The first problems to overcome in the harsh new land was
the provision of adequate food and shelter. Not surprisingly
therefore, many of the country's early innovations were to
do with agriculture and food processing. Although many ideas,
processes and tools were originally imported and adapted to
local conditions and requirements, a good number were world
first innovations that made significant impact on agricultural
English flour miller John Ridley arrived in Adelaide in 1839
with a James Watt steam engine and milling machinery, and
set up South Australia's first steam-driven flour mill. In
1843, the shortage of labour and a bumper wheat harvest led
him, and a local farmer named John Bull, to develop the grain
stripper that cut the crop, removed and placed the grain into
bins. Ridley followed Bull's unsuccessful first attempt at
a working model two months later with a similar design that
worked. The stripper was a major advance on the laborious
harvesting of wheat by hand. It meant that four men could
strip as much wheat grain from straw in one day as they used
to in a whole harvest season. Ridley returned to England in
1853 to adapt the stripper to local conditions.
Born in Renton, on Loch Leven in Scotland in 1815, James
Harrison came to Australia in 1837, and became the editor
of the Port Phillip Patriot in 1838. Eventually he
established the Geelong Advertiser and prospered
in his new land as a newspaper proprietor. While cleaning
type with ether, he noticed that the metal became cold as
the ether evaporated, and realised that this could be used
to make ice. He built the world's first mechanical refrigeration
plant, installed in a brewery in Geelong, Victoria. By 1857
his patented machine could produce 3 tonnes of ice a day,
but people claimed they preferred 'natural' ice imported from
the United States. The venture failed, as did his subsequent
attempt to export surplus Australian beef to England aboard
the sailing ship Norfolk, fitted with his cooling system.
Now regarded as the father of refrigeration, Harrison returned
penniless to Britain in 1873 to work as a journalist.
Among the many expatriates who contributed much to the history
of Australia was Scotsman William Arnott, who arrived in Sydney
in 1848. A baker and pastry cook in Maitland, New South Wales,
he eventually set up William Arnott Limited, a company which
became synonymous with Australian biscuits.
Frederick York Wolseley who had arrived in Melbourne in 1854,
began working on a practical hand piece for a shearing machine
in 1868 - the same year that James Higham of Melbourne patented
'a new apparatus for shearing and clipping wool for sheep
and other animals'. Seventeen years later in 1885, Wolseley
demonstrated his shearing machine and started manufacturing
it with his foreman Herbert Austin. In 1888, Wolseley returned
to England and set up the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine
Co Ltd in Birmingham, and was joined by Austin soon after.
The pair became famous when in 1895 Austin designed and made
the first Wolseley motor car.
While ploughing his land, agricultural equipment maker Robert
Bowyer Smith made a fortunate discovery. His plough hit an
obstacle and a bolt holding a ploughshare broke. Surprisingly,
the plough not only continued to work, it also jumped over
stumps and stones. Together with his brother Clarence Herbert
Smith, he developed a plough with a pivoting blade that slid
over obstacles and was pulled back into the furrow by a weight.
The prototype of his Vixen three-furrow stump-jump plough
was exhibited and won first prize at the Moonta Show in 1876.
Among the most important agricultural inventions of the nineteenth
century, the plough revolutionised global farming practices
by allowing the cultivation of newly-cleared land before all
the stumps and rocks were removed. Unfortunately, Robert could
not afford to extend his patents and his brother Clarence
and others started making their own version of the plough,
and ploughing in the profits.
The first stripper-harvester, the forerunner of the combine
harvester, was conceived by 17 year old Hugh Victor McKay
in 1882. He built the prototype with his brothers from scrapped
farm machinery and kerosene cans, and successfully trialled
it on the family's farm in Drummartin, Victoria in 1884. The
machine could strip, thresh, winnow and bag grain in a single
operation. The same year James Morrow patented a successful
stripper-harvester for his farm machinery firm Nicholson &
Morrow. McKay's unlikely looking contraption worked well and
by 1885, his patented 'Sunshine Harvester' was in full production
in Ballarat. Another farmer's son, Headlie Shipard Taylor
from Henty in New South Wales, perfected and patented a machine
that could remove grain from crops tangled and flattened by
bad weather in 1813. Hugh McKay attended one of the trials
and was so impressed that he bought the rights to the 'header'
and manufactured the 'Sunshine Header Harvester' in 1916.
Taylor also produced the first motorised harvester in 1924.
In 1886, American born A F Spawn launched his Climax fruit
evaporator. Sliced apples were spread on trays, which were
suspended and rotated in a chamber heated by a flow of hot
air. This imaginative world first was the beginning of mechanical
Other American expatriates were the Foster brothers who came
from New York in 1888, with an American brewing plant and
a German-American brewer to set up the famous Fosters brewery.
