arnot, is the one usually credited for this invention, he was a Scot engineer who traveled to Melbourne to build a power plan for the union electric company.

With a background in electricity, Arnot designed a large drill that would be able penetrate through coal and rock and was mostly intended for use in the mining industry. His drill is, however, considered the first ancestor and the original prototype, which led other inventors to create a smaller hand held version of an electric drill. The German brothers, Wilhelm and Carl Fein, in Stuttgart have invented the first portable drill several years later.  The electric drill we recognize from our tool box today, is actually a later development, from 1900, when Black and Decker have invented the trigger like mechanism which is used to these days in portable electric drills.

Australian inventions #3 – The notepad

Paper used for writing notes was no new invention, but in 1902 a Tasmanian stationary company, owned by J.A. Birchall, and known as the Birchall's of Launceston was apparently the first to bind them together  and sell them as the first notepad.

For hundreds of years, paper was supplied in loose sheets, the innovativeness of the new invention was the decision to cut the sheets into smaller sizes, back them with a firm cardboard and glue them together at the top – to facilitate the writing and collating of ideas.

History tells us, that originally the concept wasn’t very well accepted. When Birchall approached his British supplier, asking them to provide paper bound in that way, they were very reluctant. However, he managed to convince them, and the rest is history.

Birchall called his notepads the ‘Silver City Writing Tablets’.

Australian inventions #4 – Banknotes that can’t be forged

Known as the polymer banknotes, this invention came out of a request by the reserve bank of Australia, which in the late 1960s presented government scientists with a challenge: to create a new banknote that could not be forged.

The request came after Australia introduced a new decimal currency system.

The scientists came up with an invention which embedded in the note a transparent plastic panel and a hologram.

The first notes were released for use in 1988, and were not only hard to counterfeit but also much more durable than plain paper notes. The ink and the polymer embedded in them, created a note that would last much longer than traditional banknotes.  Some of the notes in usage today are also waterproof, and can be frozen etc, without being harmed.

Australian inventions #5 – The dual flush toilet

It’s only natural that this invention would come from one of the driest countries in the world, where conserving water is of priority. The dual flush toilet, now a staple in many places around the world, was invented in the early 1980s by Bruce Thompson. It has two separate buttons that allow the dispatch of different quantities of water, when flushing. This invention allows the use of less water, when they aren’t really needed, instead of flushing the full cistern each and every time.

Other well-known Australian inventions include the clothes drier known as the Hills clothes hoist, the kiwi show polish, and prepaid postage.

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