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What is innovation?

Something useful that's resulted from a new idea.

'Something' could be a thing you can touch and see
or a process for making or doing things
or even a system for organising other things.


How does an innovation start?

A new idea often begins when someone thinks clearly about a problem.

Ideas don't happen in a vacuum; they are based on other ideas. A person who has a new idea must work with others to make something that people will find useful.

If nobody wants to buy your product, all you've got is a clever concept or an ingenious invention, not an innovation.


How did we choose our Australian innovations?

We focused on the twentieth century because this was the first hundred years of Australia as a nation. Over the century, Australians developed hundreds of innovations.

To make our choices, we asked these questions.

Did it - represent a major breakthrough?
- greatly change the way things were done?
- have a major impact on Australian life?
- create or boost an industry and provide new jobs?
- enjoy great export success?

We listed the year of an innovation as the time it was introduced into the marketplace or made available. This was often different to the year the original idea was developed.


When is an innovation Australian?

Australia, as a nation with a high rate of immigration, claims among its people many who arrive as children or adults. It often claims those who were born here and left as adults, even if they officially changed their nationality. It sometimes claims those (particularly New Zealanders) who spent only a few years here on their way to fame overseas.

We have not tried to claim innovations as Australian if they were really products of other nations. We have included products developed in Australia by people who were born overseas but chose this country as home, and some that were developed overseas but by people who had been born and educated here.

For instance, we included X-ray crystallography, the Nobel-Prize-winning innovation of a man born and educated in Britain and his son, who was born and educated in Australia. The idea was conceived in Britain and brought to maturity there, but we think there is a strong claim to call the innovation Australian: the idea was conceived by Bragg junior not long after he had completed his first degree at Adelaide University; and it was in Australia that Bragg senior had developed both an interest in X-rays and the skill to apply his son's idea in the laboratory.

Australian-born and educated Howard Florey conceived and led the project that turned penicillin from a curiosity into one of the most important drugs of the twentieth century. Other Australians played key roles in the large multinational project that rushed penicillin from the lab into full-scale production during World War 2: Ethel Florey closely supervised the early clinical trials in Britain; Hugh Cairns supervised trials on war wounds in Africa; and Nobel winner John Cornforth and his wife Rita Harradence were part of the team that worked out the atomic structure of penicillin. Australia was the first country to make penicillin for its civilian population. So we must conclude that, while it was a multinational effort, the Australian contribution was central and profound.

Florey had left Australia to work where facilities were better, and probably would not have done this work had he stayed here, but another Nobel winner, Frank Macfarlane Burnet, did choose to stay and do important work in this country at much the same time.

Australia has continued to be strong in medical research; in 1996 Peter Doherty won a Nobel for work done in Australia before he, like Florey, chose to go overseas to further his career.



 
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