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Magnificent Makers: Queensland inventors and their curious creations

9 Dec 2017 - 3 Jun 2018

Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery, Level 4

State Library of Queensland

We’re familiar with the old adage about necessity being the mother of invention—but necessity only tells part of the story. Great inventors and makers are often driven by a problem to be solved or a circumstance to be overcome, but the fruits of their labour tell their own stories: tales of perseverance and innovation, beating the odds and changing the course of history.

Magnificent Makers tells seven stories of canny creations, daring discoveries and imaginative inventions that trace a path through Queensland’s history since the late nineteenth century. Together, they not only help tell the story of our state, but showcase the inspiring achievements of incredible men and women who took a chance on their ideas—resourceful, trail-blazing or altruistic—and transformed them into lasting legacies.

Steampunk style airship

A.J. Hunting

Pioneering Speedway in Brisbane

Photograph A.J Hunting with flying hat and goggles

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AJ Hunting was a true entrepreneur. Ambitious, daring and full of ideas, he spent his life trying to turn them into reality, which didn’t always go according to plan. But Hunting’s bold schemes and indomitable spirit shaped a fascinating slice of Queensland history: from pioneering Speedway in Brisbane to devising one-day cricket, Hunting was indisputably ahead of his time.

PAJS ‘Special Racing’ GR7 Big Port motorcycle

PAJS ‘Special Racing’ GR7 Big Port motorcycle, 1926

P n R Williams On loan from private collection, Scarborough Qld

Born in Victoria in 1883, Hunting moved to Brisbane from Sydney in 1925. He’d previously launched his own track-racing venture at Maroubra, but it was in Brisbane that his concept flourished into a wildly popular spectacle and became the Speedway we know today. It began on grass at the Ekka in 1926 and then moved to a granite track at Davies Park in West End, where competitors raced for the famed golden helmet and heroes of the sport made their names.

Always keen to develop his next idea, Hunting attempted to promote professional one-day cricket in 1933, although the rather staid Queensland Cricket Association had other ideas—it wasn’t until 1967 that the concept was revived by Kerry Packer. Undeterred, Hunting established a golf course at Windsor in 1939 with floodlights for night-time play, although financial troubles forced its closure in 1940.

During World War II, Hunting spent years petitioning the military to approve various inventions for troops, including a portable flamethrower, an unsinkable canoe and an automatic parachute-opening device. While his efforts were unsuccessful, he did manage to sell his cooling crystals to the dairy industry.

Hunting died suddenly in 1946 and, despite expressing remorse about his many failed business attempts, his enterprising and entertaining creations have rendered him one of Queensland’s most memorable figures.

Richard Frank Tunley

The ‘fairy godfather of blind children’

Portrait of Frank Tunley

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Known as the ‘Fairy Godfather of blind children’, Richard Frank Tunley played an incredibly influential role in educating Queensland’s vision-impaired during the twentieth century. But while Tunley’s extraordinary hand-crafted creations—which include braille globes, relief maps, doll houses and model towns—were vital educational tools, they were also sources of joy, offering vision-impaired children a way to see and experience the world through touch.

Tunley was born partially deaf, which spurred his lifelong desire to help others with similar conditions. He came to Brisbane as a boy in 1884 and, amusingly, ran his own blind-making business as an adult—he was fond of saying that he ‘made blinds for a living and lived for the blind’.

In 1923, Tunley made his first braille globe; in 1924, he successfully advocated to make education compulsory for blind and deaf children. For the next 50 years, until his death in 1968, he crafted models, maps, toys and teaching aids from the workshop of his Clayfield home. While he gifted some of these to schools all over the world, from New Zealand to India, Tunley’s legacy is firmly rooted in Brisbane: he became Grandfather Tunley to the students at what was then Queensland Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution in Dutton Park (now Narbethong State Special School).

He also had a long-running association with Queensland Braille Writing Association (now known as Braille House), and his fundraising efforts helped the organisation move from its original premises to a beautiful old Queenslander in Annerley, where it remains today.

Tunley’s compassion and imagination changed the lives of many, and made a lasting contribution to Queensland’s vision-impaired community.

Sarah Jenyns

Business pioneer and inventor of comfortable corsets

Portrait of Sara Jenyns

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At a time when women had few career opportunities, Sarah Jenyns was a business pioneer. With a medical background and a keen understanding of the health problems associated with wearing whale-bone corsets, she not only created a garment that would smooth women’s figures without causing backache or bad posture, but launched a Queensland-owned and operated business empire that would last almost a century.

