“The Lost Tools of Henry Hoke” on the ABC!

Posted on December 1, 2014
Filed Under Uncategorized, News, Institute activities & news, Hoke's Tool Co. | Comment On Facebook

Henry Hoke, the hitherto unknown Australian inventor who has become a major research project for IBYS, is now a 21 part documentary series for the ABC Television.

“The Lost Tools of Henry Hoke” has been written and designed by Mark Thomson, directed by Dr.Rob Marchand  and produced by JDR Screen with assistance from the ABC, SA Film Corporation and Screen Australia.

Through 21 highly polished 5 minute episodes,  the whole world is now gaining an insight into the slightly dazzling insights and the confusing magnificence that is the life, times and work of Henry Hoke of Hoke’s Bluff.

You can view clips from the series by following the link through to Iview here.

If you’ve got a Henry Hoke story or even a tool or product of Henry’s (pictures welcome!) you’d like to add to the collection and study of Henry you can do so by going here to the IBYS Facebook page. Or if you’re not a Facebook person, email Mark directly.

There’s also a reprint of the original book now available through this site – one of the very few places where it is available!

Twittering Machine

Posted on June 24, 2013
Filed Under Institute activities & news, On the Drawing Board | Comment On Facebook

Avian augury – the use of birds to foretell the future – has a fabulous history. Every morning I hear them telling me to get up and make the best of the day.
How to capture that indescribably beautiful sound of birds in the morning?

Short of superglueing some parrots to a fence, the avian research arm of IBYS has built a prototype that may be unveiled at the Science Week Fair in mid August…
Twittering machine trial

Twittering machine trial from Mark Thomson on Vimeo.

The Shearing Days

Posted on June 3, 2013
Filed Under Hoke's Tool Co., Shed Culture | Comment On Facebook

Recent research work by IBYS associates has thrown more light on Australian Inventor Henry Hoke’s “missing years” which currently seem to be fairly elastic – they could have taken up most of his life.  Photos taken in a remote shearing shed prove definitively that Henry really did work in the shearing industry- these stencilled letters which spell out his name on the shearing shed wall are part of a longstanding tradition when a shearing season comes to an end. The exact year of the stencilling is unclear.

Henry Hoke was thought to have invented the now-common shearer’s pizzle guard.


Posted on May 17, 2013
Filed Under Institute activities & news, Resourcefulness | Comment On Facebook

See what you missed, including this mighty smoke ring puffer…. In the Adelaide Maker Faire photo album here.

Genuine offer for you and your bike hacking mates!

Posted on February 8, 2013
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Here’s an interesting project!

Posted on October 11, 2012
Filed Under Institute activities & news, Resourcefulness, On the Drawing Board | Comment On Facebook

We’re looking for participants in building a self-propelled bicycle merry-go-round.
I saw one at the San Francisco Maker Faire earlier this year and it was so obviously a heap of fun, I thought it would be great to build one.

I immediately thought of two things:

It’s a Hills Hoist! Americans don’t seem to be familiar with the Australian icon that is the rotary clothes hoist. In fact the whole idea of exhibiting one’s washing in the backyard seems to appal some US citizens, who pass neighbourhood laws banning it! But we love our Hills Hoists and many of us can recall swinging on them as kids (and busting them as a result).

Most rotary clothes lines are too small for adaptation like this and we may have to extend it slightly.

We should use all the energy to power something. We could attach a generator to the central axle and drive something electrical that would make more lights/music/interesting effects the faster we went around. Or we could drive something mechanical such as a pump, a fountain, a wind powered organ, you name it.

It’s not so different from a horse whim or a capstan which was used to power all sorts of things before steam came along: mining equipment, mills, ferries etc.

I’ve written to the people at Cyclecide in California to ask them if it’s alright to pinch the idea. Cyclecide http://www.cyclecide.com/ are a bunch of ‘alter-bike mechanics and cycle crazed clowns’ who do brilliant things with bikes. Rudy, one of the big sprockets there, said go for it. So we should.

There a few considerations:

It will need to be reasonably safe and robust (we know from doing stuff for exhibitions that kids can destroy astonishing things) It will have to be reinforced as Rudy suggested there are big forces on the thing once it gets up speed with 5 or 6 adults . He also suggested getting an old car wheel as a bearing to go on the ground.

It should be dismantlable so that other people could use it at a later date.

We don’t really have any money so we are going to need to do a bit of scavenging. Luckily old bikes are everywhere and there’s heaps of old Hills Hoists about.

Judging from the line up of kids at Maker Faire it could be very popular.

If you’re interested in participating and live in the Adelaide region, please let me know.

