From pacemakers to the goon bag, Aussies are an inventive lot

Australia has given the world the Hills Hoist and the goon bag, and has even managed to combined the two in the time-honoured drinking game, Goon of Fortune.

But what about reversible knickers, high-tech scarecrows and shark-proof swimmers?

For every brilliant invention dreamed up by an Aussie, from the electric drill to the black box, many hundreds more have never seen the light of day.

Director-general of the National Archives of Australia David Fricker contemplates a round of Goon of Fortune. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Director-general of the National Archives of Australia David Fricker contemplates a round of Goon of Fortune. Photo: Jamila Toderas

And many of these ideas are recorded as patents as part of the collection at the National Archives of Australia, the keeper of government records.

The patents on file, many accompanied by painstaking drawings and diagrams, run the gamut from domestic improvements, like special drying racks and the electric drill, to medical breakthroughs, like the ultrasound, the Cochlear implant and the pacemaker.

Even the iconic garden fixture of countless Aussie backyards through the years comes with its own drawings, and original concept, submitted in 1895 by Colin Stewart and Allan Harley of Sun Foundry in Adelaide.

"Our invention relates to a certain new or improved rotary clothes dryer and is constructed and arranged in such a manner as to be capable of tilting or oscillating upon a pin or pivot ... the whole being designed so as to enable the clotheslines to be brought within easy reach of the operator and subsequently elevated well above the ground when loaded with clothes," the application says.

Archives director David Fricker said looking through patent records was a constant source of fascination, and a useful way of appreciating Australian ingenuity.

“You look at these patent applications and you can almost see the person behind the idea, who has spent many hours of their day engaged in some activity, and they're just quietly thinking, ‘There's a better way to do this’,” he said.

Patent design for teapot that allows user to blend the tea without taking off the lid.  Photo: Supplied

Patent design for teapot that allows user to blend the tea without taking off the lid. Photo: Supplied

“We talk a lot about innovation in Australia, and inventiveness, but it's not a recent fad. Australia has always been like this, and this gives us an insight into how we have continued to evolve in response to our environment, our fashions and our social values.”

One of his personal favourites is an invention “to improve the teapot”, enabling the user to the blend the tea without lifting the lid.

Behind it is a thought process that would give pause to even the most hardened hot beverage enthusiast.

It was thought by the inventor that lifting the lid of a teapot resulted in “a serious defect insomuch as the beverage becomes cool and part of the aroma is lost”.

“As a result of the emotional response to a cup of tea, they've come up with this really brilliant invention to agitate the tea within the pot without having to lift the lid,” Mr Fricker said.

“You just see some ordinary person, if I can use that term, who just faces that dilemma.”

And while this invention presumably never came to fruition - Mr Fricker has never seen one - it is an insight into the many things that have got people thinking over the years.

The "reversible knickers", a patent dated 1926, inventor Myer Goldberg described them as "made of two thicknesses of material with buttons on either side so that the article is reversible and having a removable lining piece fastening to the rear inner set of buttons".

The patent application reportedly came with a sample pair, which Mr Goldberg asked to be returned, leaving us with no idea of how the complicated garment would actually have looked.

“It's a great example of the need to plant a thousand seeds in order to see one or two of them bloom,” Mr Fricker said.

Patent design for what would become the iconic Hills Hoist. Photo: Supplied

Patent design for what would become the iconic Hills Hoist. Photo: Supplied

“Australia runs the risk of just feeding off folklore and mythology when it thinks about itself. If we only have a look at the very few successes, we get a very skewed view of who we are and how we've got to where we are.

“I think sometimes we need to appreciate the whole story behind one success, in order for Australia to come together and get behind our research industries and encourage our education and our research activities, to appreciate that it takes a lot of work to have a successful invention.

  • The Hills Hoist
  • The pacemaker
  • The black box
  • The goon bag
  • WiFi
  • The ultrasound
  • The electric drill
  • The dual-flush toilet