Australia's one and only typewriter inventor
On September 26, 1912, the then 31-year-old Reverend John Flynn presented two long, detailed reports on the Northern Territory to the Presbyterian General Assembly in Melbourne: one on the needs of Aborigines and one on the needs of white settlers. The assembly appointed Flynn superintendent of its Australian Inland Mission, which it established at the same meeting. The centenary of this event will be celebrated in Melbourne on September 22, with a special service at Scots' Church.
Flynn said at the time, ''Difficulties of a serious nature will arise in the shoals of every fertile mind. To each one, a reply can only be made in words already made familiar: do not pray for tasks equal to your powers, pray for powers equal to your tasks.'' One fertile mind, which had the power to equal the tasks put to it, belonged to Alfred Herman Traeger, who in 1925 joined the AIM on a salary of £500 a year.
Traeger is best known for his development of the pedal-powered radio, which provided what Flynn described as a ''mantle of safety'' for people in the outback. It was a vital element in the success of the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service (as it became known in 1942), a two-way network that was ''the heartbeat of outback life''.
In 1928, the AIM established what it then called its Aerial Medical Service. Flynn had long since been aware ''the practicability of the Flying Doctor proposal [depended] almost entirely on the widespread adoption of wireless by bush residents''. Flynn and Traeger carried out wireless experiments in outback areas, and transmitted Australia's first radio telegram. But the large copper oxide Edison batteries they used proved unsuitable for remote homes.
As a young man, Traeger had seen a travelling Path
From 1929, Traeger travelled to outback areas across Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, installing these sets and teaching the users Morse code and how to use their radios. He found, however, that many struggled with Morse code. So in 1933, Traeger invented a Morse typewriter, enabling outback users to type their messages and have them transmitted in Morse. He later developed a voice-capable transceiver.
Traeger was born on August 2, 1895, at Glenlee, near Dimboola. In 1902, the family moved to near Balaklava, north of Adelaide. Traeger was described as a ''curious, patient, precise child''. At 12, he made a crude but effective telephone receiver, and was able to transmit between the toolshed and the family home: a 50-metre distance. Traeger patched together bits and pieces from around the farmyard; the diaphragm for the earpiece was made from a tobacco tin lid, the magnet was the prong of a pitchfork and the carbon for the microphone came from the kitchen stove. Fencing wire was also called into service. At various schools in Adelaide, Traeger developed his interests in ammeters and generators. He studied the work of Guglielmo Marconi and Heinrich Hertz on the nature of radio waves and for his final practical examination built a high-voltage generator. Traeger obtained an amateur radio operator's licence and became a member of the Wireless Institute of Australia, the oldest amateur radio society in the world (established in 1910). By the outbreak of World War I, Traeger had also become passionate about aircraft, and tried to enlist with the Australian Flying Corps. However, he was turned down because of his German ancestry, even though his grandparents had long since become naturalised Australians.
Traeger's bent for inventing led to him applying to the US Patent Office in March 1920 for a combined variable-speed clutch and free-wheel device for motorcycles. In 1923 he joined Hannan Brothers in Adelaide, handling their car generator and electrical repairs.
For his work for the Flying Doctor Service, Traeger was honoured with an OBE in 1944. He had suggested the idea of a School of the Air, and in 1951 this became a reality through the work of teacher Adelaide Laetitia Miethkea South Australian teacher.
Traeger continued inventing: in 1974 he patented a gas turbine-driven car and used solar power to convert salt water to fresh water. He died on July 31, 1980, at Rosslyn Park, Adelaide. Traeger went to his grave almost certainly not realising he was Australia's one and only typewriter inventor.
■ Robert Messenger will next Wednesday present the second and last of his floor talks coinciding with his typewriter exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in Civic Square. The exhibition ends on September 16. Wednesday's talk is titled ''Mad Men and Typewriters: Works of Wayward Genius Revealed''