Corset

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Sarah, a trained nurse, married Ebenezer Randolph Jenyns, a surgical instrument maker and evangelical preacher, in 1887. They settled in Brisbane in 1896, but times were tough—they had seven children and little money. Sarah felt a sharp pain one day when she bent over to lift a pail, and found that placing a pad inside her corset fixed the problem—except as soon as she moved, the pad dislodged and the pain returned.

Determined to devise a better solution—and earn enough to support her family—Sarah designed a self-lacing corset with ‘Verterbrella’, intricately woven steel ‘bones’, in the back to support the spine, and came up with the revolutionary idea of making corsets for 12 different body shapes. By 1909, she had a workshop on George Street and took her design to market, gaining endorsement from the medical profession and a worldwide manufacturing patent.

Although Sarah passed away in 1952, her business outlived her by another 40 years, becoming one of Queensland’s longest running fashion companies. By 1964, it had seven factories; by 1970, workers were producing 45,000 garments a day. Jenyns didn’t cease operating until 1992, when corsets were no longer a fixture of women’s wardrobes. In 2014, Sarah was inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

Prickly Pear

The scourge of inland Queensland

Illustration of a Cactoblastic Moth

Photo of the Cactoblastic Moth

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Queensland almost met its match with the prickly pear, an invasive weed introduced to Australia in 1822. But the persistent efforts of Queensland researchers—and the incredible pear-destroying capabilities of the Cactoblastis moth—soon turned this near-disaster into the most successful example of biological weed control in history.

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After spreading to Queensland from Scone in New South Wales, the prickly pear began a hostile takeover of the landscape, and was declared a noxious weed by 1883. Described as a ‘monster’, a ‘curse’ and a ‘green octopus’, its spiky pads and shoots rendered huge tracts of land unusable. By 1925, it covered 60 million acres, 80% of that in Queensland, and was increasing at an alarming rate of one million acres per year.

The pear seemed unstoppable—it could even sprout on fence posts—and early attempts to halt its path ranged from smothering and crushing to poisoning and burning. The government established various prickly pear commissions and boards and an experimental research station at Dulacca, where Australia’s first government-appointed female scientist, Dr Jean White, researched the pear from 1912‒16.

By 1912, the Prickly Pear Travelling Commission was focused on finding a biological control agent, and began importing specimens of insect species—these included the Cactoblastis moth, although their larvae initially failed to mature.

It wasn’t until 1925 that Alan Dodd, a member of the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board, successfully imported new specimens from Argentina. The Cactoblastis surprised everyone: eggs were released in 1926 and, by 1932, the moths had destroyed most of the original prickly pear stands. Queensland was revitalised, with settlers reclaiming almost seven million hectares of previously infested land, reviving dying towns and erecting new infrastructure.

Edward Barton

Leading the electrification of Queensland

Portrait of Edward Barton

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As the man who brought electric light to Queensland, Edward Barton heralded a new chapter in the state’s history, and made Queensland a national leader in electricity supply.

Barton's Factory

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Barton was born in Melbourne in 1857 and educated overseas. He began his career in England, superintending the country’s first commercial electric lighting system in 1882, before returning to Australia.

In 1882, Brisbane hosted Australia’s first public electricity demonstration via eight steam-engine-powered arc lights along Queen Street; the following year, the Government Printing Office was lit up in a similar way. In 1886, Barton was appointed Queensland Government Electrician, and gave Brisbane the first electricity-illuminated legislative building in the British Empire when he connected the Printing Office to Queensland Parliament House via underground cables, thought to be the first of their kind in the southern hemisphere.

In 1888, Barton formed Barton, White & Co., Australia’s first public electricity supplier, and constructed a power house in Edison Lane; the company’s first customer was the General Post Office. But competition from gas and suspicion of new technology remained strong, and the company liquidated in 1896. This didn’t dampen Barton’s resolve—instead, he launched the Brisbane Electric Supply Co. Ltd., which later became City Electric Light Co. Ltd, and installed Queensland’s first steam turbine in 1901.

Barton’s contributions touched regional Queensland too. In 1892, he was involved in a hydro-electricity generation project—Australia’s first hydro-electric scheme—in Thargomindah, making it the first town outside Brisbane to have electric lighting. Thargomindah was also one of the first Queensland towns to have street lights.

Although Barton returned to England in 1915, his knowledge, commitment and vision left an indelible mark on Queensland.

Harriet Brims

Trailblazing early Queensland female photographer

Portrait of Harriet Brims

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As a female commercial photographer in the early twentieth century, Harriet Brims was a trail blazer. With her adventurous spirit and creative vision—abetted by her husband’s beautiful handmade cameras, carrying cases and camera shutters—Harriet captured the realities of life across regional Queensland in the 1900s.

