News & Media

Inventor of the year

  • Narbethon member Rod Sheppard with his invention, the Pump Defenda
  • Membership certificate of Hiram Crawford, then Captain of Beechworth brigade

By: Sonia Maclean

Category: People

  9.13 AM 7 January, 2014

Location: District 12 News

Views: 4898

A Narbethong firefighter has been named Victorian Inventor of the Year by the Inventor’s Association of Australia.  

After two years of hard work, Rod Sheppard has commercially released the “PumpDefenda,” a device designed to protect private firefighting pumps from flame contact and radiant heat. He originally developed the product to assist in the bushfire protection of his own property.

The 53-year-old father to a teenage daughter and grown-up stepson has been inventing all his life but has only entered the fray as a commercial inventor over the last five years.

“A lot of people invent things but not many go that extra step to turn their invention into a commercial product,” said Rod.

 “It’s quite a slog, believe me. You’ve got to do market research, find money, work out how to reach people…”.

Rod’s previous focus was a product called the ‘Eco-Switch’ which saw him not only appear on the ABC TV program “The Inventors”, but win the People’s Choice Award.. 

While facing the challenges involved with getting a new product known and out onto the market, Rod is taking inspiration from his great-great grandfather Hiram Crawford.

While Rod had been aware that his ancestor had an emergency services connection as one of the founding members of the Country Fire Brigades Board (precursor to today’s Country Fire Authority), he only recently uncovered Crawford’s remarkable life story.

 “I definitely got my entrepreneurial spirit from him; a lot of it is quite coincidental,” Rod said of great-great grandfather.

Hiram Crawford came to Australia from the USA at the height of the gold rush. A 1930 memoir describes him as having “a most versatile career, having all the characteristics of a go-ahead Yankee, being full of energy to the last.”

As a gold-hunter Crawford was unsuccessful at first but eventually got lucky, finding 3000 ounces of gold in just three months at a location near Beechworth. Beechworth and the North East were later to become his heartland, but it was in Melbourne, quite possibly on the advice of old friend Mr Cobb, where Crawford would set up his next business move: a stagecoach empire.

While Cobb and Co. flourished in most of Victoria and wrote itself into mainstream history, the lesser-known Crawford and Co.  in fact monopolised the coaching business throughout the North-East and southern NSW.

The stagecoach company stayed in the family for decades and Crawford went on to settle on farming land near Beechworth. But even in the agricultural field area he was an entrepreneur, becoming one of the largest growers of hops and tobacco in Victoria. “And where would we be without beer and smokes?” asked Rod. 

Aside from his involvement with the fire brigade, Crawford’s great passion as he went through life (and this is where the family connection is hard to dispute) was in new-fangled agricultural machinery.

Much of this was never actually put to practical use but collected and constantly on show to invited groups and many newspaper reporters who visited the property.

In 1864, Crawford imported one of VIctoria's first fire engines, a "Niagara" which came to Beechworth all the way from Boston USA.  

Hiram Crawford was Captain and Superintendent of Beechworth Brigade for twenty-five years, and maintained a great passion for the bushfire brigades throughout his life, hence his role in forming what became today's CFA.

In between the hours he is spending trying to market the ‘Pump Defenda’, Rodhas joined his aunt in trying to chase down more historical publications and find more out about his great-great-grandfather and follow his family history.

The results of that search will be interesting to see.

Last Updated: 14 January 2014