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

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Marvin the Mobot and Shell: robotics history and oil exploration

Ary Hermawan

One of the most fascinating historical documents in the Shell Historical Collection stored at the University of Melbourne Archives is a press cutting of an advertisement placed in the Sun newspaper on Monday, August 19th, 1963. The ad features a photograph of a group of workers lowering the company’s Mobot — an underwater maintenance robot that can see with its “television eyes” and uses “its mechanical nose to turn screws and operate valves and grip pipes as it moves around under water.” Being lowered to the sea from a ship, the Mobot appears to be made to show the company’s technological prowess, with the robot being portrayed as “one of the many inventions that keep Shell ahead of the times.”

Press cuttings of Shell Products, 19 August 1963. Shell Historical Archive, 2008.0045.0379

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Australia Discovered with Australian Wildflowers

Nasim Koohkesh

Australia has a significant diversity of wild plants and nature, so I used the title of ‘wildflowers’ to search the Shell Historical Archive for evidence of the presence of Australian wildlife in its mid-twentieth century pictures.

In a series called ‘Australia Discovered with Australian Wildflowers’, I found 12 pictures representing Australian vegetation in each state of Australia, including text and a list of the wildflowers represented. Sketched for Shell Australia in 1959 by the artist R. Malcolm Warner (1902-1966), The regions depicted in this series are listed below:

No Reference Code Geological Location
1 2008.0045.00297 Queensland.
2 2008.0045.00297 Lamington National Park
3 2008.0045.00297 Northern Rivers; is the North-easterly region of Australia in the state of New South Wales.
4 2008.0045.00297 Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the Northern Territory
5 2008.0045.00297 Western Australia
6 2008.0045.00297 Tasmania
7 2008.0045.00297 The Snowy Mountains, in southern New South Wales, Australia, and is the tallest mountain range in mainland Australia
8 2008.0045.00297 Victorian Coast
9 2008.0045.00297 Grampians National Park in Victoria West
10 2008.0045.00297 South Australia
11 2008.0045.00297 Narrabeen lagoon in New South Wales
12 2008.0045.00297 The Victorian Alps, also known locally as the High Country, is an extensive mountain in the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria

Each painting presents a landscape with a wild bouquet at the front of the image, and in addition, it provides brief description of the area’s geographical information and natural attractions. In images number 1, 5, 6 and 10, the painter has however had an entire state to depict and not introduced an exact geographical location. Furthermore, an index helps name the flowers in the image at the bottom of the page.

Queensland wildflowers
Queensland… Australia’s Tropical Paradise by R. Malcolm Warner, 1959. Shell Historical Collection, 2008.0045.00297

In total, the pictures illustrate 151 types of flowers, with only two species shared between three regions: the Native Convolvulus appears in the Lamington Gold Coast, Ayer’s Rock for the Northern Territory, and on the Victorian coast. Moreover, Correas appear on pictures of the Victoria Coast, Grampians National Park in Western Victoria, and the Victorian Alps. According to these digitised images, a common genus in Australia would be the Daisy and Orchid in different regions with various weather and soil conditions, showing in total eight separate species of Orchid, three reported in Queensland, and five species spread across Western and South Australia. Among the eight species of Daisy, three species grow in the Snowy Mountains and others are spread in other coastal and mountainous areas.

The genus Heath has five species, the Boronia, and Rose four species each, and they are spread in various regions from west to east and south. Finally, Bottle Brushes, Everlasting, Wattle, and Berry with three varieties in different colours seem to be the third most common flowers in the 1950s in Australia. Bottlebrush varieties are found in the southern regions such as South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Everlasting can be found from mountains to the coastal regions of Victoria. Wattle, however, is spread from West to East, while the Berry is only reported in Tasmania.  Kangaroo Paws have two different colours, black and red, and occur naturally only in Western Australia.

Shell has chosen to represent unique flowers in each region, and perhaps to draw attention to flower species known in the 1950s due to their spread in each area. If placed alongside information from botanical databases and webpages , these pictures may help compare mainland Australia’s plant diversity during the mid-twentieth century with the present. The extent to which Shell’s posters also drew attention to the beauty of Australia’s plant diversity in the mid-1950s also helped to support a growing sense of pride in the uniqueness of Australia.

Nasim Koohkesh is a PhD student in Conservation of Cultural Materials at the University of Melbourne. Their research investigates the influencing factors in changing ultramarine blue colour in historical illuminated Persian manuscripts, through a focused case-based study of the Melbourne University Middle-Eastern Manuscript Collection.

Archiving HIV/AIDS in Melbourne

Adapted from an article by Michael Graf and Russell Walsh Michael in UMA Bulletin : News from the University of Melbourne Archives : Issue 35, December 2014. The full article is available here. 

Collections held at the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) offer insight into the partnerships between government, health professionals and Melbourne’s gay community, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia. 

1979 saw increased visibility and social acceptance for gay men and lesbians, evidenced by the fifth National Homosexuality Conference taking place in Fitzroy. But that same year, Terry Stokes, a University of Melbourne student, was arrested in Collins Street for kissing another man. Stokes’ subsequent eviction from Graduate House prompted Julian Phillips, then Senior Lecturer in Law, to act as his legal counsel. Primary documents from the Julian Phillips Collection outline the controversial details of the Stokes case and its repercussions within the University and across Melbourne. 

 Professor David Penington, a clinical haematologist and the University’s Dean of Medicine, held key national positions during the early years of the epidemic, including Chair of the AIDS Task Force. His collection not only offers candid insights into decision making at senior levels during the crisis, but also indicates in its vastness the scale of the tasks facing government, health professionals and affected communities at the time. 

Colour photograph of John Foster and Juan Cespedes sitting side by side with their arms around each other.
John Foster and Juan Cespedes, c.1980, John Harvey Foster Collection 1997.0085 unit 5.

The John Foster Collection provides an intimate perspective of the gay community in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Foster, a Lecturer in History at the University, wrote the widely acclaimed Take Me to Paris, Johnny, a sober account of his relationship with dancer Juan Cespedes, a Cuban refugee whom he met in New York in the early 1980s. Cespedes came to Australia to live with Foster before dying of AIDS in 1987. Foster also died of AIDS in 1994, a year after his account of Cespedes’ life and death was published. UMA holds a large body of Foster’s and Cespedes’ papers, many of which describe the complications of Cespedes’ illness and eventual death. The Foster Collection also includes several drafts of the book and copious notes.  

Ephemera from the John Foster collection, including Juan Cespedes’ ballet shoes, 1997.0085

Michael Graf is a Melbourne based visual artist. 
Russell Walsh trained in art history at the University of Melbourne. His doctoral research in Performance Studies was undertaken at Victoria University. 

Further reading: 

Transmissions: Archiving HIV/AIDS, Melbourne 1979-2014 

“When kissing was a crime” by Andrew Trounson, University of Melbourne, 2017 

“There has been us”: John Foster and Juan Cespedes 

Homosexuality and the University of Melbourne, Graham Willett and Kathy Sport  

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