Celebrating 2017 National NAIDOC: Aboriginal innovation

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that this feature includes images of a deceased person.

From Sunday 2 July to Sunday 9 July, Australia celebrates the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week. We’re taking this time to celebrate and recognise the inventiveness of our Indigenous people.

NAIDOC week, which started out as a protest movement in the late 1930s, is a week-long celebration to learn and recognise the contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make to our culture. This year’s theme is:  Our Languages Matter.

Our Indigenous people have a rich culture and demonstrated their ingenuity through their advanced bush craft that allowed them to survive in hostile environments. This innovative thinking is evident in a number of Aboriginal inventions.

The Boomerang

The Boomerang, a throwing stick used for many purposes and designed to return to its thrower, is one of the most famous Aboriginal inventions. Some were designed to injure their targets, while others were mostly used to influence the movement of birds and animals to then be hunted with other tools.

In an article for the Bulletin by Joesph Furphy, published 20 October 1902, he described the boomerang from his observations in the Yarra Valley:

‘it was usually made to descend a spear cast in front of the thrower, after passing far beyond the vertical line of that point. This weapon was designed to search cover – to force a sheltered enemy into frontal encounter...’

Caption: ‘Australia Cairns Boomerang’. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Didgeridoo (didjeridu)

The Didgeridoo is a well-known wind instrument with a distinctive and easily recognisable sound. Made from hollowed-out wood, the didgeridoo requires the hands of a skilled performer and is capable of rich and complex musical expression.

Fish traps and stone tools

Indigenous technological imagination is illustrated in fish traps that were woven from vines. Fish traps have been made from specific designs for particular locations and seasons. Some of Australia’s Aboriginal fish traps are thought to be up to 40 000 years old.

Aboriginal people are also thought to have been the first to use ground edges on stone cutting tools to grind seeds. Stone tools were also used for hunting, carrying food, for making ochre, nets, cothing and baskets.

Australia’s Leonardo Da Vinci – the perpetual ideas man

David Unaipon is known as one of Australia’s great inventors, and from his unique genius he received the nickname ‘Australia’s Leonardo’. His portrait has been depicted on the Australian $50 note since 1995 with some of the drawings depicted in his patent applications for his significant intelligence and achievements.

Unaipon lodged ten patents for various inventions, his most ingenious being an improved shearing hand piece which was patented in 1909. Other inventions included a centrifugal engine, a multi-radial wheel and a mechanical propulsion device. He spent a lot of his life trying to find the secret of perpetual motion but many of his ideas were ahead of his time. He spoke of aerodynamics and foresaw the helicopter, and he also spoke of the potential uses of polarised light.

Caption: David Unaipon Mechanical Shears patent specification. Image: State Library of South Australia

Unaipon also wrote stories and poetry and was the first published Aboriginal author.

Intellectual Property (IP) for Indigenous business

An Indigenous business is like any other when it comes to IP rights. IP protects Indigenous culture and products, and gives the owner the ability to profit from them. Our Dream Shield guide provides real examples of success stories and tips for Aboriginal inventors, designers and business owners. For example, Warlukurlangu Artists share their vibrant artwork with people all around the world with each art piece celebrating both the vibrant colours of Australia’s landscape and the stories they inspire in the artists.

More information

Published: 
28 June 2017

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