Who was Wayne Sartre? And what was his advice to travellers?

As Advanced Research Director for the Institute of Backyard Studies, Mark Thomson travels extensively through the remote Australian bush. On his many expeditions, he would occasionally notice the odd road sign that did not seem quite right or seemed to hint at a higher purpose than mere directions.

Did these signs have a common origin?

After much research and with the support of colleagues from the Speculative Histories Laboratory, accumulated evidence revealed a curious narrative that is even stranger than fiction.

It is the account of Wayne Sartre, a lonely council grader driver, who came to know the powerful effects of isolation and of far too much deep thinking whilst driving a slow-moving vehicle.

The remains of Wayne’s grader near Lake Shrivelledup Western Australia

Wayne Sartre, rural council council worker and philosopher, seems to have been the outcome of an error in travel bookings in the early 1960s.

According to Wayne’s own account, his father Jean Paul – a Frenchman of some notoriety – was mistakenly booked to fly to an academic conference in Austria.

When Monsieur Sartre landed in Darwin in 1962, he slowly realised he was not in Vienna but in a place called Australia. He soon booked a return flight to Paris – which  entailed a waiting period of several days.

In those few Darwin days, he met and had a brief passionate love affair with Doreen Wungadeer, a woman he described as “having great and strange powers”.

Wayne was apparently born of that liaison. The father kept a distant interest in his son, intermittently sending reading matter which the young Wayne, eager for the approval of his invisible father, would read and ponder upon greatly.

Australia presents few career options for the remote self-educated philosopher and Wayne eventually found work as a bush council grader driver – a notoriously isolated occupation but one which presented ample opportunities for long periods of deep contemplation.

Wayne’s toolbox, complete with essential reading matter, has been collected for posterity.

As a result of these meditations, Wayne would occasionally sneak into the council sign workshop at night and fabricate signs which he felt would be of genuine benefit to the thinking traveller.

There are precious few of these signs left and they have been collected here for posterity. There are almost certainly more to be found out there somewhere.

Jean Paul would have been proud of this one.

No-one knows for sure where Wayne is now. Some say he harvests sandalwood in Coolgardie, Western Australia. Others are certain he regularly drinks at the Cooktown pub in Far North Queensland.

Either way, if you meet him he’s definitely worth having a yarn with, especially about the uncertain consolations of philosophy.

Mark Thomson

The original full sized signs and the photos of them in situ are available for exhibition by enquiry to mark@ibys.org or by phoning 0419865821. Individual photographs are available for purchase through these contacts.

The large poster (30 x 120 cms) for the  Advice to Travellers exhibition in 2017 (below), which incorporates photos most of the current signs on it, is also available for a modest price through Ebay.

Mark Thomson wishes to acknowledge the generous support and assistance of the Speculative Histories Laboratory in this project.

Professor Tony Kajpe and Mr Thomson in the field undertaking research work, central Australia.

Toroidal Ring Vortex machines pulling the crowds

After years of scrabbling around in the back blocks of Australia’s farm ‘resource collections’ (i.e. the back paddock dump) a second Toroidal Ring Vortex machine has been discovered and has being successfully restored.

Controversially, this is apparently a World War 11 German Wehrmacht machine known as a HF99. The HF apparently stands for Himmel Furz. Finding parts has been very tricky indeed especially something known as “die Klappe Foofer”. Any suggestions welcome.

If you do not know of the Toroidal Ring Vortex Machine, the video clip below shows one being operated by IBYS head chutney consultant Billie Justice Thomson.

Here is another recent demonstration of the HimmelFurz

The Toroidal Ring Vortex Generators are available for hire under certain conditions (email mark@ibys.org to start that conversation). They are an enduring source of wonder for all. The first Ring vortex Generator has now been hit/whacked/hammered an estimated 100,000 times plus.

The new/old Himmelfurz in action at Tonsley Innovation Hubarama, South Australia

And in case you wondered whether they pull a crowd, check out the clip below from Science Alive 2017. Long queues!

Twittering Machine

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

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.

Any stories or anecdotes about Henry’s experiences as a shearer are always welcome.


Broken Hill String

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

Where’s the Henry Hoke exhibition?

The immense Henry Hoke tool collection is currently located in Canberra where it resides in the care of the Questacon, the national science and technology centre. The researchers there are giving intense thought as to the potential uses of the collection, which does include a partly constructed Quack of Doom and the only genuine functioning analogue Random Excuse Generator (well, it works sometimes).


As a result of the Question arrangements, we hope to see a whole new generation of young thinkers, scientists  engineers and makers wrestle with the brilliant mind of the great Henry.

The Maker Faire


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 a recent 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 and Intel in making this trip possible