Although it was E C Hansen at Carlsberg in Denmark who developed
the technique for producing pure yeast strains for brewing,
it was Belgian born brewer and chemist Auguste de Bavay who
arrived in Melbourne in 1884, that developed the first pure
yeast culture to be used commercially in top fermentation
in 1888 at Terry's West End brewery in Melbourne. Bavay eventually
became head brewer at Fosters.
The son of a small landowner, Cambridge University graduate
William James Farrer was unable to pursue a career in medicine
due to ill health, and came to Australia in 1870 to become
a sheep farmer. Instead, he became a surveyor in country New
South Wales, where he saw the effects of disease on wheat
crops. The devastation of wheat crops was so bad, that Australia
was hard pressed to produce surplus wheat for export. In 1886,
he took over the management of a small farm near Queanbeyan
and began collecting strains of wheat from around the world.
His 20 years of cross-breeding wheats began in earnest in
1889 in an effort to produce a naturally rust resistant high
yielding wheat variety that had good milling qualities. Among
the many disease- and drought-resistant varieties he produced
was the famous Federation variety, which by 1920 accounted
for 80 per cent of Australia's wheat crop.
Sixteen year old farmer's son Arthur Cliff Howard built the
world's first rotary hoe in a blacksmith's shop at Gilgandra,
New South Wales in 1912. Howard saw how his father's tractor
wasted power by turning its wheels and just pulling the plough.
He wanted to put the power of the tractor directly into ploughing,
and through trial and error, he designed the rotary plough.
There was little interest in his first version powered by
a motorcycle engine. After World War I he tried again and
in 1921 raised sufficient finance to start manufacturing the
present rotary hoe. A year before his death in 1971, Howard
was awarded the Order of the British Empire. His equipment
had been exported to more than 120 countries and had revolutionised
Even the humble crumpet was not overlooked. In 1947, Sydney
engineer R J Hastings patented a machine for the continuous
and automatic production of crumpets.
Scientists at Cambridge University in 1932, showed that the
storage life of chilled beef could be doubled by increasing
the amount of carbon dioxide in the refrigeration chamber.
Subsequently, a group led by J R Vickery at Australia's foremost
research body, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
(CSIR) were the first to develop the idea commercially. Established
in 1926, CSIR's first patent application was in 1938 for Dr
M Lipson's new shrink-proofing treatment using caustic soda
dissolved in methylated spirits. In 1949, the CSIR was renamed
the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation
(CSIRO). The organisation has played a vital role in the development
of much of Australia's science and technology contributions
in recent history.
Until the mid 1970s, wool was the main source of Australia's
wealth for more than 140 years. At its peak in 1951, wool
represented 65% of the nation's total exports. Not surprisingly,
there has been a great deal of time, money and effort spent
on research and development, and a significant number of major
innovations have been made relating to the growing, treating
and manufacturing of wool into textiles and garments. Many
of these inventions were the work of scientists at the CSIRO.
Up until the 1950s, the wool industry lost a great deal of
money every year from the use of henna, tars and paints used
to brand sheep. These brands could not be removed by washing
the raw wool, known as scouring, and had to be removed by
hand before further processing the fleece. The invention of
Siro-mark by the CSIRO, a new sheep branding product that
could be removed from raw wool, was released in 1954. Siro-mark
is a branding fluid consisting of selected pigments in a stabilised
emulsion of lanolin which is easy to remove during scouring.
1957 saw the introduction of the world's first trousers with
permanent creases, produced by the patented Si-ro-set process
invented by Dr Arthur Farnworth at the CSIRO. A special resin
was added to the wool fibres to temporarily change their chemical
structure. When cloth woven from this wool was steam-pressed,
the chemical evaporated and left a permanent crease in the
In 1960, the self-twist yarn system, which was more than
10 times faster than previous spinning systems, was invented
by David Hanshaw at the CSIRO and commercialised by Repco
Ltd. The spinner worked by producing two-ply woollen yarn
by twisting each strand individually and allowing them to
untwist around each other.
In 1977, scientists at the CSIRO developed the water-soluble
polyurethane pre-polymer, from which they developed the Sirolan-BAP
wool fabric shrink-proofing process. This is still the main
method of shrink-proofing wool textiles.
A new mechanical approach to wool yarn splicing was developed
by the CSIRO in 1981. The Twinsplicer was commercialised by
the major manufacturer of yarn-winding machines Savio SpA,
who have incorporated the splicer into their machines.
Due to an unresolved dispute
with the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade),
who copied and adopted as their own certain material from
Tomorrow's World, the Australian Initiative, and published
the material in their Australia Open for Business website,
without remorse or recompense, access
by Australian Government servers to this online edition
has been blocked indefinitely.