The Unaipon Helicopter project is a proof of concept exploration undertaken by Visual Communication Students at Deakin University. The practice based research presented a work integrated learning project for students and their real life client, Mosquito Helicopters.
David Unaipon, already celebrated on the front of Australia’s $50 note was a hugely intelligent man. A prolifically writer, Unaipon was Australia’s first published Aboriginal author. He also lodged 19 patents during his life, revolutionised sheep shearing, devoted much of his life to attempting to achieve perpetual motion and conceptualised the helicopter two decades before it became a reality. This project presented students with an opportunity to work with David Unaipon’s closest living relative, Elaine Kropinyeri who participated as an advisor to the project.
The Unaipon Helicopter proposal was presented to the client as a way to acknowledge unrecognised Aboriginal contributions to design. Mark Rindel CEO, Mosquito Helicopters responded by suggesting that an additional fee could be put on helicopters that feature customised, Unaipon branded liveries. He added that the extra monies could be donated to Deakin University to sponsor Indigenous design students.
David Unaipon has been pictured on the front of Australia’s $50 note since 1995. A hugely intelligent man who nonetheless left school at 13, he lodged 19 patents during his life, revolutionised sheep shearing, devoted much of his time to attempting to achieve perpetual motion, wrote prolifically, and conceptualised the helicopter two decades before it became a reality. Between 1910 and 1915 Unaipon was the subject of much newspaper coverage of this kind. Three elements were regularly referred to: his sheep shearing innovations, his basic design for a helicopter based on the motion of the traditional boomerang (a functioning helicopter did not appear until 1936), and his interest in the then entirely theoretical field of laser light. The helicopter often attracted the most attention, as this 1914 account Unaipon gave to the Daily Herald suggests:
“An aeroplane can be manufactured that will rise straight into the air from the ground by application of the boomerang principle. The boomerang is shaped to rise in the air according to the velocity with which it is propelled, and so can an aeroplane” (Unaipon, Daily Herald 1914).
David Unaipon gained a reputation throughout his life, of being ‘Australia’s Leonardo’ for his promotion of scientific ideas. As well as improving the hand tool for shearing sheep, Unaipon also invented the centrifugal motor, a multi-radial wheel and a mechanical propulsion device. He also had a deep interest in the concept of perpetual motion as well as the then entirely theoretical field of laser light.