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From 1851, the greatest displays of world culture and industrial progress occurred at international exhibitions. Clear changes are apparent in Australia’s self-representation at these events. In the first half of the twentieth century Australia depicted itself as the rural complement to industrial Britain. At Expos ’67 and ’70, planned during the period of Australia’s economic disengagement from Britain, Australia used the platform of the international exhibition to reveal a capacity in science and technology. The design component of pavilions was especially vital in this respect, a capacity for design creation and innovation suggesting Australia was a fully modern society.

Australia participated in relatively few official international exhibitions1 during the twentieth century, favouring exhibitions staged by nations linked to the British Empire such as those at Wembley (1924–25), Glasgow (1938) and Wellington (1939–40). After exhibiting in New York in 1939, it missed Brussels (1958), Seattle (1962) and New York (1964–65), not exhibiting again until Expo ’67 in Montreal. When Australia did attend, its contributions reveal the mutability of national representations in response to shifting patterns of trade and investment. Before the Second World War exhibits stressed Australia’s primary-producer status over more expansive representations, echoing the fact that exports of raw materials and foodstuffs, primarily to Britain, represented the core of its overseas trade. By the 1960s, however, Australian and British interests increasingly diverged, with Britain turning towards Europe and Australia diversifying its investment sources and building significant export markets in Asia.2 Although primary products continued to represent the greatest part of Australian exports, on its return to international exhibitions in 1967 Australia presented a more complex picture of its character, culture and productivity. At Expo ’67 Australia emphasised its scientific, technological and design capacity, with the pavilion itself constituting an unprecedented alignment of Australia’s self-representation with modernisation processes. At Expo ’70, Osaka, the demonstration of technical innovation, manufacturing capacity and appreciation of culture was central to the aim of developing Australia’s relationship with Japan. Prior to the Second World War design was mostly a conduit for the display of exhibits, but at Expo ’67 and Expo ’70 modernist design emerged as a fundamental expression of Australia’s scope for purposeful creativity and innovation. In many respects designers lead the way in recognising that the highly competitive context of the international exhibition, with its dedication to the advancement of modernisation, demanded a new order of representation for Australia in terms of form and content.


The British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25 exemplifies Australia’s pre-war self-representation as a primary producer of foodstuffs and raw materials, complementing Britain’s lead role as a manufacturing nation. The official guidebook promotes the exhibition as a:

Family Party of the British Empire – its first … since the Great War, when the whole world opened astonished eyes to see that an Empire with a hundred languages and races had but one soul and mind, and could apparently without any of the mechanism of organisation, concentrate… all its power for a common purpose (Allwood 1977, 126).

The exhibition presented Britain’s Dominions and colonies as a united and purposeful family. In the souvenir book Wembley in Colour, Donald Maxwell (1924) praises Australia’s contribution to this family as a resource-rich nation, asserting ‘Australia is out … to work her vast resources, and she is certainly going the right way to get them …’ (81). Displays continued an approach used since the nineteenth century in which Australia used the value and abundance of staple goods and natural resources as an encouragement for immigration and investment, the pavilion featuring pyramids of oranges and canned beef, a sheep shearing demonstration, a bush sawmill, a working goldmine and a bakery that supplied visitors with cakes made from Australian flour and dried fruit.

The academic classicism of John Smith Murdoch’s design for the Australian Pavilion at Wembley also had a symbolic role to play in articulating imperial relations. Goad (1996) argues that architecture at Wembley constructed a racialised hierarchy of Commonwealth nations, the white classicism of the Dominion pavilions contrasting with the ‘exotic regional styles’ adopted by the colonies. A contemporary reviewer of the exhibition noted that the colonial pavilions were ‘somehow still colonial trophies rather than being fully civilised through the academic idioms of classicism’ (Barnes 1924, quoted by Goad 1996, 35).

Wembley’s image of Australian productivity, dominated by farming and mining, only partially reflected the Australian economy in the early twentieth century and masked tensions within the imperial network. While its trade centred on primary products, Australia also pursued protectionist trade policies to support a developing industrial sector for manufactured and capital goods. These policies often conflicted with the needs and counsel of Britain (Pomfret 2000). Despite this, Australia’s focus on exhibitions in British Empire countries reflected a deep-seated and sentimentalised identification with Britain. Neville Meaney (2003) argues, however, that while Australia imagined itself as locked in a common cause with Britain, Britain did not always share the same view, seeing the Dominions and colonies as there to support its needs.


Australia’s close trade relationship with Britain was formalised by the 1932 Ottawa Agreements that established an imperial preference system for trade between Britain, India and the Dominions. The agreements apparently made Australian governments less concerned about raising the country’s international profile elsewhere, and in terms other than trade. This perhaps explains the initial reluctance to participate in the 1937 Paris International Exhibition. A memorandum from Earle Page, Minister for Commerce, cited diplomatic advice that the absence of ‘provision for the display of primary products’ made it ‘doubtful whether the exhibition would be productive of direct trade results’.3 It was only later that the government accepted Paris as an opportunity to ‘dispel European ignorance of Australia’ and ‘remove the idea that Australians lack culture’.4

The Australia pavilion at the 1937 Paris International Exhibition was a modernised rotunda in stucco and glass tiles designed by the architects Stephenson, Meldrum and Turner. Its exhibits are described in a government memorandum as ‘wool and woollen products, art in various forms, tourism, heavy metals, precious stones, timber and veneers’.5 The gems were a collection of black opals sent from the Australian Pavilion at the 1936 Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg. Mr HW Bindoff, Display Manager of David Jones department store, advised on the layout of displays, working in a honorary capacity. The display was criticised in press reports and cablegrams between Australian officials in Paris and public servants in Canberra as being limited and low cost in comparison with those of other nations.6 This poor reception motivated a change in Australia’s self-representation at international exhibitions, in particular, opening up a greater role for designers in managing the national image.