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Harriet was born in Yandilla in 1864, and married her husband Donald, an engineer, at Blackall in 1881. For many years, the couple and their five children travelled extensively throughout North Queensland, and were even said to be the first white settlers in the state’s Herbert River district. They moved to Ingham in 1894, where Harriet established the Britannia Studio and began a photography career that would last 16 years.

In 1903, she moved her business to Mareeba, where she worked for the next decade, although her business was portable and she would often travel to other Queensland towns. Her portraits offer a fascinating record of people and places, from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and Melanesian labourers to cane fields and copper smelters.

While Harriet had the independent drive and aesthetic sensibility, Donald’s exceptional handiwork gave her the equipment she needed to take these further: he made her maple-wood cameras and cow-hide carrying cases, and even crafted shutters from discarded opium tins.

The Brims family moved to Brisbane in 1914, where Harriet ceased her photography work, although she continued taking family photographs. Despite a relatively short career, Harriet remains a significant figure in Queensland history, both for what her work reveals about life in Queensland at the time and for her notable achievements as a female business owner.

Ram Chandra

Collaborator in taipan antivenene development

Portrait of Ram Chandra

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Beloved snake showman Ram Chandra was more than an entertainer. His daring feats and tireless investigations were central to developing the first taipan antivenene, which has saved more than 73 lives—including Ram’s own.

Snake bite kit

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Born Edward Royce Ramsamy in New South Wales in 1921, Ram moved to Mackay as a young man, where he developed a lifelong obsession with taipans. By the 1940s, he was working with the ‘Carnival of Eastern Wonders’, a travelling show that had Ram dicing with death by handling venomous snakes in the dramatically named ‘Pit of Death’.

Ram used his showmanship to learn as much as he could about snakes. At the time, the taipan was thought to only live in Far North Queensland; but in the 1950s, several mysterious deaths following bites from ‘brown’ snakes had the medical profession perplexed.

Ram identified the culprit as the taipan and established that the species did indeed exist elsewhere in Queensland. He began milking taipans for their venom—a notoriously risky procedure—and sending it to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratory, enabling them to develop the first taipan antivenene. It was first used on a 10-year-old bite victim called Bruce Stringer, saving his life; the following year, the antivenene saved Ram’s life after he was bitten by a taipan in the ‘Pit of Death’.

During his lifetime, Ram survived numerous deadly snake bites and raised thousands of dollars for Ambulance in Queensland. He was awarded a British Empire Medal in 1975 and a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1995, but he’ll always be Mackay’s beloved son: in 1999, the year after Ram’s death, Ram Chandra Park was opened in his hometown.

Wayne Denning

Championing the next generation of makers

Portrait photo of Wayne Denning's

Portrait of Wayne Dennings

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Queensland’s first inventors and makers were its first people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and culture is, and always will be, central to Australia’s creative heritage. One contemporary Queenslander dedicated to showcasing Indigenous Australia’s rich culture and creativity is Brisbane-based Wayne Denning, managing director of Carbon Creative, an award-winning creative agency that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians a space and a voice in today’s media landscape.

Portrait photo of Wayne Denning's

Portrait of Wayne Dennings

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Denning, a Birra Gubba man from Central Queensland, founded Carbon Creative in 2006. A decade on, the company has produced documentaries, commercial projects and children’s television series, including the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s game show, and became the first-ever Australian company to work with US television series Sesame Street.

Carbon Creative’s recent initiatives include STEM.I.AM, which enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth to undertake robotics and coding. STEM.I.AM was inspired by another great Aboriginal inventor, David Unaipon, who transformed the wool industry by changing the motion of sheep-shearing blades from circular to straight, among many other notable ideas.

In 2017, Denning was awarded a Special Excellence Award at the Queensland University of Technology Outstanding Alumni Awards for his creative vision and worldwide promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Denning’s work not only tells the story of how Queensland’s innovation has shifted and evolved over the last century, but reminds us where that innovation began—and suggests exciting possibilities for where it might take us next.

Visit the Exhibition

Open 10am - 5pm

9 Dec 2017 - 3 Jun 2018

Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery, Level 4

State Library of Queensland

Room Brochure

Image of the cover of a brochure/guide around the Magnificent Makers gallery

Downloadable Brochure and guide to the exhibition

Download Room Brochure PDF

Learning Resources

Grade Teachers Students
4-6 PDF PDF
7-10 PDF PDF
11-12 PDF PDF