Whenever we think about inventors, we think of people like Thomas Edison or Leonardo da Vinci; lone geniuses who churned out world-changing ideas, one after another. But that’s not how 99.9 per cent of great ideas are born. Most great ideas happen because nothing in existence could get the job done, so people figured out a solution.
Not all of these inventions have come from a family business, but they all had (in some way or another) family members getting together and creating something entirely new.
Not every worthy Australian family invention can fit here, but six of the best are:
Hagen Stehr with one of his sustainably farmed tuna. Image: Kelly Barnes
Scientists say the breeding population of southern bluefin tuna has fallen more than 90 per cent since the 1950s due to overfishing.
When the company founded by Hagen Stehr and his son Marcus figured out how to get the notoriously fussy tuna to breed in land-locked tanks, Time magazine dubbed it the second-most important invention of 2009, right behind NASA’s Ares Rocket.
More specifically, it was Stehr Group’s Port Lincoln aquaculture division, Clean Seas Tuna -- which counts both Hagen and son Marcus as board members -- that made the breakthrough.
The wine cask
Image: Geoff Ward
Possibly a less noble pursuit than saving Australia’s endangered tuna population, but influential nonetheless.
What later become known as the ‘wine-box’ or ‘goon bag’ came from the mind of third-generation wine-maker Thomas Angove and patented by his family company in 1965.
Angove family winemakers were founded in 1886 by William T. Angove in the Adelaide foothills. It is still ticking along nicely, now in its fifth generation.
The wine box can now be found all over the word and, despite developing a down-market image in some places, its positives are clear. It’s kinder to the environment, cheaper and easier to transport. That said, you won’t find many boxes with Grand Cru inside.
The Hills Hoist
Lance Hill (centre) with brother-in-law Harold Ling (left) and worker Jack Short
It’s an odd thing to claim as an Australian icon, but this clothesline became exactly that.
Some debate remains about who the true inventor is. Geelong’s Gilbert Toyne patented four types of clothesline between 1911 and 1946, one of them being the famous height-adjustable rotary one we have in our backyards.
His patent expired, however, and Lance Hill began manufacturing one almost identical in 1945. Hill was soon joined by his brother-in-law Harold Ling when he returned from the war.
On the back of the clothesline’s success, the company moved into steel tubing and television antennae. It later became a public company and trades on the ASX as Hills Limited.
Harold Ling’s granddaughter, Jennifer Hill-Ling, is the company’s chair.
The Surf Ski
Harry McLaren (middle left) with Ray Dick, Herb Reckless and Bert McLaren (left to right)
Invented by Harry McLaren with his brothers Jack and Bert in 1912 so they could get out to their family’s oyster beds near Port Macquarie, they quickly found that they were heaps of fun in the surf, too.
The brothers continued to hone their design and it eventually became a saviour for countless swimmers around the world.
The surf ski was adopted by surf lifesavers, first in Australia and then everywhere else, as a way of getting through the waves more quickly than with cumbersome rowing boats.
The feature-length film
The first film to ever last more than an hour was The Story of the Kelly Gang, released in late 1906.
In 2007 the film was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register and was officially recognised as the world’s first feature film.
It was written by brothers Charles and John Tait and produced by John, his other brother Nevin, and William Gibson and Milard Johnson.
John Tait and Charles’ wife Elizabeth starred in the show. It is believed that their kids also featured.
The armour worn by Tait in the film is also thought to be the original suit worn by Kelly.
The stump -jump plough
Source: State Library of South Australia
The thick undergrowth that covered large parts of southern Australia made farming almost impossible for European settlers.
Trees would be cut down and the dense scrub was repeatedly burnt off, but the tree stumps that littered the territory weren’t going anywhere, which meant that ploughing couldn’t be done.
By 1878, the problem was so serious that the South Australian government offered a £200 reward to anyone who could create an effective stump puller.
Enter machinery apprentice Richard Bowyer Smith and his brother Clarence Herbert Smith.
Instead of pulling out the stumps, their plough bounced over them, meaning that at least the ground around the stump could be furrowed.
Clarence began manufacturing the machine’s parts in South Australia while Richard moved to Western Australia to market the invention.