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I’m on a mission to visit as many national institutions in Canberra as I can during the first few weeks of the year, and I’m not even on a school excursion.

The Sell: Australian Advertising 1790s to 1990s was the drawcard to the National Library of Australia. The exhibition pulls together the story of advertising in Australia through a selection of treasures from the library’s extensive collections. Magazine advertisements, posters, business cards from days of old, stills from television commercial. These stretch from the earliest surviving print advertisement in Australia (a play bill promoting a show in Sydney in 1796) through to recent political and social posters and campaigns of the ’90s.

It’s like a pictorial history of the nation before you came along, with words added, and then a nostalgic stroll back through your own youth and onwards, as you are reminded of the ads and campaigns you lived through, in magazines and on the tele – many of which you recall vividly, some you’d forgotten about, and some which must have slipped by when you were doing something else. And it’s rather a fascinating journey through the decades, learning of the apparent social settings and mores of the early days and recalling those that played out in your own, and seeing how these evolved over the years – adapting to our changing technologies, advertising techniques and society in general. Perhaps with more sophisticated and more astute social and political perceptions. Perhaps.

Fashionistas can also get their fix by delving into the world of fashions past for both men and women with a focus on menswear from the 1940s and ’50s and women’s fashion from the ’20s and ’30s. Fur, anyone? Or maybe a corset?

Just to give you a taste, we’re talking Pelaco shirts, Arnotts biscuits, Minties (the national mint), Hoges and having a Winfield, and a young ant-covered woman in Bonds with a pet anteater, just for starters. What jumps out at you will just depend on your own history and perhaps age. Who remembers Vincent’s powders? Just stick your head back and tip that pink powder back down your throat, and knock out a bit of your kidneys as well as your headache in one.


Don’t you love the cigarette? Imagine if you did that now?

And there’s a little addendum to the Stuart Devlin Midas Touch exhibition currently on at the mint. If you’re going to introduce a new decimal currency into the country, featuring said Mr Devlin’s work, you have to promote it and explain how it works. Ta da! Here were the explanatory posters to educate the masses in this new way of coinage. M1 was amazed to learn the new 5 cent piece was the same size as the replaced sixpence, and the same for the 10 cent piece and the shilling, so as not to confuse people too much. And we both learnt that two shillings make up a florin. Well, I did know that, but I’d forgotten.


We made our visit based on the timing of Mr Chuckles’ mood and sleep requirements, which meant we missed the free 30 minute guided tour (at 10.30am each day), so I think I’ll go back another day for one of those. Or one of the 11.30am general tours perhaps – ah, choices. And there’s the Treasures Collection to take in as well …


Mr Chuckles has his first cultural experience at a national institution. To be honest, he was much more interested in playing with his toys on the floor than anything on display, but you have to start somewhere.

I was just a little sorry the exhibition it didn’t contain any aural snippets of TV ads from the 60s and 70s. I recall a lot of the words and tunes of those in great detail and was hoping for a little singalong. Did I miss the auditory part?? Perhaps I’ll find joy at the National Film and Sound Archive on that score.

The Sell is  on until 15 April 2017 from 10am to 5pm in the Exhibition Gallery of the National Library on the ground floor. And it’s free!


Addendum: The National Library has let me know that there is indeed an auditory section with TV screens and jingles which I missed. Oh joy! Now I’ll have to go back for another peek.