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Australian Innovations that changed the world!

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Australian Innovations that changed the world!

Over the past few months, I have followed the Innovation Conversation that is the current focus of attention in the Australian political and business arena. One thing that I find interesting is the absence of substantive data. Australia has a rich history of Innovation of which the average Australian has little knowledge.

In the Australian culture, much greater kudos is given if you know who won gold medals, football grand finals or Australian cricket captains. There is very little kudos for knowing Nobel Prize winners or great Australian Innovators and or Inventors.

The current debate while refreshing in its focus is in danger of fading away as another political thought bubble. It would be a refreshing change for business leaders to be driving the debate and actually make something happen.

A Google search on Australian Innovation highlights Australia’s Top 100 Innovations

The first paragraph says:

Who can judge the best from such a wide field? Australia might not ‘punch above its weight’ as an ‘innovation nation’ or ‘clever country’, but Australians have come up with many bright ideas, and Australian individuals, companies, and organisations have created successful products, processes and systems based on many of those ideas.

A further Google search on Australian Innovation that changed the world reveals an interesting story – maybe not the whole story but a perspective.

There are a number of sites, which actually address this topic.

  1. National Geographic: Australian Innovations that changed the world
  2. Buzzfeed: Australian Innovations that changed the world
  3. Scan: 9 Surprising Innovations that changed the world

These three web sites appear to have selectively highlighted a number of innovations.

The table below documents an aggregation of the Australian Innovations that changed the world from the above web sites.


The Innovation

The Innovator

The Year


Black Box RecorderDave Warren1961
Inflatable escape slide and raftQANTAS1965
SeatbeltsMonash Uni Scientists1964

Agriculture and Food

Wine CasksTim Angove1965
Tank bred Tuna systemHagen Stehr2008

Energy and Environment

PermacultureBill Mollison1972


Spray On SkinDr Fiona Wood –Perth Hospital1991
Electronic pacemakerDr Mark Lidwill-Sydney Crown Women’s Hospital1926
Medical application of penicillinHoward Florey1939
Cochlear Implant bionic ear)Dr Graeme Clark1978
Ultrasound scannerCSIRO1976
Plastic Spectacle lensesSola Optical1960
Gardasil and Vervarix cancer VaccinesProf Ian Fraser and Dr Jian Zhou1991
Disease diagnosing nano-patchesUni of Q2014
Frazier lensJim FrazierLate 1990’s


RacecamChannel 71979
Winged keelBen Lexen1983
The feature Film 

Household and Apparel

Permanent crease clothingCSIRO1957
Triton Work centreGeorge Lewin1976
The SplaydWilliam McArthur1943
The FridgeJames Harrison1854
Electric DrillArthur James Arnot1889

Communication and IT

Wi-fi technologyCSIRO1992
Google MapsLars and Jens Rasmussen2003/4
Polymer bank notesreserve bank and csiro1988


Each of these Innovations/Inventions is significant but it is interesting that of those mentioned, very few have led to the development of major businesses in Australia?

Is this what is meant when we say that Australia is not good at the commercialisation process?

I am not sure what criteria each of the sites have used to select their lists but it is worth noting a number of the Innovations that are not identified:

  1. The Combine Harvester
  2. The CPAP MACHINE – ResMed
  3. Manufacturing Industry – Coalscan Coal analysis, Froth Flotation process, ore slurry probes to name a few.
  4. Sabine Vaccine against Polio

These are just a few.

What is even more interesting is the number of Australian businesses (and Brands), which have been sold off shore in recent years.

The innovation and business development associated with these occurred in Australia.

A few include:

RM Williams (2013)

Billabong (2012)

Fosters (2011)

Esky (2009)

Golden Circle (2008)

If innovation is a platform for the prosperity of an Australia of the future how is it that:

  1. Few Australians understand our Innovation history. (even worse most don’t care!) Innovation is not a dinner table conversation in Australian homes or water cooler conversation in business. – Stick with footy or cricket!
  2. We seem to be under achieving in the commercialisation process?
  3. We celebrate selling our businesses off shore as an achievement (for shareholders?)

If Innovation is to get leverage in the Australian context there needs to be a different sort of debate – it needs to focus on Innovation for a bigger purpose – to make the world a better place – to make Australia a better country?

So what does that debate entail and who are its leaders?

Australian Innovations that changed the world!

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