Category Archives: Institute activities & news

Your chance to add to the Henry Hoke legend!

‘The Lost Stories of Henry Hoke’ will be a unique opportunity to  share stories, myths and legends and even previously unseen Henry Hoke inventions.

From 1pm to 4.30pm on Saturday 28th May 2016, the Terowie Institute , Main St of Terowie South Australia, will host a gathering  of scholars, shed scientists and others who will focus their brilliant minds on the never ending story of Henry Hoke, our greatest inventor.

This official History Month event will only be a gold coin admission, which includes afternoon tea and a film screening. There will be special extremely rare prizes for the best stories and the best newly-discovered Henry Hoke invention, tool or device.

There will be a BBQ afterwards to aid the Terowie Citizens Association community-building efforts.

It is hoped that this will be one of the best displays of refined bulldust since Henry blew through the town years back.

Contact Mark Thomson via email or phone/text message (0419 865 821) if you are coming . We wouldn’t want to run out of cake and tea cups .

Apply your mighty imaginations to those stories and invention now!

BulldustA4 4

Second prototype of Toroidal Ring Vortex machine undergoing trials

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 is being 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.

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.

Here’s an interesting project!

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 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

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

Hooting smoking and whistling at Murray Bridge

“You fellas have too much time on your hands!”

We heard that a few times over this last weekend when the Institute took the Random Excuse Generator to the 12th National Historical Machinery Rally on the banks of the Murray River at Murray Bridge in South Australia. We thought it was pretty funny coming from somebody who might have spent eight or nine thousand hours repairing an old tractor they’d pulled out of a swamp!

The biennial rally is the biggest rally of old traction engines, farm equipment and historical working vehicles in Australia, bringing together most of the restorers’ clubs and associations in one place. It’s an immense event covering numerous acres, full of hooting, smoking, whistling machinery, most of it beautifully restored or at some point on the way there.

A magnificent machine in the grand parade

It also attracts a very pleasant, chatty bunch of people who have a really good time together. They’re very accomplished shed dwellers with an amazing range of skills between them and a fair willingness to share them. So it was a good place for the Institute to take Hoke’s Random Excuse Generator on a rare outing and show people some of our products along with a few pieces of our remarkable Hoke’s Tool Co. collection.

Technical Director Dr Chris Block explains the intricacies of the REG

The Random Excuse Generator got a big workout – IBYS Technical Director Dr Chris Block was obliged to make numerous running repairs as the REG seems to have acquired the ability to make excuses for itself (there’s clearly a feedback issue here).

Over the weekend we signed up a number of new Institute members, added a lot of people to the email address list, took orders for t-shirts (because we sold out over the weekend) and held a draw for a valuable Hoke’s Tool Co. Trivia Drive. T-shirts and Certificates of Membership will be in the mail in the next few days. The lucky winner of the Trivia Drive was John Becke of Yanco in New South Wales. John was exhibiting a 1952 Norman generator set at the show, and is a member of the Riverina Vintage Machinery Club.

For us it was all worthwhile, seeing the slow smiles come over people’s faces when they realised what we were up to. We met lots of terrific people that we would like to participate in our online activities and put their sheds – which would be some of the most interesting to be found anywhere – up on our site. Stay in touch and thanks to all those people we met over the weekend who made it such a good experience.

Mark Thomson

Advanced Research Director




In building this blog/website, it’s been necessary a couple of times for me to point out that what we are trying to do is not just talk endlessly about sheds, humpies or backyard outbuildings for their own sake. There is a method, a big picture, behind it all. What I want to do is to encourage curiousity, creativity and resourcefulness and the place that it tends to happen most, in the way that I want to encourage, is in the shed.

The sort of shed culture that I am keen to propagate is about a sort of frugal thoughtfulness blended with the sort of creativity that has become unfashionable. Creativity is not an easy subject to raise in these circumstances because in many people’s minds it brings up images of.. well, wankers and artists who are obsessed with themselves. It’s a bloody tragedy that ‘creativity ‘ has now become a specialised activity and that people have bought the idea that there is a small specialised sector of zany, whacky creative types – usually weird, messy or otherwise being outsiders – and that there is everybody else, who are normal and not at all creative.

This proposition strikes me as crap. I meet large numbers of people who are undoubtedly stunningly creative and innovative in many ways. They might be builders or mechanics or any of hundreds of occupations but because they are outside of the conventional description of ‘creative’, or worse still, make things that are useful, their imaginative skills are not recognised. Officially creative is generally defined as things that have a big white space around them. That you know they are creative, such as in an art gallery or a framed picture that way you don’t confuse them with the merely useful.

Saying that most of the art world is basically up itself and a waste of time makes me, of course, an ungrateful barbarian to many of my former colleagues in the art world (yes, I once went to Art School).

And I would leave it at that but I feel that not harnessing or recognising the full creative talents of a culture could be a fatal flaw for any culture.

I’ve recently been reading “Collapse” by American biologist/geographer Jared Diamond in which he outlines numerous cultures and societies which have collapsed and vanished and why. The story of Easter Island is particularly disturbing. Jared Diamond points out; what could they have been thinking when they cut down the last tree, thus leaving them on a very isolated Pacific ocean with no way of making a boat to leave the place?

“Collapse” certainly makes convinces me that anyone who thinks that somehow the vast magnicient edifice of western civilisation couldnt fall over very easily is deluding themselves.

However, I’m starting to rant. I think I’d better go out to the shed and make something.

That’s why I want to encourage a sort of personal sense of responsibility for how the world works around each of us. In fact the backyard and its associated institutions – the shed and the barbecue to name a couple – can make a strong claim to being the very generators of our prosperity, our well-being and sanity.

The thoughtful application of the principles of mechanical advantage – the screw, the lever, the pulley, the wheel and axle and the inclined plane and wedge – meant that solving problems was a source of delight, satisfaction and even occasionally profit.

But with urban infill housing slowly taking over the backyards of our cities, this personal playground of creative minds is being obliterated.

We are becoming an indoor, inward looking nation, gazing out on patio courtyards paved from edge to edge and ordered to within an inch of their lives. The woodpile down the back or the pile of useful scrap has vanished. Rather than fix anything we ring up ‘the man’ (that mysterious individual from… where?) to come and install a new part or we buy a new plastic version made by slaves in some unseen part of the world.

Television, flapping away at computers and the minimising of all risk now dominates our lives. We are diminished as humans by technology almost as much as we benefit from it. We are literally losing touch with the world.

This website is for people who reckon that it’s no bad thing to get your hands dirty or those who don’t throw good stuff out at the drop of a hat. And if you’re one of those people, you’re very welcome to make a contribution.

The answer’s in our own backyard.

Mark Thomson.
Advanced Research Director



Guiding Principles


  • Never throw anything out- you’ll need it one day, sonny jim.
  • Being a practical and useful person is a worthwhile achievement
  • Encourage curiosity, wonder and other cheap thrills as the origins of imaginative problem solving.
  • Useful and everyday things contain their own beauty.
  • Without a grasp of the principles of mechanical advantage – the lever, the pulley, the screw, the inclined plane and wedge and the wheel and axle – we’re stuffed.
  • You can never have too many tools.
  • I said put that down!
  • A big mess in the shed or the backyard is only a problem for those without a clue.guiding-principles.pngguiding-principles.png
  • Reticence, mumbling and disorganisation are the signs of a deep and enquiring mind.
  • Good ideas are precious beyond rubies but if not shared freely are as useless as tits on a bull.
  • And leave something for the next bloke.