Key Australian designers visiting the Paris International Exhibition in 1937 recognised the scope there for cultural exhibits and exhibition design to command attention for a nation, thus refuting the idea that distance and timelag largely determined the character of early twentieth-century Australian culture. In his autobiography the designer Gordon Andrews (1993) describes the exhibition as a life-changing experience:

My first impression on entering Expo was the vastness. With camera at the ready, I walked and walked. Visual experiences fascinated and delighted me at each blink of my eyes. There was so much mental nourishment. So many new, different, innovative expressions of human creativity. Small countries like Poland and Spain showed mainly folk craft in furniture and fabrics, beautifully displayed … Most memorable for me was the Spanish pavilion. Here was Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, the paint barely dry. It stabbed me with its powerful imagery of brutal conflict. And the first Alexander Calder mobile I had ever seen was also wonderful …’

Andrews remembers the Australian exhibit far less favourably:

The building was a box with letters spelling A U S T R A L I A like a row of birds perched on the top edge of the front wall. Arranged on shelves around the perimeter of the interior were pyramids of jams and canned fruit, here and there punctuated by moth-eaten stuffed koalas and wallabies, no doubt dredged up from one of our embassies. It was without a doubt the worst exhibit of all; the so-called primitive countries did far better (26–27).

An anonymous commentator writing in The Home (‘The Australian Pavilion …’ 1937) similarly judged Australia’s effort to be unacceptable, bluntly stating ‘No other Dominion has spent such a small sum on its Pavilion as Australia’. Yet the account also notes that despite ‘hostile criticism’ from Australia the pavilion ‘attracted large crowds’, the government’s representative in Paris, Mr C Voss, ‘receiv[ing] many congratulations on the excellent taste and simplicity of the arrangements and particularly on the quality of the Australian Art Exhibition’ (92).

This was a group of mainly conservative pastoral landscape paintings by artists including Elioth Gruner, Hans Heysen, Robert Johnson, Kenneth MacQueen and John Rowell. Presenting such paintings in an exhibition dedicated to arts and crafts in modern life and held in the international centre of vanguard art framed Australian society in opposition to modernity but was consistent with the idea of Australia’s development as built on rural production. Hostility to modern art was entrenched in official circles in Australia. Key players like JS MacDonald and Lionel Lindsay extolled the nobility of the Australian landscape tradition by comparison with the horrors of modern art. That The Home highlighted the irony of popular approval of Australia’s conventional art in the home of the avant-garde was a predictable response. While the magazine promoted modern taste in consumer goods and design its annuals were filled with pictorial photography referencing the tradition of Australian landscape painting in its subject matter, style and visual symbolism. Australia’s Paris exhibit presented Australian society as regionally focused and geographically determined. A ceiling mural of a world map entitled ‘Showing Australia’s Geographical Relationship to the Rest of the World’ assumed general ignorance of Australia. Photographic murals on Australian life were more expansive in their representation of Australia, including images of surfers and suburban housing. However, these were greatly outnumbered by those of rural pursuits, eucalyptus trees, kangaroos, koalas and ‘proud’ Aborigines.


The poor estimation of Australia’s Paris exhibit, exacerbated by perceptions of the ‘clumsy’ modernism of Australia’s 1938 Glasgow pavilion (Goad 1996), prompted the Australian government to better plan the next international exhibition Australia attended. Despite remaining doubts about the ability of international modernism to represent Australian national identity, designers from the architects Stephenson and Turner were dispatched to Finland to consider the work of Alvar Aalto (Goad 1996). The Australian Pavilion, however, was to be no more than an annex of the British pavilion, causing Australian officials much concern about the perception of Australian dependence and meaning Stephenson and Turner could develop no more than an interior fit out (Goad 1996). The main responsibility for projecting Australia’s image had to be carried by the pavilion exhibits. The commercially successful graphic designer Douglas Annand was appointed the pavilion’s Design Director. Discussing his design strategy in Art in Australia, Annand (1939) argued that, ‘the day of the colourless, careless, confused trade display, which was never more than a shamefully direct and uninteresting advertisement for bully beef and national wealth, is done. Paris [1937] … put an end to that’. Annand argued the competitive context of the international exhibition ‘widened the scope of the designer’, accelerated design thinking and made exhibitions ‘a significant mirror of progress’ (58–59). While he was referring here to the role of exhibitions as a measure of designers’ achievement, what he produced for Australia at New York shows he understood the synergy of modernist aesthetics and industrial modernity to be a vital symbol of national progress at exhibitions.

