The Boomerang is an ancient tool/weapon, crafted and mastered by the Original People of Australia. [The Boomerang is the first innovation of propelled flight]

The Helicopter is an aircraft that uses rotating or spinning, wings called blades to fly.

The Australian $50 note (On the back) A portrait of Edith Cowan, the first female member of any Australian parliament.

(On the front) Is a portrait of an aboriginal Australian author, inventor and great mind of his time, along with drawings from one of his inventions. The Boomerang and Helicopter share a notable interaction in history with this man.

Meet David Unaipon-

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You should take [note] the next time you pull a yellow back ($50) out of your wallet, purse, pocket or bra because you a pulling out an image of the man considered to be “The Australian Da Vinci” Mr. David Unaipon. The brilliant aboriginal Australian scholar and inventor who actually had the concept of the Helicopter two decades before others! 

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Unaipon made drawings of his basic design for a helicopter by 1914, 22 years before the first operational helicopter in 1936. He got the idea from how a boomerang moved through the air and applied that principle in his helicopter design.

“The boomerang is shaped to rise in the air according to the velocity with which it is propelled, and so can an aeroplane” David Unaipon, Daily Herald 1914


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David Unaipon was a Ngarrindjeri (People who belong to this land). Born on 28 September 1872 at the Point McLeay Mission (Coorong, South Australia) He was a Writer, Scientist, Inventor and more. (Thought to be impossible) David’s main goal was to achieve perpetual motion, [Motion that continues indefinitely without an external energy source] In 1909 during his work on perpetual motion, he patented the Mechanical motion sheep shears. His design, which converts curvilinear motion into a straight line movement, forms the basis of the operation of modern mechanical shears. Google even featured his design as one of their doodles in 2012.

David Unaipon's 140th Birthday
Google Doodles David Unaipon’s 140th Birthday

[An improved handpiece for sheep shearing. Patent specification. Mechanical motion. Sheep shears. No. 15,624, 1909. D. Unaipon, SA] as depicted in Aust Patent Office: Australian Official Journal of Patents. (Pictured below)

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Despite his design being a highly valuable concept taking off widely and bringing in large sums for Australia, no one was there for Unaipon financially and it was others who benefited from his design. A very Intelligent man, David was multilingual, speaking Latin, Greek and English. Also, he would interpret Aboriginal “message sticks” of his area.

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A brilliant scholar and known leader, Unaipon would often be refused refreshments at events and accommodation on his travel because of being Aboriginal. He was a part of the everyday treatment of the Ngarrindjeri and all Aboriginal people across the country at a time of the Aborigine Protection Act. There was no escape from being looked upon differently because of being an “Aborigine” and having to have your life governed in “Australia”  The notion was that No “full-blooded” Australian Aboriginal would be smart enough to have achieved what David Unaipon had. Only “white blood” could have such intelligence, so Unaipon has to be an “exception”  This sort of attitude towards Aboriginal Intelligence is still very much alive today.

The Richmond River Herald 1911


Unaipon was also the first Aboriginal writer to be published. He wrote several articles for the Sydney Daily Telegraph. A spokesman for the Aboriginal community, he participated in the royal commissions and inquiries into Aboriginal issues. In 1912 he led a deputation urging government control of Point McLeay Mission; next year he gave evidence to the royal commission into Aboriginal issues and became a subscription collector for the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association.

David Unaipon compiled a book in 1920 commissioned by Angus and Robertson, that was stolen and credited to Scottish anthropologist William Ramsay Smith. In 1998 it was found out that the book contained a completely unchanged version of Unaipon’s Work. It has now been corrected.

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Apart from modifications in the sheep shearing tool, David Unaipon made several other inventions including a motor run by centrifugal force, a multi-radial wheel design and a mechanical propulsion device. In total, he applied for as many as 19 inventions but they all lapsed. Unaipon could never get any financial support to develop a lot of his ideas. It is said at least 9 of his last Ideas did not succeed in funding. He was also a ‘recognized’ authority in ballistics and found himself drawn to the complex problem of polarisation of light and the concentration of light at a given point.

“These would be the greatest weapons in future warfare,” prophesied Unaipon. “We are gradually coming to the age where we might expect to be able to hurl electricity, like nature does, for instance, in the shape of lightning.” David Unaipon 1911

[2018] Are we teaching the whole story of Australian history in our local Australian school classrooms yet?

David Unaipon was only 13 years old when he reached out to learn and follow his dream. It has been a loss of Aboriginal empowerment by the credit taken for his work over the decades and the failure to educate on his contribution to Australian and world history. What more could the ‘Australian Da Vinci’ have shared with us had he been given more opportunity?

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Young David Unaipon 1885

Acknowledgment to the descendants of this Ngarrindjeri man, and Ngarrindjeri country.

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Further Sources

Australian Dictionary of Biography –

National Library of Australia David Unaipon –

NITV Remembering David Unaipon: the man on the fifty dollar note –

The Reserve Bank of Australia –  David Unaipon (1872–1967) –

(David Unaipon)Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines –

Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri –

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