Amateur Wireless Transmitter

Inventions, innovation and ingenuity

Spanning a range of industries and endeavours, Queensland Museum’s Social History collections reveal game-changing ideas and new ways of doing things that have made tasks simpler, improved our quality of life and affected real change in communities.

In most cases we are unaware of how new ideas have become part of our everyday life. One example of this is the drop shaft sulky. Straight shaft sulkies were the most popular passenger vehicle in Australia in the late 1800s. Passengers had to step or climb over the shaft to get in, but not in Queensland. By 1900 the cradle or drop shaft had been incorporated by Queensland manufacturers, making it easier to use. They were particularly popular with women, who had to climb into vehicles while encumbered by long dresses. So commonplace was this design locally, that most Queenslanders didn’t realise it was dubbed in the southern cities where it was less commonplace as the Queensland or Brisbane sulky.

old horse drawn cart/buggy

A drop shaft sulky used by the mailman in Pinkenba, Brisbane. It is fitted with a brake, allowing the vehicle to be stopped right next to the mailbox so the mailman didn’t have to leave his seat.

diagram of an old fashioned horse cart

A visual comparison between the two sulky designs reveals the easier access provided by the Queensland innovation. 
Cobb & Co’s Catalogue of High Class Vehicles, 1915.

Inventions and innovations are the products of creative minds finding solutions to challenges. Charles Alvey wanted a fishing reel that was easy to use and simple to maintain. By creating a specially shaped spool and allowing the reel to be turned sideways when casting, Charles Alvey developed a unique side cast fishing reel. Alvey established a factory in St Lucia, Brisbane, in 1920 and made the first reels for sale from silky oak on a treadle lathe. Alvey made reels based on the original design for more than 100 years, with the company closing in 2022.

old rusty fishing reel

A fishing reel made by staff at the Ipswich Railway Workshops. It is a reproduction of an Alvey fishing reel, which was originally designed by Charles Alvey during his time employed as a coachbuilder at the Ipswich Railway Workshops.
Image: Queensland Museum, Jeff Wright.

Another Queensland designed product, the pineapple peeler, was a solution to a simple problem. While watching his wife struggling to cut the peel off a pineapple Ray Ashdown was inspired to come up with a better way. He had an opportunity to share his pineapple peeler prototype on the ABC Inventors program in 1972 and it brought such an enthusiastic response that the peeler was patented, manufactured and sold throughout the world.

the first prototype of a device for cutting pineapple

The prototype version of Ray Ashdown's pineapple peeler made of galvanised steel. The nail spike at one end acted as a pivot point, the adjustable blade trimmed the skin, and the fixed blade removed the core.
Image: Queensland Museum, Jeff Wright.

a device for cutting pineapple

A commercially produced version of Ray Ashdown’s pineapple peeler.
Image: Queensland Museum, Jeff Wright.

Having the foresight to see that existing technology can be adapted for other endeavours is another hallmark of innovation. In 1964, Ron Jones, a precision mechanical engineer, was grappling with how to improve the quality of X-ray images. An idea came to him while sitting in heavy traffic while driving home from work. By noon the next day he was able to verify the basic concept of a rolling loop film transport system suitable for 70mm film. Recognising that 70mm film provided greater picture quality, Ron patented his design in the United States as a new delivery mechanism for film projection. He then sold his patent to IMAX, who used it in their specialised cameras and widescreen cinemas from 1970.

While many innovations are developed for commercial purposes, they can have other benefits. The challenges of a dispersed community throughout Queensland led to the use of aircraft to improve services. In 1920, ten years after the first successful powered flight in Australia was made, our first commercial airline, QANTAS, was founded. The new company won the tender for the Charleville-Cloncurry mail route, and they made the first mail delivery on 2 November 1922, along with QANTAS’ first passenger, Alexander Kennedy. In 1935 QANTAS made its first overseas mail delivery and carried Australia’s first international passenger.

a white royal air mail sack with a red stripe

Mail bag from the first air mail delivery from Australia to England, 1931. This reduced delivery time from 32 days by sea to 13 days by air.
Image: Queensland Museum, Jeff Wright.

A few years after QANTAS made their first flight, John Flynn, a minister working in the bush, established the Flying Doctor Service. The service allowed doctors to go to patients rather than patients having to travel in tough conditions to reach the required medical services. To achieve this Flynn didn’t just use aircraft but enlisted the skills and innovations of Harold Traeger. Traeger developed a radio powered by bicycle pedals, overcoming the lack of electricity available in remote areas. The first pedal radio was installed at Augustus Downs Station, near Cloncurry, with the call sign ‘VJ1’ brought into service in 1929. Not only were the radios used to obtain medical assistance, they combatted the isolation of living in remote areas. They were also used for School of the Air lessons, started in 1950 by the South Australian branch of the Royal Flying Doctors Service.

black and white image of a man sitting next to a old fashioned radio

Alfred Traeger with a pedal-powered radio. Traeger helped install hundreds of his radios throughout regional Queensland and continued to supply transceivers to the Royal Flying Doctor Service until his retirement in 1975, with his refinements removing the need for pedals in 1939.
Image: Courtesy of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Over time and across the state, Queenslanders have turned flights of imagination into reality. From the sulky to QANTAS, Queensland thinkers and tinkerers have pushed boundaries to make tasks simpler, make life more enjoyable and save lives.

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