The Australian presence in New York was outwardly overshadowed by the scale and fantastic architecture of the many large national and corporate pavilions that made the fair an overblown fusion of trade show and amusement park. Annand (1939) recognised that in such a powerful theatre of national identity a cogent representation was needed. As he commented in Art in Australia, ‘an international exhibition is essentially a tableau of national life – a display in which national character, the nature of a country, its life and industry, are dramatised into an exciting and informative spectacle’ (58). When attending the 1937 Paris exhibition, Annand had seen how pavilion design, exhibition content and display techniques could form a communicative unit under the sign of modernism. In New York he harnessed modern art and design to reframe Australia’s self-representation, employing the skills of Norman Carter, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Adrian Feint, Frank Hinder, John Oldham, Margaret Preston and Russell Roberts. Graphic imagery in the pavilion still included references to Australia’s plants and animals. The trade component of the exhibit continued to stress Australia’s status as a primary-product exporting nation through prominent displays of beef, corn and wool. The seemingly obligatory world map pointing out Australia’s geographic location was there again but Annand’s iconographic program suggests his appreciation of the international exhibition context as increasingly focused on the new economy of manufacturing. Acompanying the heroic photographs of sheep and forests in a direct modernist style were equally insistent depictions of the machines that transformed wool and wood into products, as well as other images of electricity pylons and rail transport that linked Australia’s development to the possession of modern infrastructure.

As a leading graphic designer Annand knew how to use visual expression to create image and character. The exhibition design was the primary conduit of meaning and experience in the pavilion. Its bold fusion of form and function, dynamic contrast of shapes and surfaces, and compelling repetition of close-cropped images characterised Australia as a vital, outward-looking nation, comfortable with the style of the international avant-garde. Annand also used the exhibition design to demonstrate the application and scope of Australian products. The dramatic parquetry floor of the exhibit was made of specially selected Australian hardwood timbers (Beiers 1939, 78). Annand also specified Australian modernist timber furniture to be used throughout the pavilion, suggesting Australia’s emerging capacity in design and manufacturing. Despite the quality of the exhibition design, however, Annand’s stylistic modernisation of Australia’s image could not compete with the extent of industrial and technological development demonstrated by other nations and leading corporations. It was not until Expo ’67 that modernisation became the transcendent thematic index to the Australian Pavilion, although Australia’s pavilion at the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition, Wellington, 1939–40, like the 1939 New York pavilion, also predicts this change. William Toomath (2000) argues two architectural ideas of the 1930s – Art Deco and the Modern Movement – were on display at Wellington, the ‘pure modern architecture’ of Frederick Romberg’s design for the Australian Pavilion upstaging the host nation’s choice of a populist ‘streamline Art Deco style’ (109). Certainly, the striking modernity of Romberg’s design was noted in the exhibition’s Pictorial Souvenir (1939) as marking Australia out from other exhibitors, even if it was regarded as ‘unusual’ in its starkness.


Expo ’67 marks Australia’s return to international exhibitions after nearly thirty years. Planned during the period of economic disengagement from Britain, the pavilion reveals how the register for Australia’s self-representation had unfolded since 1939. Australia now emphasised its scientific and technical proficiency with large-scale models of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and the Parkes radio telescope, as well as evidence of manufacturing capacity through examples of modernist furniture and product design (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Hostesses and model of the Parkes radio telescope, Australian Pavilion, Expo ’67, Montreal.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [AA1982/206, 44])

Although activity in the secondary and tertiary sectors of the Australian economy was undoubtedly supported by income from primary industry, signs of advanced social infrastructure, manufacturing and modern lifestyles aligned more readily with the emphasis on modernisation at international exhibitions. Replacement of the image of a resource-rich Australia enjoying primary producer–manufacturer complementarity with Britain reflected Australia’s postwar agenda to strengthen national and economic security by accelerating industrialisation, an objective driven by the experience of two world wars and a depression. Since the late 1940s economic reformers in the federal bureaucracy had also argued for the internationalisation of Australian exports, seeing dependence on Britain and the imperial network as risky when Australia was so reliant on overseas trade for the purchase of its primary products (Capling 2000).

Yet many were ambivalent about such changes and their implications for national identity. Any reading of Australia’s economic history from the end of the Second World War through the 1960s reveals a tangle of competing factors hinging on issues of growth, stability, employment, international relations and defence, with little consensus on economic direction. Certainly, when the planning for Expo ’67 began in mid 1965 the postwar expansion of mining and secondary industry had reduced the economic and social importance of agriculture. However, national identity is as grounded in culture and history as it is in contemporary events and economic facts. As Roland Barthes stressed, myths once established tend to appear as irrefutable truths. In the 1960s the iconography of the landscape and rural life maintained a place in Australian culture, both high and low, despite the inroads made by the values and styles of modernism and the emerging recognition of the place of suburban experience and consumer culture in Australian society (see Boyd 1960). Similarly, the sense of Britain as a historical and cultural home made the idea of an independent Australia disturbing to many Australians.

