15 Very Cool Australian Inventions That Changed Our Lives
by Kerry Finch ■ Updated: March 10, 2020
Us Aussies are a creative bunch. We take great pride in our ability to solve problems and innovate, and we've come up with some truly great ideas. From daily conveniences to life-saving tech, many of the things we use every day have humble Australian beginnings.
Here's a small selection of the best – or at least, best known – Aussie inventions.
1. Black Box Flight Recorder
During the 1950s, Australian scientist, David Warren, was part of a team investigating fatal plane crashes. Noting the need for data from the plane's final moments, he came up with the idea of capturing instrument readings and cockpit voice recordings… and, thus, the black box was born.
2. Electronic Pacemaker
Developed by an Australian doctor Mark Lidwill and physicist Edgar Booth, the electronic pacemaker uses small electric charges to stimulate a regular heartbeat. The device was first used in 1928 to revive a newborn baby but is now used by over 3 million people worldwide.
3. Medical use of Penicillin
While British biologist, Alexander Fleming, is credited with discovering penicillin, it was Australian scientist, Howard Florey, who carried out the first clinical trials. Since then, its use has become so ubiquitous that many doctors are worried about the potential dangers of antibiotic resistance.
4. Google Maps
In 2003, Australians Neil Gordon and Stephen Ma went into business with Danish brothers, Lars and Jens Rasmussen, founding small Sydney-based start-up, Where 2 Technologies. A year later, Google bought their company and hired the four men, turning their web mapping platform into what we now know as Google Maps.
Now used by more than a billion people, Wi-Fi was originally developed by a team from the CSIRO. Led by Australian physicist and engineer, Dr John O'Sullivan, the team used core components adapted from 1970s radio astronomy research.
6. Polymer Bank Notes
Developed by the CSIRO, in collaboration with the Reserve Bank of Australia, plastic banknotes are significantly more durable – and harder to counterfeit – than traditional banknotes. First introduced in Australia in 1988, polymer banknotes are now in more than 50 countries.
7. Permanent Crease Clothing
Yet another CSIRO invention, SiroSet is the process of chemically treating wool fabrics to allow permanent creasing and pleating. Developed in 1959 by Arthur Farnworth and his colleagues, the SiroSet process helped the Australian wool industry withstand competition from synthetic ‘wash-and-wear' fibres.
8. Electric Drill
First patented in Australia in 1889 by electrical engineer Arthur James Arno, and his colleague William Blanch Brain, the electric drill is now a must-have for any serious DIYer. Although originally designed for mining, the underlying technology is the same as the drills used around the world today.
9. Wine Casks
Unsurprisingly, the iconically Australian ‘goon bag' is, in fact, an Australian invention. Patented in 1965 by winemaker Thomas Angove, the original bag-in-box packaging design required consumers to cut a corner off the wine bladder and reseal it with a special peg.
10. Plastic Spectacle Lenses
Traditionally, eyeglasses were made with, well… glass. That was until the 1960s, when SOLA Optical, working with scientists from Adelaide University, discovered a way to cast lenses out of special plastic resin that was scratch resistant when cured correctly.
While iceboxes had been used to keep things cool for centuries, it was an Australian engineer and politician who first invented mechanical refrigeration. James Harrison received a patent for his vapour-compression system in 1855, which was a further development of the commercial ice-making machine he'd created a year earlier.
12. Hills Hoist
A fixture of so many Australian childhoods, the Hills Rotary Hoist was developed by WWII veteran, Lance Hill, in Adelaide in 1945. While shrinking block sizes have slowed the local market for Hills Hoists, over 5 million are sold each year, worldwide.
13. Military Tank
While technically not responsible for the design of the vehicles first used in WWI, Australian engineer Lancelot de Mole is often recognised as the inventor of the tank. Despite repeated approaches to British authorities, a lack of immediate need and bureaucratic issues meant his innovative idea was ignored, delaying development of the technology by several years.
14. Paper Pad
The notepad, a staple of households and offices everywhere, was invented in 1902 by Tasmanian stationary company owner, J. A. Birchall. Prior to this, paper was only sold as loose sheets, and Birchall's British suppliers initially baulked at the idea of binding them together.
15. Power Board
In response to a frustration many of us have experienced – not having enough power points – Australian inventor Frank Bannigan invented the multi-socket power board in 1972. Unfortunately, he failed to patent the idea, costing both him and the company he worked for (electrical appliance giant, Kambrook) millions in royalties.
Please note: This list is by no means exhaustive and is in no particular order. For a more detailed list, we recommend you check out IP Australia's History of Australian Innovation.