When it comes to cradles of technological innovation, Australia might not be the first place your mind goes to. Most people automatically think of the great US pioneers like Edison and Tesla, or electronics giants from Japan such as Sony and Fujitsu.
Australia does not boast the mega corporations that originate in these other countries. But it does have a reputation for being tech-ready and for having some of the best technological research institutes in the world, such as Curtin in Perth and the University of Melbourne. Furthermore, sometimes it just takes one person with an idea to make a technological leap forward. Here are some examples of technological innovations that came from Australia.
1850: James Harrison discovers refrigeration
Experiments in refrigeration started in the 1820s, but the first successful refrigeration machine was built by Melbourne printer James Harrison in 1850. He noticed the cooling effect of ether when using it to clean his printing press and so he built a metal box that had pipes going around it, then pumped ether through the pipes.
His prototype led to the first refrigerated vessels that could transport fresh meat from Australia to the rest of the world. It provided a whole new market for Australia’s farmers and brought relief to western Europeans who were suffering from food shortages.
1951: Victa takes the effort out of grass cutting
In Australia, the Victa brand has been synonymous with garden care for the past 70 years. It all began in 1951 when Sydney engineer Mervyn Victor Richardson took a lawn mowing innovation invented by another Australian, Lawrence Hall, and refined it into a device that was affordable and light weight.
Hill’s mowers sold like hot cakes, and Hall literally had people lining up outside his house to buy one. Within a year he had set up a proper manufacturing business and was having to construct 3000 mowers every week to meet demand.
1979: Aristocrat invents the modern casino slot
Hold on, you might think, there were casino slots around before 1979. That’s true, but they were all three-reel one arm bandits with cherries, oranges and maybe Lucky Sevens. Len Ainsworth was the man behind Aristocrat Leisure, a Sydney-based firm that had been making pokies since the 1950s.
In 1979, Aristocrat’s new game, called Wild West, brought a host of new features including five reels, and scatter symbols that carried out multiple functions. Look at any of the real money online pokies available at Australian online casinos today, and you will notice they take a very similar format to Wild West, almost 45 years later.
1988: RBA says goodbye to paper money
In the 1980s, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) worked alongside the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to enhance the durability and security of banknotes.
The result was the world’s first polymer notes, issued in 1988. Over the following years, other countries issued polymer bank notes too and they became the global standard. But Australia got there first.
2004: Where2Tech transforms mapping forever
Google Maps is the go-to app for mapping, and has rendered traditional maps, road atlases and even sat navs obsolete. Google launched the app in 2005, but it was actually devised and developed by Sydney-based Where 2 Technologies.
Google acquired the company and its technology in 2004. Chief developer Lars Rasmussen remained with Google till 2010.