Discovering the work of Malcom Warner through Shell’s Historical Archive

Murphy Bouma

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.

Discover Australia with Shell
Figure 1. Discover Australia with Shell – Wildflowers, Shell Historical Archive 2008.0045.00305.

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

Word Cloud
Figure 2. A word map showing the various slogans that can be found within the Shell Historical Archive
Discover Australia With Shell, Shells
Figure 3. Discover Australia with Shell – Shells. Shell Historical Archive 2008.0045.00313.
Discover Australia With Shell - Birds of Australia
Figure 4. Discover Australia With Shell – Birds of Australia. Shell Historical Archive 2008.0045.00311


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.

Colour photograph of Discover Australia with Shell
Figure 5. Colour photograph of Discover Australia with Shell. Shell Historical Archive 2008.0045.00499

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, <>.

Barrie, M 2009, ‘Everybody loves a road trip!’, Exhibition materials, viewed 17 September 2021, <

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, <>.

University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) 2021, Shell Historical Archive, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, viewed 17 September 2021, <>.

The Shell Touring Service – Hidden Indigenous Connections

Austin Tseng

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that University of Melbourne Collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons, or culturally sensitive content.

The Shell Historical Archives possess 86 items pertaining to their Touring Service, consisting of photographs of mapping staff on the road, shots of inland Australia, and photos of maps, map printing and staff in general, dating from 1928 to the 1960s.1 During this period, Shell also advanced the global adoption of the standardized service station across Australia, a concept initially developed in the U.S. in the 1930s.2 Offering essentially the same product to consumers, oil companies needed to stand out from their competition by other means, such as building customer service programs.

The Touring Service notably provided a bespoke mapping and service program for gas-chugging holidaymakers, that were developed according to customer information received from Shell dealerships. The bespoke treatment offered by the Service was essential for fostering customer goodwill towards the company, and was targeted at the growing number of private vehicle owners.3 In what has been called by the historian Graeme Davison, the ‘touring spirit’, the Shell Touring Service facilitated the realization of fantasies that were largely the preserve of the white middle-class.4 While many of the photos are void of ordinary people, focusing more on buildings and roads than individuals, the presence of Indigenous Australia may be felt in certain items from the “Photographs of the Shell Touring Service and Mapping Unit” collection.

Thornycroft Expedition
Photographs of the Shell Touring Service and Mapping Unit [10 of many], Newcastle Waters – Thornycroft Expedition 1929. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00058
Continue reading “The Shell Touring Service – Hidden Indigenous Connections”

The Fairy Story That Came True: A Tale of Petrol

Heather Berry

figure 1 press cutting
Figure 1: Press cuttings of Shell product advertising. Amuse little ‘nips’ on long car trips. Shell Historical Collection, 2008.0045.00397

The Shell Historical Archive, housed at the University of Melbourne Archives contains a rich variety of photographs, advertisements, and other ephemera which showcase the development of not only a large petroleum corporation, but also the development of Australian roadways and car culture. Perusing the collection, the advertisements in particular spoke to me as representations of the stylised happy cartoon families that we associate with pre- and post-war advertising (See Figure 1) that are so often incorporated into or even nostalgically form the basis of our idea of ‘vintage’, including the John and Betty readers used in Victorian primary schools. Continue reading “The Fairy Story That Came True: A Tale of Petrol”

The Many Facets of Ephemera

Samara Greenwood

Delving into the digitised items of the Shell Historical Collection, my attention was captured by one particular artifact. It is an image of a 1964 advertising blotter produced by Shell to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Australian airmail flight (Figure 1). I was intrigued by the ordinariness of the artifact, combined with its visual complexity and connection to a little-known historic event.

1914 souvenir blotter
Figure 1. Reproduction of 1914 Souvenir Blotter, 50th Anniversary First Air Mail in Australia Melbourne to Sydney, 1964. Shell Historical Collection, 2008.0045.00795

Continue reading “The Many Facets of Ephemera”

The Branding Pearl Contained in Shell’s Logo

Laura Gomez Aurioles

Have you ever wondered, what does a Pecten-Scallop shell has to do with a petroleum corporation? Being the logo – the most relevant semiotic intermediary for meaning within a company’s visual and verbal promotion strategies – the origins of Royal Dutch Shell’s yellow and red mollusk tell us a story of branding and advertising success.

