EVERY CHILD GROWING UP IN AUSTRALIA in the 1950s and 1960s learned of the first inhabitants' tools and inventions - a wind instrument now famous, the digeridoo; one of the world’s earliest weapons – the boomerang, a curved throwing stick renowned the world over; and the woomera – a spear that is said to travel three times further than a traditional spear. They may have also learned of the Smith brothers famous stump-jump plough and aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargraves' box kite, however there were many thousands of other lesser-known inventions devised by innovative Australian men and sometimes women that changed the lives of people not just in Australia but throughout the world.
In the harsh environment of early European settlement, necessity became the mother of invention when isolation and lack of nearby resources led to improvisation, ingenuity and self reliance. Agricultural pursuits followed by the era of the gold rush and industrial growth fuelled the need for some remarkable improvements and inventiveness
In the years during the upheaval of both the First and Second World Wars innovative and patriotic Australians were inspired and encouraged to pursue their ideas for the good of the country. It was reported in 1944 that 90 projects had been accepted for the Allied war effort in the previous years. Successes ranked from hush-hush weapons to non slip device for boats. There were improvements to automatic weapons, mines, mine locators, signal lamps, coloured smoke signals and ciphering machines. Non-military items were also invented in these years including a potato digger, maize harvester, tractor plough, row crop cultivator, agricultural flame thrower for weed killing, egg processing machines, mechanical skid loader and process for extracting wax from sugar cane.
Innovation came to the fore in the Hunter region when the massive electrically-operated doors at Rathmines Air Base seaplane hangar were invented and designed by two brothers from the Manning River district in 1940. A description of the doors in the Port Macquarie News in 1941 gives an appreciation of the huge undertaking :
A most heartening feature of the war effort is the inventive capacity shown by Australians, literally thousands of adaptations and modifications of design have had to be made in the Australian production of the Bren Gun and the Beaufort Bomber in order to speed up production, and only last week came reports of the Defence Department's interest in a new design of Tommy Gun, the invention of a private in the A.I.F.
About the same time there appeared a description of the great doors which enclose the front of the seaplane base at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie, designed and constructed by two Manning River brothers, both of whom served their apprenticeship in Taree.
The Rathmines seaplane base has an enormous cantilever awning front. Jutting out like a huge verandah roof for a distance of one hundred and twenty feet, the forty-two feet high awning is two hundred and forty feet wide without a solitary post for support in all that distance. Whilst such a structure might be said to follow certain well-known principles in cantilever construction, the task of enclosing the front with doors was cause for grave anxiety. The huge unsupported beam which takes the roof might sag in the centre and jamb the doors ; the 10,000 square feet of door space would at times receive terrific winds from off the Lake ; would any doors stand up to it.
Nothing of the sort had ever previously been attempted in Australia. Tenders were, therefore, called 'for the design and construction' of doors to close the whole front. They would be forty-two feet high, and so built that each half would move rapidly to either side, out of the way of the planes. 'Design and construction' meant that the tenderer must fetch along his own ideas. The firm of A. W. Edwards Pty., Ltd., builders, of O'Connell Street, Sydney, were called into consultation on the problem. They had just erected 253 structures at Ingleburn Camp in the record time of 23 days, one of them a post office built in 24 hours, and another a hospital, the length of a football ground, with sewerage system, septic tank, fully equipped kitchen, lined, painted walls and polished floors, all in 16 days. The other structures were huts to accommodate 3000 men.