Expo ’67 played its part as a government propaganda exercise designed to encourage public sentiment to move with changed political and economic times. As temporary events with high attendance and media exposure, international exhibitions have been characterised as tools of government policy and ideology (Roche 2000, 8–11). Not coincidentally, Australia’s return to international exhibitions with a revised self-representation was concurrent with Britain’s intention to join the European Economic Community and Australia’s rapidly expanding exports to the emerging industrialised economies of East Asia, both of which made it important for Australia to be perceived as advanced and independent by new and potential trade and investment partners.

Expo ’67 was undoubtedly a powerful expression of a modernised Australia for international and Australian audiences. The cogency of that new image can be largely attributed to Australian designers’ commitment to modernism and design’s growing service role in business and society. By the mid-1960s any Australian architect or designer in a position to undertake a major commission like an Expo pavilion was an adherent of design modernism, which Stephen Heller and Seymour Chwast (2000) argue had become the international ‘transmission code’ for delivering the values and messages of corporations and governments to ‘specific audiences’ (9). Modernism’s emphasis on a total and integral design challenged architects and designers to forge explicit relationships between all elements of a project while their skills were increasingly dedicated to communicating ideas and values for clients, emphasising strategy-setting and the need to sustain styles and meanings across a range of applications and contexts. Both James Maccormick, the pavilion architect, and Robin Boyd, the exhibition designer, had worked in the same leading architecture practice of Grounds, Romberg and Boyd. The capacity to offer extended and integrated design services gave this practice a competitive edge.

At Expo ’67 the Australian Exhibit Organisation (AEO) did not relinquish all established motifs of Australian identity. The pavilion included a grove of gum trees, stocked with kangaroos and wallabies, examples of Indigenous art and images of the landscape, farming and mining among the various representations of Australian life. However, these were packaged through modernist design while a strong new emphasis on science and technology dominated physical exhibits. Early on certain officials had favoured a kangaroo-shaped building (‘Soft-spoken chairs …’ 1967, 32). There was no such stipulation when Maccormick, Principal Architect with the Commonwealth Department of Works, was asked at short notice to provide ‘a notional design’ to Cabinet to demonstrate ‘what an Expo building could be like’.7 He conceived the design around four ribbed pillars that fused form and function in doubling as light and ventilation wells (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Model of James Maccormick’s design for the Australian Pavilion, Expo ’67, Montreal.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [AA1982/206, 45])

The design led to Maccormick’s appointment as pavilion architect even though the government had intended to brief a private architect.8

Maccormick presented his initial design with two less expensive options to Cabinet on 25 January 1966, the last day in office of prime minister Sir Robert Menzies. It was duly selected for implementation.9 While a revision of Australia’s image at international exhibitions was clearly necessary, the ready acceptance of the modernist pavilion design belies how long the vanguard-traditionalist controversy had raged in official circles in Australia. Menzies, in particular, had an entrenched antipathy to modernism, hinging on his belief that Australian national identity demanded a definitive expression best found in the pastoral landscape tradition. As prime minister he appointed individuals who shared his position to the Contemporary Art Advisory Board (CAAB), which selected art for official overseas exhibitions, resulting in Australia’s representation by outdated works at contemporary exhibitions up to the late 1950s (Scott 2003). Yet the only words James Maccormick can remember Menzies uttering in response to his design were ‘Gothic fan vaulting eh?’, after a phrase Maccormick had used in his presentation, followed by the question ‘How much does it cost?’.10 Whether this was due to Menzies differentiating between modern art and design in the expression of national identity or his imminent retirement cannot be known. Menzies was, however, concerned enough about the image Australia presented at Expo ’67 to appoint Robert Campbell, CAAB member and Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, to select art for the pavilion.11

Campbell’s selection of works was finalised in late June 1966, five months after the retirement of Menzies. Informed by discussion with Robin Boyd, it comprised modernist figurative, landscape and abstract works and did not meet with complete approval. In a note to the AEO that might have been written by Menzies, Sir Valston Hancock, Commissioner-General for Expo ’67, observed:

With one exception, all the paintings initially selected by Mr Campbell were abstract and symbolic. I viewed them with dismay, as there were no examples of the fine art of which many Australians are capable … my efforts were directed towards selecting … at least the paintings that reflected the light and colours of the Australian scene and … projected an image of a vigorous and adventurous people. I fear the choice scarcely achieves this. My opinion is that Australians, like the rest of the world, have been ‘spoofed’ by the form of modern art.12

Regardless, 27 paintings from Campbell’s selection went to Montreal. For the first time, at Expo ’67, Australia’s national image was overtly woven around the relationship of modernist cultural expression and technological modernisation.

The emphasis on science and technology in the Australian Pavilion can be partly attributed to the Expo theme, ‘Man and His World’. After the commercialised, carnival atmosphere of the1964 New York World’s Fair, Canada had set out to restore the role of international exhibitions in surveying human culture and technological progress. Exhibitors were challenged to base their pavilions around Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s statement, ‘To be a man is to be convinced that one is taking a hand in building the world’ (Boyd 1967, 24). The promotion of nation, however, still drove the spectacle of advanced design and technology at the Expo, exemplified by the extraordinary geodesic dome of the USA pavilion, the Apollo capsule hanging in its upper reaches.

