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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia

South Australian inventions and inventors

South Australia has been the place of many firsts. Patents, copyright and trademarks records include examples of many of the inventions and innovations from South Australia.

Ridley's reaping machine

In 1843 John Ridley and John Bull of Adelaide constructed the first stripper harvester in Australia. This grain stripper cut the crop then removed and placed the grain into bins.

Selected items relating to Ridley's reaping machine
Application for letters patent by John Wrathall Bull – improvements in reaping machines, 1871 A13195, 151
State Library of South Australia
Image of the Ridley reaper, 1845 B46770

Smith's stump jump plough

In 1876 brothers Richard Bowyer and Clarence Herbert Smith developed the stump jump plough, a plough that could jump over stumps and stones, enabling newly cleared land to be cultivated. The problem of clearing mallee roots was particularly acute in the Yorke Peninsula, so it was no coincidence that the Smiths were local residents. This invention is credited with revolutionising farming in South Australia, where the plough was adopted enthusiastically wherever stony or mallee land was found.

Selected items relating to the Stump Jump plough
RB Smith, 31 August 1876, 1875–78 AP476/8, 13/1876
Photograph of scrub clearing at Tintinara, traction engine drawing three stump jump ploughs, plus copyright form, 1905 D4477, 533
State library of South Australia
Working drawings of plough, 1876 PRG 432/4/1, 2, 3
Image of 'Vixen' stump jump plough, 1876 B 64256, B 64257

Mark I tank

A South Australian named Lance de Mole submitted a proposal to the British War Office in 1912 for a chain-rail vehicle, complete with extensive drawings. The idea was rejected at the time but de Mole made more proposals in 1914 and 1916, requesting to be recognised as the inventor of the Mark I tank. The British Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors eventually made a payment of £987 to de Mole to cover his expenses and promoted him to an honorary corporal.

Selected items relating to the Mark 1 Tank
World War I service file – Lancelot Eldin de Mole, 1914–20 B2455, DE MOLE L E
War tank – invention by Mr LE de Mole, 1946 MP742/1, 177/1/2046
Photograph of World War I tank in muddy terrain, 1917 B4260, 3
Australian War Memorial
Inventions – tanks, Mr de Mole, 1918–19 AWM27, 505/4
Registry file – model of tank donated by Corporal de Mole, 1919–45 AWM93, 7/4/545

Hills Hoist

Image 22: A housewife demonstrates the advantages of a Hills Hoist, 1968. The Hills Hoist was invented by South Australian Lance Hill

Image 22: A housewife demonstrates the advantages of a Hills Hoist, 1968. The Hills Hoist was invented by South Australian Lance Hill
NAA: B941, hardware/homeware/1
Enlarge image - View image gallery

Although the original rotary clothes hoist had been patented by Gilbert Toyne of Geelong in 1911, Lance Hill further developed the design in Adelaide from 1945 and marketed it under the name of Hills Hoist. He subsequently added and patented the winding mechanism. The Hills Hoist is one of Australia's most recognised cultural icons.

Selected items relating to the Hills Hoist
Correspondence received for the Royal Family – gift of Hills Hoist to Buckingham Palace (refused), includes two photographs, 1959 A2880, 18/1/304
Application for the registration of design by Hills Hoist Ltd for gear case for rotary hoists – Class 1, 1954 A1337, 33510
Photograph of a modern housewife demonstrating the advantages of a Hills rotary clothes hoist, 1968–78 B941, HARDWARE/HOMEWARE/1
Northfield Hospital – includes leaflets showing Hills Hoist wind-up model with price list and laundry pram, 1934–54 D2048, G758 part 2

Stobie pole

South Australian engineer James Stobie invented and patented the Stobie pole in 1924. This is a form of power-line pole suitable for deserts or other regions where trees for the common wooden pole are not readily available. It consists of a pole constructed of cement held between two pieces of steel, which are often railway line off-cuts. Stobie poles are very durable and are a well-known part of the South Australian landscape.

Seleted items relating to the Stobie Pole
Application for letters patent for an invention by James Cyril Stobie, titled – An improved pole for carrying electric cables, telegraph and telephone wires and other purposes, 1924 A627, 18684/1924
JC Stobie, FWH Wheaton and JR Brookman – application for extension of term of letters patent under patent number 18684, 1935–44 A432, 1940/820
Re letters patent granted to Stobie James Cyril; Wheadon Frederick William Herbert, 1940 A10076, 1940/1
Manufacture of Stobie poles – royalties, 1942–46 A475, P1800

RM Williams

In 1932 Reginald Murray (RM) Williams designed a pair of elastic-sided boots for stockmen. Although Williams did not strictly invent a boot of this kind, his classic design and workmanship were instrumental in establishing the company's long-lived reputation. RM Williams went on to register other designs for his 'bush wear' clothing company, which is still based at the original premises in the Adelaide suburb of Prospect.

Selected items relating to RM Williams Boots
Application for copyright – Reginald Murray Williams '1940 Catalogue RM Williams', 1939 A1336, 33794
Application for registration of design by Reginald Murray Williams for slipper – class 10, 1947 A1337, 24964
Application for registration of design by Reginald Murray Williams for trousers – class 10, 1947 A1337, 25213
Photograph of factories – RM Williams, 1988 A6135, K26/7/88/53


Chapter 15
Science and research