The company was already busy on the erection of the Rathmines hangar at a cost of many thousands of pounds, and when they tendered for the erection of the giant doors, it was found that the only other proposition put to the Government was to import the doors, a costly business using up shipping space, involving delays, exchange costs, and possibly submarine losses. The Australian tender for £9000 was accepted, and in spite of unforeseen difficulties the doors, operated by electric motors, glide open to-day in a matter of thirty seconds In all there are 72 doors, in pairs, each pair swinging from a stout up right steel member, which is mounted on a roller bearing wheel with a horizontal, wheel at top, to hold it in position.' Each pair of doors with its giant steel post weighs 1 1/2 tons, and yet they are so delicately balanced that they may be pushed about by hand. . . . At the touch of an electric button two motors attached to doors Nos. 36 and 37 begin to travel from opposite sides of the huge structure, each trailing its three dozen folded doors behind it till they meet in the centre and securely close the building. At another touch they operate with equal readiness in the other direction and fold their quota of doors back to recesses in the wall on either side, out of the way of the widest seaplane wings. The two principals of the company are Messrs. A. W. Edwards and S. O. Edwards, sons of Mrs. Jessie Edwards, and the late Henry Edwards ('Hawkeye') of Cundletown
In 1962, the Rathmines Base was sold to the Lake Macquarie Council. Many buildings were privately purchased and removed from the site or used by Lake Macquarie Council as community halls. The hangar, complete with the electrically-operated doors was pulled down and shipped to RAAF Base Richmond to house the RAAF's then-new C-130A Hercules aircraft. The original base has now been heritage listed 
AUTOMATIC 'STOP' DEVICE FOR GRAMOPHONES invented by Richard Bartholomew Smith - Magic in Sydney
AUTOMATIC TIME SWITCH FOR ELECTRIC CIRCUITS - invented by Richard Bartholomew Smith - Magic in Sydney
BABY CAPSULE - developed by Bob Botell and Bob Heath in 1984 - the Safe-n-Sound Baby Capsule
BLACK BOX FLIGHT RECORDER - invented by scientist Dr. David Warren - indestructible device that records the final moments of a plane before it crashes
BLAST SMELTING FURNACE IMPROVEMENTS - by John William Cole, mechanical engineer of Gawler, South Australia - for furnaces for the smelting or reducing of gold, silver and other metallic ores(1886) SMH 10 August 1886
DELAYED ACTION RIFLE - Mounted on the trench parapet at Gallipoli, the rifle was fired by water dripping into a container on a long string attached to the trigger mechanism. By rigging up dozens of these devices and varying the rate at which water dripped into the can the Australians were able to simulate sniper fire over a period of several hours. Air Force News 23 April 2015
DEODORANT AND DISINFECTANT - invented by Henry Malcolm Caldwell who assigned the patent to Henry James Goodricke Cattanach. Devised to produce economical deodorant and disinfectant for treating nightsoil and flushing sewers and drains - SMH 1 July 1886
DUAL FLUSH TOILET - by Bruce Thompson 1980
ELECTRIC DRILL - invented by electrical engineer Arthur James Arnot and William Brain in 1889
ELECTRONIC PACEMAKER - developed by Australian doctor Mark Lidwill and physicist Edgar Booth in 1920s
EMBRYO FREEZING - embryo cryopreservation, a technique perfected by a Carl Wood and Alan Trounson and a team of researchers at Monash University and the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne.
EXTRACTING ACETATE OF LIME FROM MOLASSES - the lime being used in the manufacture of cartridges - inventor Auguste Joseph François de Bavay, brewer, chemist, metallurgist from Melbourne Smith's Weekly 6 June 1936
FIRE EXTINGUISHER AND FIRE ALARM using a thermo start. When the mercury rises to a given point it completes an electric device to cause an explosion and this liberates a water supply to a spray nozzle - Inventors T. G.V. Blakey and W. Fish, Victoria. The Ballarat Courier 28 February 1914
FRAZIER LENS - invented by Jim Frazier in 1993 - allows for both the subject and background to be in focus at the same time
FROZEN MEAT - Idea to send frozen meat to England developed by Thomas Mort
HAND GRENADE - T. Pendlebury of the Government Printing Office invented a hand grenade in 1915 that was suitable for trench warfare being light, small and easily thrown - The Daily Telegraph 4 September 1915
HOLLOW RIFLE BULLET - John Hember of Queen Street, Melbourne invented a hollow rifle bullet made of pewter that he claimed would travel twice the distance with an ordinary charge of powder Illustrated Sydney News 15 December 1887
HYDRO-METALLURGICAL METHOD IMPROVEMENT - for extracting metals from crushed ores, materials and furnace products esp. gold - John Cosmo Newbery, Melbourne The Telegraph 16 June 1886; Before Felton
IMPROVEMENTS IN COMBINED GRINDING, CLASSIFYING AND AMALGAMATING MACHINES - designed by Thomas William Watson of St. Arnaud Victoria, engineer; and Thomas Denny of South Yarra, mining engineer, to produce a machine which could reduce to impalpable powder all descriptions of ores, esp. gold and silver (1886)SMH 10 August 1886
INCANDENSCENT GAS BURNER IMPROVEMENT - William Hooker of Newtown, Sydney, gas engineer - SMH 1 July 1886
