Advertising – a social history

Media release: Thursday, 10 April 2014

Inducements to buy gout and lumbago oils, watch performing fleas and help the war effort, are just some of the early advertisements and trade marks preserved in the National Archives of Australia's collection.

'Old advertisements are often amusing but they also provide a wonderful record of our social history,' said Mairi Popplewell from the National Archives' Brisbane office who is giving public talks on the subject on 16 and 17 April.

'For example, we see how Australians were urged to grow their own vegetables during the war and to provide temporary accommodation for migrants in their homes. We can compare two advertisements for mail contractors, 10 years apart, where the second one in the 1920s refers to the Workmen's Compensation Act.'

The collection includes government health and safety advertising campaigns but also private advertisements which were lodged in applications for copyright and trademark registrations.

'Many applications for patents also relate to advertising,' said Mairi Popplewell. 'One device could stamp an advertising message on eggs before they were packaged, while a flying top toy was designed in 1890 as an "aerial advertising medium".'

In 1928, Tramways Advertising offered advertising space on the back of tram tickets in Melbourne. Messages aimed at passengers ranged from 'Take Care. No sore throats with Craven A, the cork-tipped cigarette' to 'Children must not stand on the seats – even with Paddle brand shoes' and 'Don't Crush! Remember, thousands of Herbert Adams' eggs go home daily on the trams'.

There were also times when the government stepped in to warn against being taken in by advertisements, notably those offering young women employment as governesses in Java.

The talks at the National Archives of Australia, 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill will be held at 10am on Wednesday 16 and Thursday 17 April.  Bookings can be made on 07 3249 4200.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e
  • Mairi Popplewell (Assistant Director, Brisbane Office)
    t (07) 3249 4205
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019