Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations
list an event      1 million Australian readers every month      facebook

9 South Australian Thought-Provoking Inventions

Home > Adelaide > Health and Fitness | Lists | Quirky | Technology | Trivia
by Graeme Fanning (subscribe)
I'm a tour guide who is passionate about South Australia and love to showcase to locals and visitors. Visit my facebook page at
Published April 6th 2021
Iconic Inventions
Following some targeted research, I had not realised how many ground-breaking inventions were in fact from South Australia, some of which went on to become worldwide phenomenons. Here are 9 which stand out both at the time they were invented as well as today.

1. Rotary Clothes Line

Rotary Clothes lines were being produced in Australia way back in the early 1900s but many could not be raised or lowered. Users of these lines pegged out washing by standing on some form of platform.

One of the original designs with a wind-up mechanism was by a man by the name of Gilbert Toyne in 1925, however, his idea was too expensive at the time to become popular. Early models were known as "chinwackers" as they were raised by a lever which could fly from an operator's grasp.

Lance Hill from South Australia developed a version inspired by his wife's frustration with her failing propped up a single line, in a cramped backyard filled with fruit trees. Hill teamed up with his brother-in-law Harold Ling in 1945 and made rotary clotheslines with all steel components.

The very first batch made by Hill was produced from tubing salvaged from under Sydney Harbour Bridge, originally hung to catch enemy subs during WW2. The winding mechanism came along in 1956. Hill's Hoists have become a household name since that time and are still produced today. Lance Hill passed away in 1986.

Hills Hoist

2. The Stobie Pole

During the 1920s, timber was scarce and for some reason, South Australia had an abundance of termites, so an idea was being worked on to produce telegraph/power poles made of two steel joists held apart by a slab of concrete. Adelaide Electric Supply Company engineer, James Cyril Stobie came up with this "light bulb" idea in 1924 and the company paid him 500 pounds for patent rights.

The very first Stobie Pole was erected on South Terrace in Adelaide and today it is believed there are around 725,000 poles still standing currently. Despite a move for more underground cabling these days, SA Power Networks continue to make stobie poles at a plant in Angle Vale.

Interesting fact: Apparently the expected life span of a stobie pole is 80 years. It has been declared one of SA's state icons.

Stobie Pole
Stobie Pole

3. Sunburn Cream

As the Earth's Ozone layer is continually being compromised, levels of UV are always a concern, however, thanks to Milton Blake, a Chemist, he invented the world's first Sunburn Cream, first experimenting with the substance back in the 1920s.

Blake had read about a substance that possessed properties of being able to absorb UV rays of the sun and finally perfected this product after he established Hamilton Laboratories in 1932. With funding from both family and friends, Blake was able to produce the first 500 tubes, thereby commencing production of the world's first commercial sunscreens.

Suntan Cream

4. Torrens Land Title System

Up to a certain period in our history, there was no official government recording of who owned what land around South Australia, as in other parts of Australia, which meant somebody producing a crumpled piece of paper from their pocket, was certainly not enough proof of ownership. This led to numerous legal disputes over a period of time.

Of Irish birth, Robert Richard Torrens Junior arrived in South Australia with his family in 1840, soon gaining a post as Customs Collector. Torrens entered the political arena in South Australia, serving in several portfolios including Colonial Treasurer, Registrar-General and even a 1-month stint as Premier of South Australia.

It was during the 1850s that Torrens became involved in the Land Titles Registration debate and legislation was passed in 1858 under the heading of the Real Property Act, whereby an official government register would be maintained, recording who owned what land in South Australia.

There has been conjecture since that time whether in fact Torrens can take all of the credit for what is known today as the Torrens Land Title System, as there was some suggestion that a chap by the name of Anthony Forster allegedly first made the suggestion for this type of system. Forster at that time was Editor of the South Australian Register.

Also, German lawyer, Ulrich Hubbe was working closely with the South Australian government and Torrens at the time leading up to the groundbreaking legislation, and it was also suggested that the system may have been based upon one already being utilised in Germany.

The rest is history - Torrens took the credit for the work and it was adopted firstly here in South Australia, then gradually introduced in other colonies around Australia. Eventually, it took flight overseas, and today the system is still believed to be one of the better land title systems in the world.

Incidentally, the River Torrens flowing through Adelaide is named after Torrens's father, who had the same name, who was one of South Australia's early colonial commissioners.

Robert Richard Torrens
Robert Richard Torrens - Courtesy

5. Plastic Toilet Cistern

Who would have thought that a Hungarian born doll-maker came up with amazing inventions, including the world's first all plastic one-piece moulded toilet cistern, as well as a disposable hypodermic syringe!