The Pecten, chosen as the logo in 1904, reflects the maritime activities and areas where Shell corporation was highly active. Its founder, Marcus Samuel—who used to ship oil to the Far East—found the shell as a symbol for containing a treasure, a fine and unique pearl. Consequently, this peculiar logo conveys that oil (or kerosene or petroleum) is as precious as a pearl preserved in a shell. Besides, shells are anywhere on the planet; therefore, this icon communicates that oil can be delivered to any location of the world. It is interesting to know that the company has over 500 shells in its archive and that many of them have helped it name its products. For example, Helix Lucorum gave origin to their high-performance Helix Ultra car oil range; while Rimula Marei and Microgaza Rotella inspired Rimula and Rotella heavy-duty diesel engine oils.

We may also find some early examples of how the shape of a Scallop was used in regular advertisements of the oil giant. In figure 1, we can see it with the company’s name inside the shell and featuring the product as a spirit, possibly referring to it as the finest drink for a motor; figure 2 shows a Scallop sealing securely the precious oil (just as a pearl), and in figure 3 we can appreciate all the different industries related to Shell inside the logo’s shape.

Motor spirit advertisement
Figure 1: Collection of advertisements for Supershell petrol, c1930. Shell Historical Archive 2008.0045.00181
Shell advertisements
Figure 2: Advertisements for Shell products [14 of many] Shell pumps are sealed, 1930-35. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00030
Advertising proofs
Figure 3: Shell Activities: advertising proofs, 1929-1940. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.00437

Following this line, Shell was one of the first oil companies to realize that it had to build up brand loyalty through embracing nature and preserving it. This began in England in the 1930s, where poster exhibitions such as See Britain First or Countryside invited the public to explore the world, powered by Shell. “Holidays or long-service leave are the ideal opportunity to discover such attractions—and there’s no better way to do it than in the leisurely comfort of your own car”, was the closing phrase of a similar campaign launched in Australia between 1948 and 1955. Illustrated by the Australian war artist R. Malcolm Warner, Discover Australia with Shell featured a collection of educational touristic posters on Australian flora and fauna.

Made with Visme

From a total of twenty-two posters, twelve were dedicated to wildflowers, three to birds, and seven to shells and other similar underwater creatures, of course! The latter focused on Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales, and diverse areas of Queensland, which gathered about 50 percent of the sea life shown in the collection. You may learn about 124 different species by looking at these colorful posters, where the Scallop (Shell’s symbol) is found in all the mentioned regions but Tasmania. Interestingly enough, this shell and the Paper Nautilus are the ones featured the most. Was Shell trying to indirectly reinforce the message that they are everywhere? Find the answer to this question by exploring an interactive map (figure 5) showcasing all the beautiful posters of this collection!

Just as the more than 10 transformations that its logo has undergone throughout the last century, Shell has kept innovating in its advertisement strategies, which adapt to the needs and trends of society. One may explore part of this legacy at The Shell Heritage Art Collection, which is one of the most renowned commercial art collections, including work by Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, and Vanessa Bell. From inviting artists to create its ads to educating the general public on issues such as emergency situations and vehicle safety, the Dutch company keeps connecting to its consumers effectively time after time!

Laura Gómez Aurioles is a Ph.D. student in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. As a member of the Creative Writing department, her research aims to find the correct narrative techniques to create a virtual reality time capsule to preserve Intangible Cultural Heritage stories.



Hewitt, J. (1992). The “Nature” and “Art” of Shell Advertising in the Early 1930s. Journal of Design History, 5(2), 121–139.

Matusitz, J., & Cowin, E. (2014). An Evolutionary Examination of the Royal Dutch Shell Logo. Journal of Creative Communications, 9(2), 93–105. doi:10.1177/0973258614528607

Robinson, M. (2014). Marketing Big Oil: Brand Lessons from the Worlds Largest Companies. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. doi:10.1057/9781137388070

Quad Royal. (2015, June 22).You can be sure of Australia.

Shell. (n.d.). Brand History.

Shell. (n.d.). Did you Know.

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