Canberra Centre Masthead

Selling out our history of advertising

Emma Macdonald

The Sell is an exhibition showing us how far our advertising expectations and our product desires have come over the last 200 years.

It is hard to know which is more inappropriate by today’s standards – an ad for ‘hospital’ brandy featuring a nurse who never loses hope when her patients have Penfolds, or the ‘Charm Bust Developer’ which delivers a gentle pulsating action while either increasing or decreasing your cup size depending on your preference.


Either way, a new exhibition from the National Library of Australia, The Sell: Australian Advertising 1790s to 1990s provides some eyebrow-raising glimpses into the sorts of marketing that enticed bygone generations to covet “the latest thing” (Hills Hoist anyone?).

Ephemeral by nature, but often lasting in impact, advertising can reflect how much or just how little Australian society has changed over the centuries. Remember when we used to throw rubbish on the ground? Then we learnt to “Do the right thing”?

There’s also a heady dose of nostalgia for those among us who grew strangely fond of Norm, who spent hours each day clutching his beer in front of the television before he had his epiphany: “Life. Be in it”.

Old friend Louis the Fly makes a reappearance, straight from garbage bin to you, while iconic brands such Aeroplane Jelly and “moments like these” Minties are featured. And now you probably have that song in your head, correct?

The Sell will showcase over 200 gems from the library’s advertising collection, from 1912 Electoral Roll posters to an ad that promised “the world’s most economical car”(a Ford for the bargain price of 210 pounds, which, at the time made it “cheaper to run than a horse”).


The stories of these brands will be familiar to many while newer audiences may find some of the ads spectacularly politically incorrect – such as the scantily clad Philips Lamp lady who is “easy on the eye”, the woman declaring “Hooray it’s Washday, my day off” (she is serious) or the bloke in a pair of Stamina trousers “for pleasure in leisure”.


It’s even entertaining just checking out what the lovely lady flying Qantas back in the day was wearing…


the essentials
What: The Sell: Australian Advertising 1790s to 1990s
Where: The National Library, Parkes Way, Barton
When: November 23 to April 25, 2017
Cost: Free
For more information visit


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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