Intern Conversations: Allegra McCormack and Larika Desai

                                                          Nguyen, Thu. Allegra (left) and Larika (right) at International House. 2021


Allegra McCormack and Larika Desai met through their Museums and Collections Project Program internship projects at International House, the second largest residential college at the University of Melbourne. Recently Allegra and Larika took the time to find out more about each other’s projects.

Larika: Allegra, how would you describe your project?

Allegra: I worked on the ‘Fifty Years of Women at International House (IH),’ as part of the Museums and Collections Projects Program. Utilising the IH archives and other contemporary sources I worked to create short biographies of the women who played key roles in the college’s foundation and development. As an undergraduate student majoring in history I was very excited for the opportunity to learn more about the history of International House and have the opportunity to work directly with primary sources to create an exhibition. The experience taught me a great deal not only about the processes behind archival work but about the history of IH and the University of Melbourne more broadly. Indeed, while the project was part of the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of female students being admitted to the college, I learnt that women have actually been closely involved in the history of IH since the very beginning.

Photograph of three women in coats and hats in the 1950s
Kathleen Sloane (left), Olive Wykes (centre) and Mabel Grimwade (right), Newspaper photograph. International House Archives, Melbourne, 1953


Larika: Why do you believe this project is important?

Allegra: I believe the stories of these women from across the IH community, whether patronesses, teachers or matrons, are a vital part of the college’s history. While their contributions were somewhat overlooked, the internal IH archives did reveal a network of passionate and diligent women who believed in the vision of International House and worked tirelessly to make it a reality. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about these incredible women and help preserve their legacy. Whether high society patronesses, early college matrons or the first female students admitted in 1972, these women were a vital part of International House’s history and their influence continues to shape its future. I believe projects like this highlight how important it is to reinvestigate institutional histories and actively work to create a more inclusive and accurate historical record.

Larika: What were some of the challenges you faced? How did lockdowns affect your project?

Allegra: Like most of Melbourne, my 2021 plans were fairly disrupted by the changing lockdown conditions. I feel really lucky to have been able to have started my project placement in-person, however, I did have to shift to online work part way through. This change definitely made the work a little more difficult as I could no longer access the archives in-person or work onsite at the college.  My supervisor Dr Caitlin Stone and everyone at IH was incredibly supportive during this period and helped make the transition to remote work a lot easier.

Table with albums full of faded newspaper clippings
                                                  Nguyen, Thu. Newspaper clippings, International House Archives. 2021. Photograph.


Larika: What were some of the surprises you discovered during your placement?

Allegra: One of the more surprising things I kept coming across during the research process was how many women were referred to by only their husband’s name. Whether in newspapers or even some internal records, it could be quite challenging to uncover these women’s first names which did make further research quite difficult. While at first I felt a little naive to have not expected this kind of erasure of their individual identities, the discovery also made me feel very passionate about my project. I hope that creating biographies in celebration of the hard work undertaken by the women of IH will ensure their own lives will be better remembered.

Larika: Thanks for sharing Allegra

Allegra: Thanks Larika. Can you summarise your project placement for me?

Larika: Yes, my research project forms a part of the larger collaborative project of ‘Fifty Years of Women at International House (IH),’ being conducted at the residential college. It aims to understand and establish links between the House’s 1972 landmark decision of admitting women residents and the subsequent building of the Scheps wing. It places this in the wider context of the dismantling of the White Australia Policy, the women’s movement, the economic struggles of colleges and rampant architectural modernism. Organised through University of Melbourne’s Museums and Collections Projects Program (MCPP), it has themes of architectural history, archival research, cultural heritage and gender studies.

Black and white photography of multi storey building.
                                  The Scheps building at International House. 1974. Photograph. International House Archives, Melbourne.


Allegra: Why was it important for you to research this aspect of International House’s history?

Larika: Project supervisor Dr Caitlin Stone and I are of the firm belief that it is important to shed light on such a significant moment of change, in the urban and cultural history of not just International House, but also the University of Melbourne. This project hopes to further our understanding of the decision-making at the time as a reflection of the existing social ideology and the oncoming shift in it.

As Scheps formed the backdrop to these incredible changes, it was important from an architectural history point of view to learn more about the building. The great social and emotional value attached to Scheps, gave the project the space to delve into values that people assign to buildings, which in turn helps to highlight the importance of heritage.

Allegra: How did the pandemic affect your ability to carry out your project work?

Larika: With constant lockdown interruptions, only part of the placement could be carried out on site at IH. Whilst onsite, it was great acquiring back of house insight into IH archives and being able to make visits to other relevant archives. The shift to online placement however, had its own learning challenges. Since I could not access any archives or libraries in person, I had to come up with innovative ways of doing desk-based research. I also had to rely heavily on information already digitised. Although it really varied as to how much staff was allowed to be on site and available, my contact persons were incredibly helpful. Everyone tried their best to make as much information as they could available, through virtual connection!

Allegra: What surprised you as you undertook your research?

Larika: The biggest insight has been into digitisation and learning that it is not a straightforward scan and send process. There are manifold procedures involved. For example, generating comprehensive metadata (descriptive data of records) is required prior to digitisation. There are also issues of copyright to be dealt with. Consequently, some collection materials are not even in compatible formats to be digitised. Doing this placement has made me more sympathetic to the processes involved and the hurdles to clear in order to make information digitally available, especially during times like lockdown when being onsite itself is a challenge.


Allegra McCormack, Bachelor of Arts 

Larika Desai, Master of Urban and Cultural Heritage; Master of Architecture


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”

Number of posts found: 403

Post type

Previous posts