When the first Aboriginal people arrived in Australia over 40,000 years ago they were among the most technologically advanced people in the world at the time having made several over the horizon sea voyages to reach here. Yet by the time of European contact Aboriginal people had made very few technological advances and were still using stone tools in a metal rich country.
Why was this? It certainly wasn't due to lack of intelligence. Aboriginal people had a rich culture, a complex social structure and advanced skills that allowed them to survive in hostile environments as well as the qualities we have mentioned on What Makes a good Australian Inventor. Indeed, many Aboriginal people placed among European implements quickly became very inventive (see for example David Unaipon in the box on the right). The complex question of what environmental conditions lead to technological advances and inventiveness in certain societies and why these conditions did not exist in Aboriginal Australia is examined in Jared Diamond's excellent book, Gun Germs and Steel (see below).
Some notable Aboriginal inventions
- Stone tools - Aboriginal people are thought to be the first to use ground edges on stone cutting tools and the first to use stone tools to grind seeds.
- Boomerang - a throwing stick used for many purposes whose design allows it to return to the (skilled) thrower.
- Woomera - a spear throwing holder that acts as an extension of the arm thus allowing greater power and range for the spear. "Woomera" was adopted as an appropriate name for the rocket launching range and associated settlement in outback South Australia.
- Didgeridoo - a musical instrument whose sound is immediately recognisable. It first appeared 2,000 or more years ago and at the time of European arrival was used in the north western corner of Australia.
Guns, Germs and Steel
by Jared Diamond
This important book written by a person Professor Tim Flannery has called "the greatest living scientist" attempts to analyse why different societies and races developed in different ways. Why did certain societies excel in technology, inventiveness and the arts while others remained static for many centuries? What enabled certain races to over-run others. This is no simplistic racial supremacy polemic, but a serious scientific attempt to analyse what conditions allow certain peoples to flourish and what conditions might cause them to languish.
Our rating - 5 hats
Some useful resources on inventions and inventors:
Lord Howard Florey
The Deakin T2 Car
Who is the Inventor?
- You will find numbers of useful resources in our free newsletter - Inventions & Innovations - the White Hat guide
- The White Hat listing of forthcoming events related to inventions and innovation
- The Australian Institute for Commercialisation (AIC) is a leading service organisation helping innovators achieve commercial success. Around Australia they help business, research organisations and governments to convert their ideas into successful outcomes.
- Scienceworks in Melbourne, the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra provide excellent resources in understanding Australian inventions and innovation.
- The ABC television series Landline regularly features Australian innovation and inventions. Unlike many gee-whiz pop science programs, Landline usually provides thorough and unhysterical coverage of Australian breakthroughs relating to country Australia together with their commercial ramifications. (You do need to watch the Sunday or Monday morning broadcast however, rather than the shortened Monday evening version.) Unfortunately, the same is not true of the current series on the ABC called The New Inventors. Made in infotainment style it chooses to present only a cursory investigation of the invention and skates over the top of the issues involved in successfully bringing an invention to market. Many of the products presented are not really inventions but design improvements, but any exposure in the media for creativity in such areas is to be welcomed and applauded.
- You will also find useful information at Intellectual Property (IP) Australia, The Inventors' Association of Australia and The Triton Foundation (founded by George Lewin, inventor of the Triton Work Bench) and Innovic, a Victorian organisation which provides advice on the bringing to market of innovations..
Some useful books on inventions and inventors
Edison in the Boardroom Revisited:
How Leading Companies Realize Value from Their Intellectual Property
Related Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander resources:
Emily Kame Kngwarreye