PROPAGANDA IS A LOADED WORD FOR MANY PUBLIC SERVANTS.
However, for many historians, the word propaganda is the correct term to use for the wartime exhibition of poster and home-front promotional material currently on display in the Australian War Memorial (AWM).
‘Hearts and Minds: Wartime Propaganda’ features an attractive poster of ‘the Blonde Bombshell’, banned by the British government during the Second World War for being too risqué. It is a form of propaganda. At the base of the poster are the words “Join the ATS. As for information at the nearest employment exchange or at any Army or ATS Recruiting Centre.”
Abram Games’s image of the glamorous blonde with bright red lipstick is now on display as part of the exhibition at the AWM based in Campbell, Canberra. The exhibition is located at the back of the AWM on the Mezzanine Level of ANZAC Hall. If you know this part of the AWM you’ll know it is on the same level as the café and many public amenities.
The AWM has recently run a series of full page advertisements in the local freebie newspapers promoting the exhibition to Canberra. Many of the advertisements features copies of the war-time posters, including ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, the Australian Land Army and the Blonde Bombshell image.
At 11.30am on Thurs 5 April the AWM held a free curator-led talk of the exhibition. We again joined a curator-led tour which focused on selected highlights of the Memorial’s world-class poster collection. The free exhibition features posters, films, products and other promotional material from the First and Second World War.
Like many parts of the award-winning AWM, there are visuals and audio to accompany the exhibition on loan from the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). A film on early Australian ‘call-up’ Army recruitment campaigns is showing with other black and white footage of savings plans to mitigate squandering of money (the Squander Bug).
In one film, a civilian in grey jacket and jazzy shirt tells the viewer about the range of films produced by the Australian Ministry for Information and the Australian Information Service during WW1 and WW11. The civilian’s voice accent is a contemporary Australian one whereas the accents heard in the 1920-1040s films are likened to a Received Standard English (RSE) accent with Received Pronunciation (RP) which was the everyday diction and accent of that time.
There are many visitor guides in the AWM – some more informed and better educated than others. All speak with Australian accents. The number of curator-led talks suggests the AWM is warming to the idea of female curators being exposed to the general public and this is a gratifying step forward. It is useful to have curators talking about the exhibitions they have put together. It is important to have female curators talking about exhibitions. It shows that the AWM is an equal opportunity employer which values every staff member’s contribution to the preservation and promotion of Australian history.
In joining several talks on the ‘Hearts and Minds’ exhibition, I can say that this is a display which shows the development of Australian government communication during the first half of last century. It is an important exhibition of communication ephemera for any scholar of government, media, political history, military history, international relations or graphic design.
Like all things for free, there is a very small catch. It’s not a totally relaxing exhibition to view. There are three matters to mention: the lighting in this exhibition is not ideal for photography; the objects have been placed within their Perspex boxes in such a way that it is difficult to photograph one item without including others in the photo frame. Spending time listening to the accents in the NFSA films is achievable for only part of the hour. Regrettably, sound effects boom from a nearby exhibition for part of the hour.
So quietly we wandered the propaganda exhibition determined to enjoy the display and the curator’s talk. We are heartened to learn that the exhibition might tour around Australia in late 2018. It would make a worthwhile permanent exhibition at the AWM later on.
For further information on the AWM exhibition, see https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/hearts-and-minds
Text copyright: Fiona Rothchilds 2018
Photographic copyrights: Fiona Rothchilds 2018.
Images in photos: either the property of the Australian War Memorial or on loan to the AWM.
Uploaded: 6 April 2018.