No single item characterises Australia’s suburbia like the iconic Hills Hoist clothes line
A Hills Hoist is a height-adjustable rotary clothes line, designed to permit the compact hanging of wet clothes so that their maximum area can be exposed for wind drying by rotation.
The Hills Hoist was developed in a backyard in Glenunga, Adelaide, by Lance Hill in 1945. It is a rotary clothesline that can be raised and lowered by a winding mechanism. This feature, in addition to the rotating square frame, allows the washing to dry more effectively in the breeze. The Hills Hoist also makes the most of limited space in suburban backyards.
Lance Hill was a motor mechanic and he made the first Hill's Hoist for his wife whose washing kept falling off the prop washing line. The year was 1945. The place was Adelaide, South Australia.
His revolutionary clothes line was a single steel pole with metal ribs spreading out from the centre pole. Between the ribs he strung rust-proof wire from which the clothes would hang. Lance Hill then invented a way of winding up the top part of the centre pole. The clothes could be raised high to dry in the wind. The line was so successful that soon all the Hill's neighbours wanted one too. Lance Hill was happy to build them.
Hill's original clotheslines were made from scrap metal. By 1946 the clothesline had proven to be a huge hit with friends and family, so Hill and his brother-in-law, Harold Ling, established a business, Hills, to keep up with the demand. They purchased surplus army trucks to make deliveries and a plant to manufacture the metal tubing from which the frame of the clothesline is made.
By 1948 Hills had expanded its operation to include the manufacture of other laundry products. In 1959 the company offered a hoist as a gift to the Queen and Queen Mother, but Australia's Governor-General, Field Marshal Sir William Joseph Slim, did not think the offer suitable to pass on to the Palace.
Hills Industries celebrated the sale of the five millionth Hills Hoist in 1994 and now exports the clothes line around the world. The Hills Hoist has become an Australian cultural icon and was featured as the emblem of the 1996 Adelaide Festival of Arts and in the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
There were also other rotary clothes lines but they didn't catch on until Lance Hill's invention. And Lance Hill was the first to attach a handle to raise and lower the hoist. He patented his invention in 1956.
A Darwin family reported that the only thing left standing after Cyclone Tracy was their Hills Hoist.
The Hills Hoist is listed as a National Treasure by the National Library of Australia.
Other uses for the Hills Hoist
Although the humble clothes hoist is great for drying washing, it also has many other uses:
Goon of Fortune: An entire drinking game has evolved around Hills Hoists: Goon of Fortune (inspired by Wheel of Fortune) involves hanging “goon sacks” (bags of cheap wine) on the lines. The edge is spun and people standing around it drink when a bag comes to a stop in front of them.
Sun Shade: Hills Hoists make for great sunshades in the hot Aussie Summer:
Icemaking Machine: On cold days ice can be collected from the trusy old Hills Hoist.
Tent or Kids Fort: The Hills Hoist can be used as a great framework for a tent or kids play fort.
Bird Perch: Cockatoos, Kookaburras and all sorts of birdlife can be found perched atop the Hills Hoist
Swing: I think most Australians, at some time or other, have used the Hills Hoist as a swing...
Spinning Water Slide: As dominant fixtures of Australian backyards, these pervasive clotheslines have evolved uses well beyond their designer’s intent. Kids, for instance, hang from and spin around on their sturdy rotating beams (with or without water slides augmenting the experience).