Participating in Expo ’67 cost the federal government the huge sum of three million dollars (Boyd 1967, 22), suggesting the importance it placed on raising the nation’s international profile there.13 The pavilion’s elements emphasised Australia’s tangible and intangible assets, alternating between evidence of advanced science and technology and the manipulation of visitors’ emotional and perceptual responses, with design being a central conduit of meaning and affect (Figure 3).

Maccormick aimed to create ‘a simple functional, restrained enclosure’ as ‘a quiet haven of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of the Fair’.14 Sensory experience and visual impression were used as much as exhibits to transmit the desired message for Australia. For example, Expo ’67 took a far more subtle approach to wool promotion than at previous Australian Pavilions, where an explicit iconography of wool had dominated. Much of the interior, including many interior walls, was upholstered in high-quality Australian wool carpet. Alternations with hard floors heightened the sense of the carpet’s plushness and durability. The message on wool was carried through to the bright orange, wool gabardine uniforms designed by prime minister Harold Holt’s wife, Zara, for the young Australian ‘hostesses’ who guided approximately 1000 visitors per hour around the pavilion, adding their own personalities to the ‘Australian experience’ (‘Soft-spoken chairs …’ 1967, 32). While historically Expo pavilions were crammed with exhibits, albeit in artful and meaningful arrangements, Australia’s Expo ’67 pavilion was almost emptied out in an expression of international modernism’s ‘less is more’ philosophy. The pavilion became the primary spectacle, its look and feel moving between corporate foyer, hotel lobby and luxury home.


Figure 3. Interior with hostesses and Expo sound chairs, Australian Pavilion, Expo ’67, Montreal.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [AA1982/206, 28])

The most successful attractions of the Australian Pavilion were the animal exhibit and 240 flamboyant Expo sound chairs. Boyd had commissioned the industrial designers Grant and Mary Featherston to design a light and comfortable lounge chair for the pavilion, capable of withstanding the estimated 20,000 people who would sit on each one during the exhibition. The chairs were placed in an informal arrangement accompanied by occasional tables bearing books and ashtrays to evoke the ease of Australian life.15 Their design drew on the Featherston’s commercially successful Contour range of the 1950s and early 1960s but their construction was new to Australia. Using shells moulded in expanded, rigid polystyrene (Lane 1988, 55), the chairs showed Australia possessed advanced manufacturing capacities and designers who knew how to exploit new materials and technologies to expand design possibilities.16 The chairs also incorporated embedded speakers that allowed visitors to hear prominent Australians commenting on topics in the areas of ‘Science’, ‘National Development’, ‘The Arts’ and Australia’s ‘Way-of-Life’.17 These included Sir Robert Menzies on natural resources, Rolf Harris on humour, Harry Hopman on sport, Morris West on the Australian character, Googie Withers on Australian literature and prime minister Harold Holt on industrial development. The commentaries were available in French and English – orange upholstery for French and dark green upholstery for English – exemplifying the systems thinking that went into the pavilion design.18 Reinforcing the message about Australia’s design and manufacturing capacity were two other commissioned chairs, one by Fred Lowen, Chief Designer of the Fler Company, and Kjell Grant’s Montreal Chair, its single cantilever leg mimicking a kangaroo’s tail. Robin Boyd had a strong track record in specifying Australian design in Grant’s work (Serle 1995, 97).

Public service protocol meant that James Maccormick and Boyd could not discuss their design ideas until Boyd’s formal appointment as Exhibit Designer, by which time the pavilion design was set.19 However, as an architect Boyd developed a schema to work in dialogue with the pavilion. It included innovative, if somewhat gimmicky, display furniture in plastic and metal such as the central aluminium ‘tree’ that presented large, backlit colour photographs of aspects of Australian life, each oriented to the position of a viewer walking up the pavilion’s central ramp (Figure 4).

Although exhibition design may seem like a step away from architecture, for Boyd it was a necessary financial supplement to his architecture practice (Serle 1995, 297–298). Contributing to the Australian Pavilion continued Boyd’s established public role as an analyst of Australian society and advocate for modern design. Exhibition design was also validated within modernism through the lineage of experimentation in exhibition techniques tracing back to the Russian avant-garde and the Bauhaus, which emphasised the challenges and possibilities in relating objects and images to the architectural framework and the viewing audience.


Figure 4. Interior, Australian Pavilion, Expo ’67, Montreal.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [AA1982/206, 45])

The pavilion’s modernism communicated an image of a progressive Australia, complementing the message imparted by the examples of Australian expertise in science and technology. As well as the models of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and the Parkes radio telescope, exhibits included displays of world-class Australian research in medicine and agricultural science while ‘space-age’ film screens showed images of everyday life in Australia (Boyd 1967, 22). Modernist design was shown to be contributing to the quality of Australian life through a replica of Canberra as a model city, Gordon Andrews’ up-to-date designs for Australian currency and displays of product design. Boyd used art to counteract the impression that Australia was a ‘young’ and culturally unsophisticated country. The inclusion of ‘Aboriginal bark paintings’ demonstrated Australia’s age and depth of culture.20 Works by established modernists including Arthur Boyd, William Dobell, Ian Fairweather, Elwyn Lynn, Sidney Nolan, John Olsen, Norma Redpath, Albert Tucker and Fred Williams reinforced the progressiveness of Australian society.21 Although by 1967 emerging artists were beginning to challenge such artists’ liberal-humanist view of art as individual creativity and expression, Australian media reports noted the vanguard character of the art at Expo (‘Soft-spoken chairs …’ 1967, 32). Boyd also used art works as information design, commissioning artists to produce large panels to be built into the interior architecture to address the perception that visitors would know little of Australia. One showed Australia’s geographic position, another superimposed Australia over North America to indicate the size of the continent while another illustrated the nation’s chief mineral resources and topographic features.22


