Diving into Traces edition 12, contributor Natasha Cantwell explores the Victorian Railways and the obsession with dried fruit.
It’s 1925, and the world’s busiest passenger station is promoting raisins in a big way. If you think that might be a hard sell, you need to take a look at the beautiful kiosk that once greeted hungry commuters inside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station. Like a grown-up version of the candy store in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the tiny wooden stall was packed with jars of nuts, flowers and pretty parcels of dried fruits. Even the lettering on the meticulously handcrafted sign appears to be made entirely out of raisins.
Far from being a public health campaign, the promotion of fruit across Victoria also extended to fruitcake and raisin bread. This was, in fact, part of a shrewd business move by a ‘think outside the box’ kind of leader, who helped the railways see record profits in the mid 1920s. Harold Winthrop Clapp, who became Chairman of the Victorian Railways Commissioners on 17 September 1920, had a holistic view of the state’s economy and believed that ‘the prosperity of the railways depended on the producers and manufacturers of the State’1. Clapp figured that if he could encourage the public to purchase more local produce, then demand would grow for the railway’s freight business. By 1923, he was able to test his theory by opening the first chain of fruit kiosks in Flinders Street Station. Lush, tropical and bursting with life, the fresh and dried fruit stalls were artful displays – so full of produce that there was barely any room for the shop assistants.
Not everyone, however, was a fan of Clapp’s innovative campaigns. In 1926, he told Melbourne newspaper The Argus that he ‘had been taken to task by artists and architects for defacing the Flinders Street Station with posters and fruit stalls’2. Undeterred, he felt that the fact people were laughing at him ‘showed that the posters were an excellent effort at publicity’3.
While his predecessor had outsourced advertising to a private company, Clapp took a hands-on approach and by July 1923 had taken over the whole railway advertising business. He began commissioning strikingly modern posters from the leading graphic artists of the day, including Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Gert Sellheim. Sellheim’s posters from the 1930s are especially memorable for their use of bold fonts and photo collage. Ingeniously, he would contrast the bright colours of the fruit against an otherwise black and white image.
The posters’ slogans ranged from the very direct Eat more fruit! to the slightly ridiculous Everyday in everyway, raisins. These tag lines were credited in the media as being Clapp’s handiwork and received even more mockery than the visual aspects of the campaign.
To continue reading, pick up a copy of Traces edition 12 at your local newsagency, or subscribe to edition 13.
1, 2 & 3. ‘Railways Operations: Address by Mr Clapp’ (1926, March 16). The Argus.