Discover Australia with Shell: Marketing and Materiality

Jorge Diez del Corral Dominguez

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Shell Australia started a marketing campaign called Discover Australia with Shell. This marketing campaign had its own motivations in material change. As motor cars became a more affordable commodity for everyday Australians, and with the establishment of a national highway system, starting with Highway 1 in 1955, which connected all the Australian state capitals, Shell was trying to encourage domestic tourism within Australia in the form of the road trip1. To get people to burn (and buy) more fuel.

One of the key parts of this campaign was the Shell Touring Service2, which created personalized maps for customers as a way to build goodwill and loyalty. Shell also produced marketing materials that highlighted the natural beauty of Australia and provided touring advice for certain routes. The campaign emphasized the differences between states, to encourage travel throughout this massive continent.

Discover Australia with Shell
Ask Here: Cards for the Kids!, Poster, 1959. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00498

Possibly the most popular materials produced were trading cards, given out at Shell petrol stations, depicting native animals, birds, shells, fish, wildflowers and plants. The use of trading cards – explicitly aimed at kids – points to the centrality of families as a cultural and economic unit within Australian society. It also highlights the importance of tangible mementoes to strengthen emotional connections.

These trading cards first appeared in the 1960s, but before that, from the late 1940s throughout the 1950s, Shell produced posters which also depicted the beautiful natural features of different Australian states and ecosystems. They showed fantastical compositions, bringing together natural elements into pretty vignettes that, while not realistic, captured the public’s imagination (fantasy seems to have been a recurring theme in Shell’s marketing3).

South Australia… Land of Contrasts, 1959. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00306

The University of Melbourne’s Shell Historical Archive houses a number of these posters, depicting wildflowers, birds and shells.

Shell posters
The Shells of Queensland, 1959. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00316

At the time, Shell was based in Melbourne, and this location is visible throughout these posters. The illustrations were done by three local artists: Ralph Malcolm Warner4, Nell Wilson5 and Adrien George Feint6, and the posters were printed by McCarron, Bird & Co. a Melbourne-based printer7.

An archive – even when it’s digital – always makes me think of the material aspects of history and, how ideologies and narratives are abstractions we create to make sense of the actual experiences of people and objects. Looking at specific objects – posters and trading cards – as the material leftovers of history, we can remind ourselves of how much of history is incidental. How much of what happens is the result of convenience or coincidence; what happens to be there. Something which can only be seen by observing actual objects and by considering the tiny scale at which history – and life – occurs.

Although these posters were just meant as marketing materials, they remind us of the coincidences of material existence that create history. Only by going through archives can we start to unravel the tangles of links and contingencies that resulted in history developing as it did.

Jorge Diez del Corral Dominguez is a PhD student in Screen and Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne. Their research investigates how images are used as social tools on online platforms to impel response and interaction.


[1] Barrie, M. (2009), ‘Everybody loves a road trip!’, Exhibition materials.

[2] Wood, K. (2009), ‘The Shell Touring Service’, Exhibition materials.

[3] Mok, C. (2020), ‘“Spirit of speed”: Ida Outhwaite and the Shell Fairies’, Archives and Special Collections blog post.

[4] The Australian War Memorial (undated), ‘Captain Ralph Malcolm Warner’, Collection profile.

[5] Van de Ven, A. (2011), ‘Nell Wilson’, Design & Art Australia Online.

[6] Butler, R. (1996), ‘Feint, Adrian George (1894–1971)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 14, published online in 2006.

[7] Close, C. (1974), ‘McCarron, John Francis (1848–1900)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 5, published online in 2016.

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