Charles Rothauser found a niche in plastics during the late 1930s and firstly came up with a plastic hypodermic syringe benefiting millions of people. Prior to that, the syringes were steel and non-disposable which meant that unless thorough disinfection was carried out, these syringes had the risk of spreading infection.

In 1941, Rothauser started up the Caroma factory in Norwood, who became a leading manufacturer of bathroom products. Rothauser's plastic moulded toilet cistern was thought up to try and combat Adelaide water's corrosive effect on brass fittings.

Caroma went on to pioneer other groundbreaking technologies including in 1980 when Bruce Thompson, an employee produced the world's first dual flush toilet system.

Toilet Cistern

6. Secret Ballot

It is well documented that Victoria was the first place in the world to introduce the "secret ballot" back in 1856 and South Australia followed with a similar system 2 weeks later.

However, it was proven that controversy surrounded Victoria's introduction of the election process, as it turned out there was some kind of secret numbering system on the back of the voting ticket, which could be linked back to the voter.

Therefore in South Australia, we claim we introduced the first truly secret ballot in the world. The man responsible - William Boothby who became a Commissioner in charge of every South Australian Parliamentary election from 1856 right up until 1903.

In 1858, a familiar process was introduced by the placing of a cross against the name of a favoured candidate on pre-printed ballot papers that would be placed into a sealed box.

This replaced the traditional British practise where voters assembled and shouted out the name of their chosen candidate. As you can imagine, this very public process made the voter vulnerable to bribery and intimidation.

The SA federal seat of Boothby was named in William Boothby's honour in 1903.

Examples of when secret ballot processes were introduced in places around the world - NZ (1870), UK (1872), Canada (1874) and USA (1892).

William Boothby
William Boothby c 1900 - Courtesy

7. Plastic Spectacle Lenses

Experimentation was being conducted by researchers from Laubman and Pank Optometric Company as well as chemists from the University of Adelaide during the late 1950s using a new type of plastic resin, known as CR-39, previously used in the manufacture of parts for World War 2 aircraft.

These experiments were conducted with the idea of producing spectacles. Laubman and Pank established a subsidiary company called Scientific Optical Laboratories of Australia (SOLA) to produce the first plastic lenses.

These lenses were scratch-resistant and lightweight, which then led to further manufacture of bifocal and progressive focus lenses.

During the 1960s and 197s the company expanded overseas and by the end of the century, SOLA International had 20 manufacturing facilities in countries around the globe, as well as being one of the world's largest manufacturers of optical lenses.

A bit of trivia - the American astronauts who landed on the Moon in 1969 wore lightweight eye lens made by our very own SOLA.

SOLA were also the first in the world to make commercial helium-neon lasers.


8. Plastic Airconditioners

Earlier airconditioners were all fabricated from metal, which was always prone to corrosion. Frank Seeley developed all plastic evaporative air conditioners and made 1000 plastic airconditioners in his first year, 1972.

In 1983, Seeley produced ducted rooftop units and helped the rooftop cooling market in Australia grow from 12,000 pa to around 70,000 pa. The company at Lonsdale made their own injection moulding of plastic and during the 1980s began exporting evaporative airconditioners firstly to the Middle East and then to the US and UK.

Seeley won many awards for design and manufacturing best practice worldwide and then in the 1990s, it bought the Braemar Group specialising in Coolair and Tudor units. They then joined with other quality brands of air conditioner including Breezair and Convair.

In 2010 Climate Wizard technology was introduced.


9. ECT - Electro Convulsive Therapy

Prior to the 1940s in the field of Mental Health, there were very few treatments available including limitation on the use of drugs for mental health patients.

The timing devices required for ECT machines had been up to that time reserved for bombing mechanisms. The Physics Department of the University of Adelaide came up with the idea of substituting timers with the dial mechanism from a rotary telephone.

Initially, testing was conducted on rabbits, before finally being introduced to human patients in 1941. What was then known as Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later to become Glenside Hospital) became the first place in Australia to introduce Electro Convulsive shock treatment, especially utilised on patients with Schizophrenia and Manic-depression.

In its early application, the treatment was given without anaesthetic. By the late 1950s, breakthroughs in modern drug treatments began to produce positive results.

Former Parkside Asylum

These are but a few of the many inventions that emanate from South Australia - more examples of how progressive we as a colony and state have been over the years.
Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  53
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Why? To bring awareness of how many ground breaking inventions emanate from South Australia
When: Any time of the year
Phone: Via Website
Where: South Australia
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Extremely interesting article. Thank you.
by trish (score: 1|16) 191 days ago
Top Events
Popular Articles