Mark Thomson


0419 865 821


Update late 2014: We struck problems with it here in SA due to very stringent (and ultimately costly) regulations around show ground rides, based on some tragic incidents at the Royal Show.
HOWEVER – this did end up getting built in Melbourne by my friends Liam Gerner and Autonomous Black under the name Backyard Carousel from some crap drawings I did. Good on you fellas! It still gets taken out and given a thrashing now and then.

Broken Hill String

Posted on September 21, 2012
Filed Under News, Institute activities & news, Resourcefulness | Comment On Facebook

I’ve been up in Broken Hill and surrounding areas recently working on the wire project – which is about all the resourceful ways that people use wire to repair, adapt, create.

I’ve been on the track of “Broken Hill String”, which is the wire used in the local mines to set off explosives. Once used it is discarded and taken home by the miners who find literally hundreds of uses for it. It is a sort of predecessor to cable ties. There’s a great sense of pride in local resourcefulness here and a slight annoyance from the older miners I spoke to about the general wastefulness of modern life. More to come soon. I’ve also been out into a few local pastoral properties looking at the way people use wire (usually a lot heavier gauge wire) to repair and make things. Some of the building techniques are clever.

Mark Thomson

Research Director, IBYS

Feel like having a bit of the Titanic around the house or shed?

Posted on September 12, 2012
Filed Under Resourcefulness, Great things to buy | Comment On Facebook

One of our new areas of activity (mainly for Mark Thomson and Chris Block) is designing and building museum displays. We did one earlier this year about the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic for the SA Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide. Soon the exhibition will come to an end. Most of the objects will return to their owners but the backdrops will be sold and the proceeds split between IBYS and the Museum.

The backdrops look like massive (2 x 4 metre) sections of the Titanic hull with correctly sized rivets around the edges. Half of the eight panels are ‘rusty’ and look authentically ancient (big trade secrets involved here) and half are painted in the traditional red black of the Titanic.

The panels could look good in a shed, a demented goth’s bedroom or as some comedians are suggesting, a gay bar. Perhaps there is a Titanic tragic out there who wants to line their hallway with them.

In a week or two we’ll put them up on Ebay or Gumtree but this is just a heads-up to let you know that it’s coming. I’m happy to show how they come apart and also will give away the trade secrets of fake ageing plaster and plywood to look like rusted metal that will help the buyer finish them off in their final destination.

Let me know if your interested.

Mark Thomson

Terowie Festival of Explosions

Posted on August 31, 2012
Filed Under Institute activities & news | Comment On Facebook

We think this event happened in 1981 and probably won’t be on this year. If you go, it’s your own fault.

Festival of Explosions

Event | Blues, Booze and BBQ’s in SA

Posted on July 31, 2012
Filed Under News, Institute activities & news | Comment On Facebook

For full event details click here  Blues Booze BBQ’s 2012.

The Maker Faire

Posted on June 10, 2011
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Where to start?????



Young Americans are much given to the word awesome and correspondingly many young Australians have adopted the expression. It is applied as a general indicator of approval to virtually every conceivable activity. I recently saw a hand painted sign on a Californian street corner saying “Yard Sale – Awesome”

Generally they are not referring to the kind of awe of the “shock and awe” variety that Americans use to describe their colossal military might when it is deployed against some foreign target.

Recently another quite different and perhaps more gentle type of American awe was in evidence at the 2011 San Francisco Maker Faire – and that is the sense of awe about how the world works.

The Maker Faire is a rapidly expanding phenomena conceived by Dale Dougherty, the editor of Make magazine. Both magazine and event rest on the premise that Americans, and young Americans in particular, are rediscovering the joy of making and tinkering.

The first generation that grew up entirely immersed in the digital online realm are now combining the benefits of the internet’s social and information structure with  more traditional pastimes such as knitting, dismantling household appliances and adapting bicycles. But unlike the older generation of makers, there’s a subtle distinction from DIY (Doing It Yourself)  to DIT (Doing It Together) – using the net to build communities of shared knowledge, problem solving, invention etc. The net in effect has turbocharged the process of learning and making.

This recombination of tinkering new and old resulted in a 20 acres carnival of techno whizzbangery at the San Mateo County showgrounds near Silicon Valley and a little to the south of San Francisco.

Now in its sixth year, the event has everything from traditional knitters to high-end robotics and everything in between. There’s some of the most imaginative uses of bicycles you’ll see anywhere on the planet and even a functional, backyard built DIY scanning electron microscope.

Attended by around 100,000 people over an early spring weekend, Maker Faire is similar in size and feel to going to an annual agricultural show in a regional city.

