Australia has always been a creative country. Present us with a problem and we will find a solution. I suspect that it goes all the way back to the days of squatters and homesteads and drovers. In those days, supply runs were few and far between. If something broke, you had to fix it with whatever you had to hand. If you ran out, you had to do without, or find a substitute.
Australians have always been quite good at thinking outside the box, and this has led to quite a number of inventions, though we don’t always get the credit we deserve. In honour of Rafferty’s Rules’ first annual ‘Australia Month’, I have decided to do a top ten list of Australian inventions.
While Australia can boast her fair share of inventions for war, such as tanks, underwater torpedos and scramjets, I have decided to concentrate on inventions that have made our world a better place. Some of these you may know, others may come as a surprise.
In any case, here is my top ten list of Australian Inventions, from ten to one:
Along with paper plates and plastic cups, splayds are a common sight at Australian barbecues. Similar to Spork, a Splayd is an eating utensil combining the functions of spoon, knife and fork. It was created by William McArthur in the 1940s in Sydney, Australia, after seeing ladies struggle to eat at barbecues with standard cutlery from plates on their laps.
Where would we be without our notepads? From students to politicians, from housewives to lawyers, there isn’t a person in our society that doesn’t make use of these convenient alternatives to stacks of loose sheets of paper. Invented by J.A. Birchall, from Launceston in Tasmania, the original notepad consisted of half-size sheets of paper, backed by cardboard and glued together at the top.
Dual Flush Toilet
Fresh water is an incredibly limited resource worldwide, and it is especially precious in Australia. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Duoset cistern, with two buttons, and two flush volumes as a water-saving measure, was invented in Australia by Bruce Thompson, working for Caroma. This excellent invention is now responsible for savings in excess of 32,000 litres of water per household per year.
There was a time when almost every home in Australia had a Hills Hoist. I remember as a kid, winding ours all the way up, then hanging off it and swinging it round. For the uninitiated, a Hills Hoist is a rotary clothes line with a winding mechanism allowing the frame to be lowered and raised with ease. It was developed by Lance Hill in 1945, although the clothes line design itself was originally patented by Gilbert Toyne in Adelaide in 1926.
Nearly every developed world mother has had the joy of seeing the little blob on the screen that is her baby, but this is not the only thing ultrasound is used for. Ultrasonic devices are used to detect objects and measure distances. Ultrasound imaging or sonography is often used in medicine. In the nondestructive testing of products and structures, ultrasound is used to detect invisible flaws. Industrially, ultrasound is used for cleaning, mixing, and to accelerate chemical processes. 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.
The increase in the use of technology has led to an increase in the need for sockets to plug things into. Sadly, most older homes are ill-equipped to deal with this need. Since many of us rent or simply cannot afford to install new sockets, we are heavily reliant on the trusty powerboard. This wonderful device, which allows multiple electrical devices to be powered by a single wall socket, was invented by Peter Talbot, working under Frank Bannigan at Kambrook. Kambrook was more interested in immediate commercial release than patenting its idea and has never received any royalties from this product.
Surf skis are used worldwide for surf lifesaving, surf kayaking and for training and competition on flat-water or ocean racing. However, 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 Bionic Ear (or cochlear implant) is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. Cochlear implants may help provide hearing in patients who are deaf because of damage to sensory hair cells in their cochlears. These sensory cells never regenerate, unlike most cells in the body. Cochlear implants replace the input of those lost or damaged hair cells to replicate the different frequencies and amplitudes of sound.
Implants can augment hearing sufficiently to improve understanding of speech and environmental sounds, although the quality of sound is different from natural hearing and the input subject to different neural regulation. Bionic Ears have improved the quality of life of thousands of people with hearing impairments around the world, and were invented by Professor Graeme Clark of the University of Melbourne.
Black Box Flight Recorder
Investigating the cause of a plane crash is never an easy thing, but these days that investigation is helped tremendously by the use of the Black Box Flight Recorder. The Black Box is actually orange, to make it easier to find amongst wreckage that is often strewn over miles. The Black Box has two components. The first is the flight data recorder, which records instructions sent to any electronic systems on an aircraft. The second is the Cockpit Voice Recorder, which records the audio environment in the flight deck of an aircraft.
Both of these recorders have proved to be extremely helpful in determining the cause of accidents and incidents involving aircraft and have contributed enormously to the safety of air travel. This device, invented by Dr David Warren in Melbourne, has undoubtedly saved many, many lives; as well as bringing peace to the families of pilots and co-pilots who might otherwise have been blamed for the destruction of their aircraft and any subsequent loss of life.
Another invention that has saved countless lives is the pacemaker. In 1926, Dr Mark C Lidwill of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital of Sydney, supported by physicist Edgar H. Booth of the University of Sydney, devised a portable apparatus which “plugged into a lighting point” and in which “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 variable from about 80 to 120 pulses per minute, and likewise the voltage variable from 1.5 to 120 volts”. However, given the alternative, I’d say this is better than nothing. The device has, of course been greatly improved in the intervening years.