Our history

Since we started life as the Advisory Council of Science and Industry in 1916, we’ve advanced Australia with a range of inventions and innovations that have had significant positive impact on the lives of people around the world.

Over nearly a century, we've been improving the lives of people everywhere with our science. We've listed a brief history here, but you can find more extensive information in our CSIROpedia.

100 years: Celebrating a centenary of innovation

Show transcript

[Music plays and text appears: On the 5th January, 1916, Prime Minister Billy Hughes addressed a conference in Melbourne that led to the gazetting of The Advisory Council of Science & Industry]

[Image changes to show a film clip of Prime Minister Billy Hughes talking to the camera]

Prime Minister Billy Hughes: I have a profound belief in the destiny of this great country. 

[Text appears: 100 years later, we recognise that body as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation: CSIRO]

[Image changes to show a film clip of Prime Minister Billy Hughes talking to the camera]

Prime Minister Billy Hughes:  Its’ future is bright with promise.

[Image changes to show Dr. Alan Finkel and text appears: Dr. Alan Finkel AO, Australia’s Chief Scientist]

Dr. Alan Finkel: Its’ future is bright with promise.

[Image changes to show Leila Gurruwiwi talking to the camera and then the image changes to show Leila Gurruwiwi Adress and Rebecca Crawley walking together across a basketball court and text appears: Leila Gurruwiwi Adress]

Leila Gurruwiwi Adress: To paraphrase the words of glorious John Milton, “I see a puissant nation, new in her mighty youth”.

[Image changes to show Rebecca Crawley talking to the camera and text appears: Rebecca Crawley, Indigenous Languages Teacher]

 [Text appears: Her fertile lands smiling with green pastures and waving corn, flock and herds innumerable,]

Rebecca Crawley [Spoken in an Aboriginal language]: Her fertile lands smiling with green pastures and waving corn, flock and herds innumerable

[Image changes to show Professor Brian Schmidt talking to the camera and text appears: Professor Brian P. Schmidt AC, Nobel Laureate, ANU Vice-Chancellor]

Professor Brian P. Schmidt: And a free and virile people, widely spread through her far flung heritage.

[Image changes to show Troy Stewart and then image changes to show a male diving into the ocean and text appears: Troy Stewart, Strength & Conditioning Coach]

Troy Stewart: I see her, a great nation with outstretched arms, encircling a continent.

[Image changes to show Jerry Bitting talking to the camera and text appears: Jerry Bitting, High School Student, Wadeye, NT, Her feet lapped by the waters of two oceans]

Jerry Bitting [Spoken in an Aboriginal language]: Her feet lapped by the waters of two oceans.

[Image changes to show Jerry Bitting kicking a football and then the image changes to show an aerial view of players on a sports field]

[Image changes to show Jin Ah Baldwin talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a back view of Jin Ah Baldwin and text appears: Jin Ah Baldwin, Primary School Student, Sydney NSW]

Jin Ah Baldwin: Standing erect and gazing with clear and friendly eyes upon a world which has no cause to fear her and which she does not fear.

[Image changes to show Bronte Matthews talking to the camera and text appears: Bronte Matthews, Year 12 Student, Canberra Girls Grammar]

Bronte Matthews: Ours is a great and glorious heritage and we must defend it at all hazards. 

[Images flash through of a bridge and then a freeway and then the image changes to show Vivek Srinivasan and Stephen Wan and text appears: Vivek Srinivasan, Engineer & Futures Consultant, CSIRO seven]

Vivek Srinivasan: We must create conditions which will attract and maintain the virile population of whom a sufficient number must settle upon the land. 

[Images flash through of a satellite dish, Stephen Wan in front of the satellite dish, Stephen Wan and Vivek Srinivasan talking to the camera and the SAHMRI building and text appears: Stephen Wan, Computational Linguist, CSIROseven]

Stephen Wan: And I can think of no way of settling people on the land except to make rural industry attractive and to this science can lend a most powerful aid.

[Images flash through of the SAHMRI building and Professor Manny Noakes inside the SAHMRI building and text appears: Professor Manny Noakes, Research Direction, Nutrition & Health]

Professor Manny Noakes: Science can make rural industries commercial and profitable making the desert bloom like a rose.  It can make rural life pleasant as well as profitable.

[Image changes to show Sofya Gollan walking and then the camera zooms in on Sofya Gollan talking in Auslan to the camera and text appears: Sofya Gollan, Filmmaker, Science can develop great mineral wealth of which, after all, only the rich outcrop has yet been exploited.] 

Sofya Gollan [In AUSLAN]: Science can develop great mineral wealth of which, after all, only the rich outcrop has yet been exploited.

[Images flash through of the SAHMRI building, Dr. Jane Bowen walking and then talking to the camera and text appears: Dr. Jane Bowen, Research Dietitian: Nutrition & Health, CSIROseven]

Dr. Jane Bowen: It can with its’ magic wand turn heaps of what is termed refuse into shining gold and by utilisation of by products make that which was unprofitable to work profitably. 

[Images flash through of a satellite dish and then the image changes to show John O’Sullivan talking to the camera and text appears: John O’Sullivan, Electrical Engineer, Wi-Fi Inventor]

John O’Sullivan: Science will lead the manufacturing degree margins by solving for him the problems that seem insoluble.

[Image changes to show Dr. Alan Finkel talking to the camera]

Dr. Alan Finkel: It will open up a thousand new avenues for capital and labour and lastly science thus familiarised to the people will help them to clear thinking.