Osaka was the first official international exhibition granted to Asia. One had been planned for Tokyo in 1940 but was cancelled because of the Second World War and Japan’s conduct in China (Allwood 1977, 176). With its theme of ‘progress and harmony for mankind’ and central motif of cherry blossom, Expo ’70 was part of Japan’s postwar rehabilitation to international cultural citizenship. The site was conceived as a city of the future, demonstrating how synergies in science, technology and the arts could humanise modern urban life (see Bell 2005). More than 70 countries participated and an estimated 50 million people attended, encouraged by extensive international media coverage. Officially, Australia’s pavilion subscribed to the Expo theme. The Commonwealth Government, however, had more specific aims in participating, regarding Osaka as more important to Australian interests than Montreal for its scope to develop and refine the relationship with Japan, now Australia’s major trading partner.23 The Australian Pavilion targeted Japanese perceptions that Australia was under-industrialised and its citizens ‘coarse’ and ‘uncultured’ while holding different values to the Japanese.24 Participation in Osaka also sent a message to Australians. While trade relations between Australia and Japan were normalised in the second half of the 1950s, in 1970 ordinary Australians were still not necessarily reconciled with Australia’s economic links to Asia. The government saw Expo ’70 as raising consciousness at ‘the popular level’ of the closeness of the relationship with Japan and its importance to Australia’s economic development and security.25


In planning for Expo ’70 officials from the Department of External Affairs advised James Maccormick, again pavilion architect, that the design should reinforce Australia’s geographic location in the Asia Pacific and ‘strike a chord of sympathy in the audience by showing that certain values of the Japanese, held to be good, are also respected and striven for in Australia’.26 This was to be primarily achieved through ‘an architecturally imaginative and aesthetically pleasing building’.27 Media reports of Expo ’67 concentrate on the innovation of the Expo sound chairs. Those for Expo ’70 focus on the pavilion design, its main body suspended from a 128-foot high cantilever arm dubbed the ‘sky-hook’, fulfilling the expectation of monumental feature architecture in Expo pavilions28 (Figure 5).

Beyond this attention-grabbing element, the pavilion and its contents were framed around a complex symbolic program that sought to create a greater respect for Australia among the Japanese. A briefing paper from External Affairs informed Maccormick, ‘it is the general Japanese attitude that, although they understand other countries, the foreigner does not understand Japan’.29 Changing this perception for Australia strongly influenced Maccormick’s design in both its iconography and at the level of abstraction.

Maccormick attempted an ‘East–West’ approach to design, aiming to reflect both Japanese reverence for nature and Australia’s technical capacity, arguing that such a balance of opposing elements was consistent with principles of ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’, which he interpreted as broadly Asian rather than specifically Taoist in derivation.30 He visited Japan in 1967 in preparation for Osaka, noting elements of Japanese architecture that he later integrated into the pavilion design to demonstrate Australian knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture. The design included an underground section accessed through a pedestrian tunnel inspired by the Japanese preference for aspects of a building to be revealed with an element of surprise.31 The floating form of the pavilion roof was a stylised lotus shape, suggesting the transcendence of gravity in sympathy with what Maccormick regarded as the Japanese emphasis on ‘control of their physical environment’.32 Outside such attempts at cross-cultural design the Australian Pavilion aimed to communicate the nation’s technical and industrial capacity, External Affairs stressing the need to ‘make the Japanese people realise that our industries are expanding and extremely important to our future even though we can provide food and raw materials’.33

In the early planning for Osaka there was strong debate over whether Australia’s primary or secondary industry should be promoted due to the greater economic importance of trade in primary products with Japan. Some called for the Osaka exhibit to be themed around Australia’s mineral resources, stressing how they had fueled Western industrial development.34 Maccormick’s design reports reveal others warning it was ‘not desirable politically to place undue emphasis on raw materials’, believing the pavilion design should defray the developing perception of Australia as the ‘quarry of Asia’.35 Frustrated by the simplicity of this discussion, Maccormick argued that diverse messages could be contained in the one design, the cantilever arm reflecting Australia’s exploitation of its minerals for inventive design and manufacturing.36 Similarly, he saw the underground section of the pavilion as suggesting mining activity while demonstrating architectural sophistication, enthusing ‘no other country at either Brussels in 1956 or Montreal in 1967 ever conceived putting its exhibition space underground’.37


Figure 5. Australian Pavilion, Expo ’70, Osaka.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [A1200, L86402])

Discussions over Australia’s exhibit reveal a determined effort to optimise the trade relationship with Japan. With Australia supplying raw materials and Japanese consumer goods beginning to dominate the Australian market, the relationship echoed the position of primary-producer-manufacturer complementarity with Britain. The Osaka pavilion was meant to balance trade negotiations with Japan by emphasising how wealth from primary industries had generated manufacturing and service industries in Australia while depending on advanced infrastructure and social organisation. Robin Boyd’s accompanying exhibition schema aimed to elevate Australia in Japanese eyes by showing that ingenuity and creativity had both a historical and current presence in Australia, including in its agriculture and extractive industries. Boyd approached this task by constructing a hierarchy of themes and sub-themes organized through architecture and incorporating technological innovations in art and communications that saw the form and content of the exhibit become largely synonymous (Figure 6).


