Discovering the work of Malcom Warner through Shell’s Historical Archive
The Shell Historical Archive is a unique collection that showcases the history of the Shell oil company in Australia during the 20th Century. With over 800 items, the collection contains a wide range of materials that also gives a glimpse into the history and culture surrounding motor vehicles, aviation and travel in Australia. Some items that can be found in this collection include photographs, memorabilia, artefacts, advertisements, correspondence, minutes and operational records.
The collection is separated into these various categories. As I started exploring this archive, I was immediately attracted to the different advertisements and marketing materials that Shell has produced. According to this series item description put together by the University of Melbourne Archives;
“Shell Company has successfully mounted advertising campaigns to sell their products. This series focuses mainly though not exclusively on Shell products for households, agriculture and recreation.” (UMA 2008, p. 69)
Over the course of the companies history, it has produced many products with campaign slogans, a selection of them can be seen in Figure 2. The slogan ‘Discover Australia with Shell’ stood out to me, so I searched the archive to see what items were related to it. Putting this slogan into the search bar now revealed a series of colourful and illustrative
The images featured in this post (Figures 1, 3 & 4) are examples of the 22 posters that belong to the ‘Discover Australia with Shell’ (DAWS) campaign. In 1959, Shell commissioned numerous Australian commercial artists to create artwork for the DAWS campaign (Sam Waller Museum 2020). As we can see from the images, the posters illustrate parts of the natural Australian landscape, wildlife and coastline. The posters that I want to discuss in this post were created by commercial and official Australian war artist Ralph Malcolm Warner to advertise the company’s Shell Touring Service (STS).
The collection doesn’t provide much information about Warner and his art practice, However I was able to discover more about him on the Australian War Memorial website. Many of Warner’s work during his service can be found in the Australian War Memorial’s art collection. Before working as a commercial artist, Warner was an official Australian war
artist in WW2 whose main assignment during the war was recording Airmen training in the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) (AWM 2020; Campbell 1989, p. 174). After his service, he became a successful artist in Australia winning over 40 watercolour art prizes since 1975 (Campbell 1989, p. 378). Known for his controlled style as a watercolourist and his
use of bold and bright colours (Campbell 1989, p. 174). It’s interesting to compare the work Warner completed during his service to his later commercial work for Shell.
The DAWS posters can be divided into three series based on their main subject; the Wildflower Series (Figure 1), the Shells series (Figure 3) and the Birds of Australia series (Figure 4). Each poster captures a unique tourist destination within Australia. And Warner has used his distinct artistic style to showcase Australia’s variety of wildlife and flora in the foreground with these majestic landscapes in the background. Underneath the image, there is a short description of the tourist destination depicted, such as the Grampian National Park in regional Victoria as seen in Figure 1. There is also a reference guide to the types of Australian flowers, animals, and shells shown on each poster. Every poster also ends with the same sentence;
“Australia is richly endowed with such tourist attractions and people planning holidays or long-service leave will be advised to seriously consider a motoring holiday in this interesting island continent in which we live.”
This shows how these posters are meant to be not only advertisements for Australia’s tourism but also for Shell’s services, enticing the viewer to visit and travel across Australia to these tourist destinations.
These posters were part of the company’s advertising strategy and tourism campaigns to communicate with Australian communities (UMA 2008, p. 88). Figures 5 shows how the art for the DAWS campaign was used on other items found within the Shell Historical Archive. These posters, along with swap cards albums, calendars and tour maps, were
available to all travellers who stopped at Shell service stations to fill up their cars (Sam Waller Museum 2020). The roadside souvenirs attracted families and young kids to visit these service stations and collect these sought after collectables. More examples of the swap cards and the original artwork that Warner made for the DAWS campaign can be
found in the State Library Victoria collection.
My mum remembers visiting Shell and other petrol stations when she was young. She described it as a special treat when going or returning from their family trips to stop at these service stations and collect these souvenirs. Each year for the families annual holiday they would travel to Bathurst to visit her relations or for other special occasions. As motor vehicles and road trips were becoming more popular for families, oil companies like Shell saw the potential market by targeting children with their advertisements and products (Barrie 2009). I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this and how supermarkets today like Woolworths and Coles use different campaigns to market towards kids.
This unique series of posters showcases Ralph Malcolm Warner’s artistic talent and Shell’s marketing strategies for Australian audiences. To see the rest of the ‘Discovering Australia with Shell’ poster series and much more from the Shell Historical Archive, visit the University of Melbourne Archives website.
Murphy Bouma is a PhD candidate in the University of Melbourne’s Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. Her research is investigating how digital preservation can be used to document and preserve Melbourne’s street art and graffiti.
Australian War Memorial (AWM) 2021, Captain Ralph Malcolm Warner, Australian Government, viewed 17 September 2021, <https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P66860>.
Barrie, M 2009, ‘Everybody loves a road trip!’, Exhibition materials, viewed 17 September 2021, <https://archives.unimelb.edu.au/explore/exhibitions/past-events/everybody-lovesa-
Campbell, J 1989, Australian Watercolour Painters: 1780 to the Present Day, Craftsman House, Roseville.
Sam Waller Museum 2020, “Discovering Australia with Shell” Trading Cards, Sam Waller Museum, viewed 17 September 2021, <https://www.samwallermuseum.ca/collections/feature/discover-australia-with-shell-trading-cards/>.
University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) 2021, Shell Historical Archive, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, viewed 17 September 2021, <http://gallery.its.unimelb.edu.au/imu/imu.php?request=multimedia&irn=1586>.
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