INCUBATOR FOR EGGS IMPROVEMENT - by John Burdekin Holdsworth of Sydney -SMH 1 July 1886
INDIAN RUBBER PONTOON -
Benjamin Sullivan claimed to be the inventor of Indian rubber pontoons and in 1848 produced correspondence from Lord Viscount Beresford, Master-General of Ordnance dated 14 April 1827 confirming the invention and informing him that it had been submitted to a committee at Woolwich for consideration and report. - Maitland Mercury 27 December 1848
INFANTS' IRON LUNG - used at Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney in 1949 for prematurely born babies was invented by a Hobart doctor and a technician The Worlds News 11 June 1949
INFLATABLE ESCAPE SLIDE AND RAFT - Qantas employee Jack Grant invented this in 1965
MECHANICAL ICE-MAKER - invented by James Harrison in Geelong, Vic., in 1854
MICHELL THRUST BEARING - In 1905 the Australian engineer George Michell who had improved the theory of lubrication, patented a new thrust bearing. Michell's bearing created wedges of oil inside the spinning bearing to reduce friction between it and the shaft it held in place. These super efficient new bearings were one-tenth the size of old ones and opened the way for larger propellers and engines in ships. - Power House Museum
MILITARY TANK - Lancelot Eldin de Mole designed a military tank that ran on treads in 1911
MILK BUCKET SUPPORT - invented by J. S. Gribbins so that strain on the muscles of the legs caused by holding the bucket with knees could be avoided. Daily Telegraph 5 Februar 1908
PORTABLE GRATE FOR DOMESTIC AND CAMP FIRES. - ingeniously made of cylinder form, with part suited. The grate had a cover that would shut in the contents when fire was not required. Inventors J. F. J. Palmer and A. Lindner, Victoria
POSTAGE STAMP - James Raymond, Sydney post-master general in 1838 issued the first pre-paid postage
POWER BOARD - invented in 1972 by Frank Bannigan
QUARTZ CRUSHING MACHINE IMPROVEMENTS - by William McLean, miner of Goulburn and Robert Watson, licensed victualler of Sydney. Relates to stampers which were lifted by cams or inclined planes, on a circular frame or wheel Australian Town and Country Journal 7 September 1885
SELF-SERVING PETROL BOWSER - Inventor A. G. Rowe of Sheffield Tasmania. Similar to ordinary bowser with a coin-slide on the side and change gadget on the front. The Worlds News 11 June 1949
SHADOW CLOCK - invented by Richard Bartholomew Smith - threw a beam of light containing the shadow of a working clock onto the pavement or bedroom ceiling - Magic in Sydney
SHEEP SHEARING MACHINERY - Frederick Wyork Wolseley invented and developed the first commercially successful sheep shearing machinery
SHOOTING GALLERY - popular with soldiers of WW1. Claimed to have been invented by a scientist from Melbourne who secured the assistance of Pathe Freres in perfecting his apparatus prior to 1908. The pictures were projected on a screen of men and animals in movement. Whenever a rifle was shot at the screen the report broke an electric current, the picture momentarily ceased to move and hole made by the bullet was clearly seen The Argus 21 November 1918
SPRAY ON SKIN - (1999) - technique invented by Perth based plastic surgeon Professor Fiona Wood to use a burns victim's healthy skin to grow new skins cells which are then sprayed on to the victim's damaged skin
STAINLESS STEEL BRACES - invented by Percy Raymond Begg of Adelaide in 1956
STAMPER CRUSHING MACHINE IMPROVEMENTS - by William Henry Nash, licensed surveyor of Sydney; relates to machinery used for the purpose of crushing quartz, tin ores, copper ore, by means of stamps(1886)SMH 10 August 1886
STAYSHARP KNIVES - Melbourne-based Wiltshire Cutlery design engineer Dennis Jackson designed a self-sharpening knife in 1970.
UTE - Ford Utility (Ute)Ford designed by Geelong engineer Lewis Bandt c. 1934
WALLABY SNIPING CAGE -William Thomas Charley invented the concept of the Wallaby Sniping Cage at Gallipoli in 1915. The cage was used mainly for night firing and held a rifle in a fixed position after aiming, enabling it to be fired again without re-aiming. Farmer and Settler 30 July 1915; Hawkesbury Heritage
WATER CART - Inventor John Furphy: a watercart with a 180-gallon (818 litres) cylindrical iron tank, mounted horizontally on a horse-drawn wooden frame with cast-iron wheels. The name Furphy was painted in large capitals on both sides of the tank. These carts, generally known as furphies, were ideal for the transport of water on farms, and an estimated average of 300 were produced annually for about forty years. They were used in large numbers by the Australian army in World War I. Australian Dictionary of Biography
WATER FILTER AND COOLER - patent issued to John William Colton, Alfred Cutting Colton and William England Longbottom, merchants as assignees of James Henry Southcott of Adelaide for a combined water filter and cooler to supply an inexpensive contrivance for holding water and to filter by inserting in an ordinary canvas bag cooler a porous vessel filed with a channel The Telegraph 16 June 1886
WI-FI TECHNOLOGY - Developed in 1992 by John O'Sullivan and the CSIRO and now used around the world
WINE CASK - invented by Tom Angove of South Australia 1960s
WINGED KEEL - Ben Lexcen, yachtsman and marine architect invented the winged keel. Used in 1983 America's Cup on Australia II
WOVEN WIRE MATTRESS FRAMES - William Goodenough Percy Sharp and Christopher Bradley from Melbourne (1886) SMH 10 August 1886