Figure 6. ‘Space Tube’, Australian Pavilion, Expo ’70, Osaka.
(Courtesy of National Archives of Australia [A1200, L86233])

In the main exhibition area, dubbed the ‘Space Tube’, viewers were transported on two moving walkways past a mosaic of display compartments. Boyd’s approach bears an evident visual and conceptual closeness to the Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer’s Diagram of Field of Vision (1930), reflecting Bayer’s idea of placing viewers at the centre of the exhibition space with objects and images ranged around them, creating visual dynamism while using all of the exhibition space in an arc from floor to ceiling. Raisbeck and Wollan (2003) describe how its integration of technology into architecture reflected the work of Archigram and the Japanese Metabolists. The expo sub-themes – ‘Man’, ‘Man and Nature’, ‘Man and the Man-made’ and ‘Man and Man’ – were acknowledged as wall texts in the pavilion.38 Boyd, however, developed his own themes of ‘Australia today’, ‘Australian technology’ and ‘Australian–Japanese relations’ to tell a story of Australian society that unfolded through design.39

Criticism was leveled at the complexity of the exhibition design and the fact that the traveling walkways gave viewers only seconds to consider each display case.40 However, Boyd’s design stressed dynamic reception processes and viewer experience, not set information. Displays were mostly visual to accommodate the linguistic diversity of exhibition audiences, some displays being augmented through sound and animation. Boyd commissioned Stanislaus Ostoja-Kotkowski to produce laser-beam images (Serle 1995, 297) for the pavilion, a technology introduced to the world at Expo ’67 (Roche 2000, 46). The exhibition schema began with the ‘immensity, antiquity and mystery’ of Australia, acknowledging the work of Australian anthropologists in investigating the country’s prehistory and Indigenous cultures.41 Australian scholarship was stressed through displays of groundbreaking scientific and medical research. Research on desalination and solar energy sought to demonstrate a concern for nature while projects about the universe and Antarctic sought to show Australian interests extending beyond Australia and operating through international cooperation.42 Australian agriculture and mining were shown to be scientific and technologically based, historical surveys of Australian aviation and agricultural implements revealing that the nation’s inventiveness was well established.

Information on agriculture and mining was balanced by displays of high technology (astronomy equipment and computing), ambitious engineering projects (the Snowy Mountains Scheme) and automotive technology (the world-beating Repco-Brabham Formula One engine). Exhibits on the arts, everyday sporting and leisure activities, and model suburbs and housing emphasised the quality of Australian life as a reflection of its economic development. One exhibit made factual comparisons between Japan and Australia while stressing the many ways in which the two countries were linked by trade, travel, communications and cultural exchange. However, in the main it was Boyd’s exhibition design and Maccormick’s architecture that gave voice and definition to the expression of Australia’s progressiveness, establishing a purposeful relationship between the need to demonstrate modernisation, Australia’s cultural, technical and intellectual capacity, and the rural and extractive industries on which the nation’s economic growth and export prospects depended.


By the mid 1960s Australia’s changing economic and geopolitical circumstances required it to revise its self-representation at international exhibitions, a context dedicated to spreading an ethos of modernisation. Expo ’67 and Expo ’70 are significant in this respect. Where previously Australia had used rural imagery and the value and abundance of its primary products as the basis for self-promotion, in Montreal and Osaka it provided a more diverse picture of its national character, culture and productivity. Motifs of Australia’s distinctive animals, landscapes and indigenous culture were retained but a new imagery of science and technology replaced the previous focus on rural industry, the metaphoric languages of modern design amplifying exhibition content to better align Australian identity with modernisation. The ambitious nature of the Montreal and Osaka pavilions underscores government investment in this new identity, which was widely publicised by the Australian media. Although the Australia of the late 1960s still depended on primary industry for its main export income and Australian farming and mining were often innovative in their selection and adaptation of techniques and equipment, the spectacle of primary products no longer held the same power of enticement to immigration and investment as it once did. This is where designers were most useful; for their commitment to modernism, their ability to use form to embody ideas and their experience in maintaining values across a complexity of elements. They were encouraged in their endeavours, no doubt, by the exceptional opportunity to promote Australian design to the world as well as to the majority of Australians still wary of modernism.