[Image changes to show a film clip of Prime Minister Billy Hughes talking to the camera]

Prime Minister Billy Hughes: To the rejection of shams.

[Image changes to show Dr. Jane Bowen talking to the camera]

Dr. Jane Bowen: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Professor Brian P. Schmidt talking to the camera]

Professor Brian P. Schmidt: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Bronte Matthews talking to the camera]

Bronte Matthews: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Troy Stewart talking to the camera]

Troy Stewart: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Vivek Srinivasan and Stephen Wan talking to the camera]

Vivek Srinivasan: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Sofya Gollan talking to the camera]

Sofya Gollan [In Auslan]: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Professor Manny Noakes talking to the camera]

Professor Manny Noakes: The rejection...

[Image changes to show Professor Brian P. Schmidt talking to the camera]

Professor Brian P. Schmidt: Of shams.

[Image changes to show a film clip of Prime Minister Billy Hughes talking to the camera]

Prime Minister Billy Hughes: To healthier and better lives.

[Image changes to show Professor Manny Noakes talking to the camera]

Professor Manny Noakes: Healthier...

[Image changes to show Dr. Jane Bowen talking to the camera]

Dr. Jane Bowen: For healthier...

[Image changes to show Vivek Srinivasan and Stephen Wan talking to the camera]

Vivek Srinivasan: Healthier...

[Image changes to show Sofya Gollan talking to the camera]

Sofya Gollan [in AUSLAN]: Healthier...

[Image changes to show Bronte Matthews talking to the camera]

Bronte Matthews: Healthier...

[Image changes to show Professor Brian P. Schmidt talking to the camera]

Professor Brian P. Schmidt: Healthier...

[Image changes to show Dr. Alan Finkel talking to the camera]

Dr. Alan Finkel: And better...

[Image changes to show Jerry Bitting talking to the camera]

Jerry Bitting: And better life.

[Music plays]

[Text appears: 100 years later, the scientific and industrial challenges faced by our nation may have changed but the essence of Hughes’ words and vision live as strongly as the institution he created]

[Text appears: Shape the future with us]

[CSIRO logo and Coat of Arms and text appears: 100 YRS of innovation, Australian Government, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science]

Hide transcript

World War I origins 

The Advisory Council of Science and Industry was located here, at 314 Albert Street, East Melbourne.

In 1916, the Australian Government established the Advisory Council of Science and Industry as the first step towards a 'national laboratory'. By 1920, this had evolved into the Institute for Science and Industry under an Act of the Federal Parliament. In 1926, this Act was revised to form the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The headquarters of all three institutions were established in a commonwealth government property at 314 Albert Street East Melbourne (pictured). The first research investment by the Advisory Council was 250 pounds in the 1915/16 financial year in partnership with the Queensland and New South Wales Governments to explore control measures for the prickly pear pest that was invading millions of acres of agricultural land in eastern Australia.

The primary purpose of the Advisory Council of Science and Industry, the Institute of Science and Industry and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) remained consistent and this purpose continues largely unchanged in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to this day. That is, to initiate and conduct scientific research to assist in the development of the primary and secondary industries of Australia: farming, mining and manufacturing being the focus in the early years. By the end of its first full year of operations in 1927, the CSIR had 53 staff located in all six Australian states.

The entrance of the building, C.S.I.R. (and later CSIRO) Division of Animal Nutrition, Kintore Avenue, Adelaide, South Australia.

1930-1950

During the 1930s and 1940s, research was conducted in the fields of:

  • animal pests and diseases
  • plant pests and diseases
  • fuel problems, especially liquid fuels
  • preservation of foodstuffs, especially cold storage
  • forest products.

The onset of World War II (1939-45), saw the Council conducting research to assist the Australian Defence Forces, in areas such as radar.

After World War II ended, CSIR research expanded to include areas such as:

  • building materials
  • wool textiles
  • coal
  • atmospheric physics
  • physical metallurgy
  • assessment of land resources.

In 1949, CSIR ceased all defence work for the military and was renamed CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

Recent history

Over the following decades, we've expanded our activities to almost every field of primary, secondary and tertiary industry, including the environment, human nutrition, conservation, urban and rural planning, and water.

In 2014 we simplified our operations, making it easier to do business with industry and maximising the impact of our science. We now operate through three lines of business:

We continued to provide Australians with world-class scientific facilities:

  • New research vessel the RV Investigator launched, supporting Australia’s atmospheric, oceanographic, biological and geosciences research and making a regional contribution to international research
  • First radio signals received on the antenna built in Western Australia to be part of the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope
  • Construction completed on the unique Biosecure Immunology Laboratory in Victoria to develop new treatments for highly infectious viruses such as influenza and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

We developed new and innovative solutions to benefit people everywhere:

  • partnered with St Vincent's Hospital and Victorian biotech company Anatomics to carry out world-first surgery to implant a titanium-printed heel bone into a Melbourne man
  • brought the idea of an Australian dentist to life by developing a 3D-printable device to tackle sleep apnoea
  • Improved the recovery of heart attack patients with a new smartphone app.

And we released more world-first research to tackle the challenges of the future:

  • unveiled the most comprehensive digital maps of Australian soils and landscapes yet produced
  • published crucial reports about Australia’s biosecurity vulnerabilities, pollution from marine debris, and threats to cybersecurity
  • used solar energy to generate hot and pressurised 'supercritical' steam, at the highest temperatures ever achieved in the world outside of fossil fuel sources.

We'll continue to shape the future by using our science to solve real issues and make a difference to industry, people and the planet.

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