The Sell at the National Library of Australia

23 November 2016

Advertising – like it or not – has had a profound impact on so many aspects of our lives that today we take it for granted. From the good, the bad and the downright annoying, we’ve been bombarded with images, slogans, jingles and the tokenism of the perfect housewife, the handsome hunk or the Aussie larrikin to flog us everything from cigarettes to political campaigns, household appliances and useless must haves.

The current exhibition at the National Library of Australia, The Sell, is a look back at 200 years of advertising in Australia sourced from the eclectic collection the NLA has stored, most of it the stuff we tossed years ago and never thought it would see the light of day again. But that’s what makes this exhibition so fascinating.

Officially opened by Harold Mitchell, whose opening speech was a journey back to his early days when he started in the industry that became his lifetime love, to learn of his early association with the industry and how successful advertising in Australia became, was an insight into the halcyon days.

But an aside about his reading habits; “always start at the back of a book”, reminded me of my Dickens experience at high school when I survived and passed admirably the exam by not reading all of A Tale of Two Cities, only reading the first page and the last page. I’m not a Dickens fan, obviously. So to avoid the crush of guests at the opening I scurried to the back of the exhibition and worked my way forward.

It worked as I was in a rush as usual and it is on my list of summer returns to take longer and linger over this most memorable collection of treasures.

I loved the ‘Phillips Lamps’ poster where the 1950’s model with cascading red locks is reclined in the 50’s version of spanx with the perkiest boobs you’ve never seen next to a bulbous light globe. And the collection of ‘Redheads’ in differing versions of the matches pack, the It’s Time campaign that swept Gough Whitlam into office and at Currumbin Sanctuary the cross eyed model tolerating a nose pecking parrot covered in his rellies, is a photographic gem. And the survivors of the early days are telling with Bushell’s Tea, the Hills Hoist, Aeroplane Jelly and Mr Sheen.

It’s a summer treat to take the family to, where you too can go back in time and be reminded of so many forgotten advertising campaigns.