1    International exhibitions are referred to by several terms depending on the date and context of the exhibition. The English favour the term ‘exhibition’, the French ‘exposition’ and the Americans ‘fair’. These terms are often used interchangeably, though they have different inferences. The terms ‘exposition’ and ‘exhibition’ have more lofty cultural implications whereas World’s Fair, as for example the New York’s World Fair of 1939, is more connected with commerce and entertainment. The generic term Expo has been in usage since Expo ’58, also known as the Brussels World’s Fair, Brusselse Wereldtentoonstelling or Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles.

2    In 1959–60 the percentage of total Australian exports to Britain and Japan was 26.5% and 14.3% respectively. In 1965–66 it was 17.3% and 17.4%. Source: A1209/43, (1967)/7117 pt.2, Australian Overseas Trade (undated), National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA), Canberra.

3    ‘Memorandum Circulated by the Minister for Commerce Concerning the Paris International Exhibition of Arts and Crafts in Modern Life’, undated, Paris Exhibition 1937 Organisation Pt.III, A601, 666/6/11, NAA.

4    Memorandum Circulated by Minister for Commerce Paris International Exhibition.

5    JF Murphy, Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, ‘Memorandum Paris Exhibition 1937’, 17 December 1936, Paris Exhibition 1937 Organisation Pt.1, A601, 666/6/4, NAA.

6    These are collected in A601, 666/6/11, NAA.

7    James Maccormick, Letter to Geoffrey Serle, 2 April 1996, Personal Archive of James Maccormick (hereafter AJM), Brisbane.

8    Maccormick, Letter to Serle 1996.

9    Maccormick, Letter to Serle 1996.

10    Maccormick, Letter to Serle 1996.

11    Letter by TJ McMahon, Executive Officer of the Australian Exhibit Organisation [hereafter AEO] to WC Wentworth MP, 13 May 1966, ‘Expo ’67 Australian Artists: Works for Inclusion in Art Gallery Section’, A463, 1965/5070, NAA.

12    VB Hancock, Note for File, 4 July 1966, A463, 1965/5070, NAA.

13    The Reserve Bank of Australia’s inflation calculator estimates that $3 million in 1967 was worth $27, 907, 956 in 2005. See

14    James Maccormick, ‘Australian Pavilion, Expo ’67: Design Report’, 9 January 1967, p. 2, AJM.

15    ‘Striking Pavilion for Expo ’67’, press release, AEO, 3 February 1966, A5882/1, CO 137, NAA.

16    Danish De Luxe, a Melbourne manufacturer of quality furniture, moulded the shell.

17    Maccormick, Expo ’67 Design Report: 6.

18    Maccormick, Expo ’67 Design Report: 6.

19    Maccormick, Expo ’67 Design Report: 2.

20    Maccormick, Expo ’67 Design Report: 6.

21    Hancock, Note for File, 1966.

22    ‘Striking Pavilion for Expo ’67’.

23    Department of External Affairs, ‘Expo ’70 Possible Themes for Australia’, 22 March 1968, quoted in Maccormick ‘Report by Pavilion Architect JC Maccormick Commonwealth Department of Works. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70’, AJM.

24    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70.

25    ‘Japan World Exhibition: Osaka, 1970’, Cabinet paper issued in the names of Paul Hasluck, Minister for External Affairs and J McEwen, Minister for Trade and Industry, 27 June 1967, A5882, CO137, NAA.

26    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70.

27    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70.

28    See for example Vanderwall 1970, 25.

29    Maccormick, Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 6.

30    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 4.

31    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 6.

32    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 3.

33    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 6.

34    EK Sinclair, ‘Suggested Theme and Presentation for Australia’, 14 December 1967, quoted in Maccormick, Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 5.

35    James Maccormick, ‘Design Evaluation: Australian Pavilion Expo ’70’: 4, AJM.

36    Maccormick Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70: 5.

37    Maccormick. Design Philosophy of Australian Pavilion. Expo ’70.

38    Robin Boyd, ‘Expo ’70 Osaka: The Australian Pavilion Proposals for the Exhibits’: 4–5, AJM.

39    Boyd, The Australian Pavilion Proposals.

40    James Maccormick, ‘Expo ’70 Review of Design Procedures’, AJM.

41    Boyd, The Australian Pavilion Proposals: 8–11.

42    Boyd, The Australian Pavilion Proposals.



‘Australian Overseas Trade’, A1209/43, (1967)/7117 pt.2, National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA), Canberra.

‘Expo ’67 Australian Artists: Works for Inclusion in Art Gallery Section’, A463, 1965/5070, NAA.

‘Expo ’70: Japan World Expostion – Osaka 1970’, A5882/1, CO 137, NAA.

Paris Exhibition 1937 Organisation Pt I, A601, 666/6/4, NAA.

Paris Exhibition 1937 Organisation Pt III, A601, 666/6/11, NAA.

Personal archive of James Mccormick, Brisbane.


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Cite this chapter as: Barnes, Carolyn; Jackson, Simon. 2008. ‘“A significant mirror of progress”: Modernist design and Australian participation at Expo ’67 and Expo ’70’. Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, edited by Darian-Smith, Kate; Gillespie, Richard; Jordan, Caroline; and Willis, Elizabeth. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 20.1–20.19.

© Copyright 2008 Carolyn Barnes and Simon Jackson
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   by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, Elizabeth Willis