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.

Meet David Unaipon, [The Boomerang, $50 note and Helicopter share a notable interaction in history with this man] 

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Mainly known as the man on our $50 note, but all of Australia should take [note] the next time you pull a yellow back out of your wallet, purse, pocket or bra, that you a pulling an image of “The Australian Leonardo Da Vinci” David Unaipon. The brilliant aboriginal Australian mind who also had the concept of the Helicopter two decades before others! 

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David 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


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 some years back.

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 that would take off widely and bring in large sums for Australia, there was no one really looking out for David, so, unfortunately, it was others who benefited financially from his design. Having a very intelligent and well presented manner of speaking English and being a known leader, Unaipon would often be refused refreshments at events, and also accommodation on his travel simply because of his aboriginal heritage. He was a part of the everyday treatment of the Ngarrindjeri and Indigenous people across the country at that time in Australia’s history. There was no escaping from being ‘Aboriginal’

Unaipon was also the first Aboriginal writer to be published. He wrote several articles for the Sydney Daily Telegraph. Being a known leader and spokesman within 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 and a mechanical propulsion device. In total, he applied for as many as nineteen inventions but they all lapsed. Unaipon simply could never get any financial support to develop 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. His aboriginal heritage at this time would have played a key part in not only the lack of funding but also theft of his work. 

[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 what he dreamed about. With the loss of and credit taken for his work over the decades, and also the non-teaching of his contribution to Australian and world history, what more could the ‘Australian Leonardo Da Vinci’ have shared and shown us?

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Young David Unaipon 1885

Acknowledgement to the descendents 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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