Australia has a disproportionate amount of inventors for a country of our size. Punching above our weight we have given birth to some truly iconic and important advancements. Many of us know about the Hills Hoist, Aerogard and Vegemite, but that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to original Australian innovation.
1) The goon sack
Sorry, boxed wine. Yes, the alcoholic handbag is not only a widely embraced cultural linchpin among Australians of all walks of life, but it was actually born here. So who first created the cardboard chateau and why?
Cask wine was invented by Thomas Angove, a winemaker from South Australia, who went on to patent the popular wine dispensing units in 1965. It may, or may not surprise you that the design was inspired by a packaging method for… battery acid (insert cheap wine joke here). It was originally done to cut down on heavy, fragile and expensive bottle shipping.
At first the 4.5 litre bladders, housed in a cardboard box, required the user to snip the corner of the sack and then reseal the bag with a supplied peg. However 2 years later another inventive Aussie, Charles Malpas from Penfolds wine, patented the familiar plastic tap we know and love today.
In a strange twist of fate, the peg found a new way to interact with both the goon sack and another quintessential Aussie invention – the hills hoist clothesline – when they joined forces to create the backyard drinking game, goon of fortune, making it possibly the most Australian game ever conceived.
2) The notepad
The next time you are jotting down illegible notes or scrawling indistinct doodles on a pad of paper conjoined with a glue spine you are actually taking part in a patriotic activity. A surprisingly recent innovation when you take into account paper’s long history, it was back in 1902 that a Tasmanian chap J.A. Birchall, who owned and operated a stationary store known as the Birchall’s of Launceston became the first to bind pages in this distinct fashion. By cutting the paper to a smaller more portable size, applying a glue spine and sticking them to a cardboard backing he birthed one of the most ubiquitous products of all time, loved and loathed by students the world over. Up until then paper was only sold as loose leaf.
At first the uptake was lacklustre, with his British supplier hesitant to start manufacturing them. After some convincing the rest is history.
Furthermore, this innovation accidentally also heralded the age of the paperback novel, which uses the same binding process, marking a triumph over the traditional hardback and spewing forth a torrent of affordable books for mass consumption.
3) The Didgeridoo
This classic wind instrument from Arnhem land, believed to be the first in the known world, is technically an aerophone, and was invented by indigenous Australians possibly within the last 1500 years. Also known as the didjeridu among many other localised names, the exact age of the Didgeridoo is hard to pinpoint. Potentially used for tens of thousands of years, it seems, from a study of rock art in the Ginga Wardelirrhmeng region, on the northern edge of the Arnhem Land plateau, that we have clear examples of a Didgeridoo player and two singers participating in an Ubarr Ceremony. The dating of the paintings from 1500 years ago is the only confirmed date to a possibly ancient instrument.
Created by cleaning, shaping and adding wax to a long eucalyptus branch, the limb first needs to have undergone consumption by termites to hollow it out. Selection is extremely careful, with the picking of appropriate sounding wood of the perfect dimensions being something of an art. Now finding homes all over the world, this indigenous instrument continues its success in the modern music world while maintaining its utter uniqueness in the manner in which it is played – through a complex circular breathing technique not easily mastered.
4) The Splayd
No not the spork, the splayd! A Sydney invention from the late 1940’s, this was the first eating utensil to combine all three common tools we use to expedite food from plate to face. Taking the spoon, fork and knife, a canny William McArthur decided to bind them in harmony after witnessing ladies at a BBQ struggling to use traditional cutlery to eat off the plates balanced on their laps. Eager to soothe such frustration, he set about creating the splayd to lubricate the speed and efficiency of shovelling nutrients to one’s digestive system.
The American spork, while combing the rounded spoon with a few prongs, left a lot be desired according to McArthur and set about creating a geometric design with a double bladed edge, useful for cutting and delivering soft foods to the human mouth. We applaud you sir.