These true blue inventions are definitely worth bragging about.
We Aussies are a pretty ingenious bunch. We pioneered the stubby holder and we're the brilliant minds behind the game Goon of Fortune.
But did you know that there are a tonne of other inventions that we've masterminded? Creations that are used all over the world to this day?
From the good ol’ Hills Hoist to the iconic ute, these iconic inventions have become a part of our Australian landscape and lifestyle - and are famous around the world now too. We have more inventions than you can shake a stick at (Driza-Bone, UGG boots, the swag and cork hat, to name a few more). But here is a list of the top 10 most groundbreaking Aussie inventions that you might now know were pioneered locally.
1. Hills Hoist
Growing up in Australia in the ‘80s, it felt like everyone had one of these in their backyard. Fondly known as the Hills Hoist (which is the brand name, not the invention’s name), it was a height-adjustable rotary clothesline that consisted of four sides for you to hang your clothes on. As the wind blew, the hoist would rotate, which helped dry the clothes.
The beauty of the Hills Hoist was that it could fold down to become little more than a pole, which was the initial intention when Lance Hill created it in 1945 for his wife when their backyard became too small for her current clothes line and her growing lemon tree. What wasn’t his intention was for the Hills Hoist to become a firm favourite with kids, who would dangle off its arms and spin around in circles when their parents weren’t around. True story.
Fun fact: The Hills Hoist was not the first rotary clothes hoist. The first was created in 1911 by Gilbert Toyne, who used an enclosed wheel-and-pinion winding mechanism to allow it to rotate. Lance Hill patented a similar design in 1945 after Toyne’s patent expired.
Here’s an Aussie invention that needs no introduction, but we’ll give it one for good measure. Short for coupé utility, the ute is typically a two-door vehicle with an open cargo tray at the back (where the boot belongs) to allow all manner of items to be stored and transported.
The origins of this Aussie vehicle date back to 1932 when a farmer requested Ford Australia to “make a two-in-one car and truck, something I can go in to church on Sunday, and carry pigs to market on Monday.” Lewis Bandt was the lucky chap given the job and he did so by taking a two-door Ford V8 coupé and grafting a high-sided open utility onto its back. Holden and General Motors revealed the end result in 1934 and the rest is be-ute-iful history.
When you need to jot something down, an Aussie invention will be there. A Tassie invention to be exact. Created in 1902, the notepad was the doing of Launceston stationery company JA Birchall, who thought to take loose sheets of paper, cut them in half and glue them onto a cardboard backing for quick and easy notetaking. Genius.
The notepad would later give rise to another invention: the paperback book binding. In later years, this would contribute to the popularity of pulp novels.
4. Electric drill
With the invention of the electric motor in the late 1800s came the invention of another industrial favourite: the electric drill. We say industrial because the original intention was for large industries and looked nothing like the handheld drill you can pick up at Bunnings.
Patented by Arthur James Arnot (a Scot who had recently moved to Melbourne to help build a Union Electric power plant) and his colleague William Blanch Brain, the original electric drill was a lug of equipment designed to drill rock and coal. It weighed 165 pounds (75kg), was powered by a DC electric motor and required the operator to hold two handles while leaning against a chest plate at the back of the motor to push it against the work surface.
Six years later, brothers Wilhelm and Carl Fein created a more portable version in Germany.
5. Wine casks
Trust an Aussie to be the mastermind behind this cheap and affordable way of storing and pouring wine that we fondly refer to as a “goon” bag. Introduced to the world in 1965 by South Australian winemaker Thomas Angrove, the original wine cask was made of polyethylene bladders of wine and housed in corrugated cardboard boxes for easy transport and sale. The consumer would cut the corner of the bladder to pour the wine and close it up with a special peg.
Two years later, Charles Malpas and Penfolds Wines tweaked the bladder to include an airtight tap that allowed the bladder to collapse as wine was drawn and prevent air from contaminating the sweet nectar within.