There are, however, no displays of farm animals or produce. Instead, ,one finds many stalls giving hands-on demonstrations of soldering up electronic circuitry that can run everything from three dimensional printers to “e-textiles” –clothing with digital circuitry built into it.

The electronics connection, which is a crucial link between the old and new DIY tradition, is driven in part by an Italian invention called Arduino.

Arduino is a basic electronic microprocessor that enables relatively inexperienced people to construct simple interactive devices that can control lights, switches, motors and so on. The system has very simple operating software that can operate alone or in tandem with a computer.

Basic Arduino projects can be anything from a simple robot to a musical tone generator to your own personal LED displays or an electronic gas sensor. In short anything that requires simple electronic instructions to operate (and that includes many of the consumer goods around us) can usually be replicated, altered and tweaked.

Known as “open source hardware”, this technology is publicly and openly available for anyone to study, modify, make and generally explore its possibilities through tinkering. The software that controls it is equally freely available.

This commitment to openness is part of a larger philosophical approach to freely available knowledge that is particularly strong in the SanFrancisco/Bay area, which in many ways is the birthplace of the modern digital world – and a renowned home of radical political movements.

This altruistic streak comes through in many ways that we have rapidly taken for granted as being free or gratis – Wikipedia and Google for instance, or free software such as Linux or Firefox.

Many of these new emerged institutions are represented at Maker Faire, along with many of the corporate citizens of nearby Silicon Valley: Pixar, ASUS, Hewlett Packard to name a few.

Dale Dougherty,  Maker Faire’s founder, is encouraging corporate stewardship of the event because he sees the modern maker movement is being very similar in spirit to the early days of desktop publishing  computing in the early 1970s. According to Dale, the next generation of imaginative, problem-solving engineers– the Steve Jobs or Steve Wozniak of the 2020s – will almost certainly be somewhere in the Maker Faire right now.

Many of those young people include a striking number of young women and girls. The stereotype of the nerdy young computer boy in thick glasses seems to have to have vanished. One of the most obvious examples of this change is Meredith Scheff who has designed and uses soft circuit boards that can be ironed or glued into fabric and sells her own conductive thread that can be used in a conventional sewing machine. People like Meredith, who are driven by a passion and excitement for the possibilities of their unusual combination of skills, are going to be strongly sought after by the corporations designing future technology.

Being self-driven, the Meredith Scheffs of this world, with their mashup of wildly variable influences, are not constrained by conventional design solutions to problems. As such, they are potentially hugely valuable to those corporations looking to make quantum leaps in design.

The Maker Faire event fairly crackles with the huge sense of excitement inherent in this optimistic creativity. It is discussed both in the hundreds of booths, stalls and demonstrations and in the numerous well-attended free talks.  Speakers included science fiction writer David Brin, MIT Fab Lab founder Neil Gershenfeld, Frank Wilson, the wonderful mind/hand guru and Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine.

With this mixture of the practical and the intellectual, Maker Faire has become the point around which a revitalised sense of American ‘can do’ capability has coalesced. To call it awe may be stretching it a little far but there is a strange and deliberately risky sense of awesome possibility in the air, even if it is just the sheer delight of having fun with raw undomesticated innovation. Perhaps it’s that Americans sense that here is a chance to reinvent themselves once more, returning to an older theme as “makers of things” , an expression used honourably by President Obama in his inauguration address. There’s also a sense that the spirit represented at Maker Faire might just be be the latest instalment in the several century long American experiment of easily available, shared and enlightening knowledge. For a nation rather rattled by a decade of uncertainty and the possible paradigm shift of responding to climate change, it’s a deeply attractive proposition. Watch this space!

Comment invited

Mark Thomson wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Big Picture Education Australia in making this trip possible


Rare Trades: 9. the shoemaker

Posted on May 11, 2011
Filed Under Rare Trades | Comment On Facebook

This film was made by cinematographer Kim Batterham, producer Graeme Isaac and director Mark Thomson, as part of the National Museum of Australia’s Rare Trades exhibition. We acknowledge the NMA’s assistance in bringing these clips to you.

Rare Trades: 8. the coachbuilder

Posted on May 11, 2011
Filed Under Rare Trades | Comment On Facebook

This film was made by cinematographer Kim Batterham, producer Graeme Isaac and director Mark Thomson, as part of the National Museum of Australia’s Rare Trades exhibition. We acknowledge the NMA’s assistance in bringing these clips to you.

Rare Trades: 7. the milliner

Posted on May 11, 2011
Filed Under Rare Trades | Comment On Facebook

This film was made by cinematographer Kim Batterham, producer Graeme Isaac and director Mark Thomson, as part of the National Museum of Australia’s Rare Trades exhibition. We acknowledge the NMA’s assistance in bringing these clips to you.