Over 5,000 items of our Cultures & Histories collection are now accessible online for free. All you need is your device and a little bit of inspiration to explore Queensland’s cultural and natural heritage.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.