6. Dual-flush toilet
Water-saving activities go hand-in-hand with the Australian landscape, so it comes as little surprise that the dual-flush toilet was created by an Aussie. It’s an invention that would go on to save households across Australia over 32,000 litres of water yearly.
While the original idea came from American industrial designer Victor Papanek, it was Aussie Bruce Thompson of Caroma, a bathroom design brand, who made the idea come to fruition in 1980. His flushing mechanism was revolutionary, offering the user to execute a “full” six-litre flush (for solid waste) or “half” three-litre flush (for liquid waste), thus using less water if a full flush was not required. Thompson also replaced the siphon-flush mechanism with a gravity-led one so the water line in the toilet bowl could be lower, further saving water.
Also known as a power strip (not in Australian, clearly!) the powerboard is a fundamental aspect in this tech-driven world. It allows for multiple electronic items to be plugged in and powered by a single electrical socket… and it was created in 1972 by an Australian engineer named Peter Talbot.
Back then, Talbot was working for Frank Bannigan, the managing director of Kambrook, who managed the invention but failed to patent it, preferring to focus on its commercial release. This resulted in other companies adopting the idea without having to pay Bannigan a cent in royalties.
While humans have been preserving food naturally for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-1700s when artificial refrigeration was introduced by Scotsman William Cullen. His experiment used a pump to create a vacuum over a container of ether, which absorbed heat from its surrounds when boiled. While it worked, it had no practical use at the time and was not further pursued.
So when it came to making a practical and commercial refrigerator, James Harrison of Geelong, Victoria, jumped at the chance in 1851. To his success, he created a mechanical ice-making process, which used an ether, liquid vapour compression system that cooled, liquefied and circulated gas. His invention became commercial in 1854 (the official year of invention).
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s favourite attire for the beach, the Speedo (also known as a “budgie smuggler”) is an iconic part of the ocean beach lifestyle. Similar to the Hills Hoist, Speedo is not the name of the line of swimwear but the name of the brand, which was founded in Bondi Beach in 1914 by Alexander MacRae.
MacRae’s story is an interesting one to say the least. He immigrated from Scotland in 1910 and became a milkman. Four years later, he had a hosiery company to his name. After World War I saw an increased demand for socks in the Australian Army, MacRae became so successful he was able to expand his business out to swimwear, releasing a racer-back line in 1927. The company was rebranded “Speedo Sporting Mills” a year later following a slogan contest where the line “Speed on in your Speedos” caught his eye.
Not too long after, the men’s version – a tight-fitting endurance brief swimmer for lifeguards – was released and the nickname “budgie smuggler” was coined.
Fun fact: THE ICONIC stocks a variety of Speedo products, but the only ones that don’t include a model shot on its website are of men’s endurance briefs. Guess Tony Abbott wasn’t free to model that day.
If there’s one way Australians should start off Australia Day it’s by celebrating one of our greatest food inventions: Vegemite. Whether you love it or hate it (you really are one or the other), you can’t deny its Australian roots.
It all began in 1922 when the Kraft Food Company (then the Fred Walker Company) hired a chemist to create a spread made from brewer’s yeast, which is the world’s richest known natural source of vitamin D.
Seeing the marketing capabilities of the result, Fred Walker Company hosted a competition to name it. Of the hundreds of entries, “Vegemite” won. It hit shelves as a spread and soup, stew and gravy flavouring (errr…). Competition against the English version, Marmite, was ruthless, and Vegemite didn’t take off as quickly as the company would have liked. It wasn’t until 1939 when it was endorsed by the British Medical Association for its health properties that Australian families began stocking up on the stuff and sales boomed.
Today, over 22 million jars of Vegemite are sold yearly. If you’re one of those who still can’t get their tastebuds around the salty spread (we’re secretly judging you) at least you can get behind this one gem that Fred Walker gave Australia. It’s been stuck in our heads since 1954.
Hungry? There's a Coles or Woolworths near you that stocks Vegemite.