Helen McLaughlin, University Archivist

The road trip evokes many personal memories from the earliest days of my existence to the present. My early childhood memories are redolent with the nostalgia of the family road trip; although I am not too certain that it was such a cherished activity at the time. It seemed that as a family, every school holidays we were bundled into the car and heading off somewhere — road travel was de rigueur, and we criss-crossed the countryside with never a thought given to the convenience of air travel.

Rain, hail or shine, my parents were dedicated to both the long holiday road trips and the shorter weekend jaunts. Eventually rebellious, resentful teens put an end to the seemingly never-ending trips and picnics but this was but momentary. As we came of an age where we were able to drive ourselves, the hedonistic pleasure of piling into a car, heading nowhere, everywhere, the wind in one’s hair and the stereo way too loud was too pervasive to resist. The mesmerism of the white line dividing the highway, and the back roads twisting around the peninsula and the hills became intoxicating.

Themes of nostalgia and the exploration of not only the open road, but also of culture and myth and the Australian psyche abound in this exhibition. In particular, the Shell Company archives not only document the importance of the growth and use of the motor vehicle in everyday lives, which paralleled the growth of road building in the early 20th century, but also reveal an insight into the culture of the road trip and our history, particularly through the artefacts and photographs in the collection. At what stage did we stop calling service stations ‘lubritoriums’?

Road trip literary and film genres have contributed to the examination of culture and the contrast of ‘otherness’, reminiscent of a microcosm of comparative sociological and anthropological field trips. These are perhaps best examined by the beatnik generation, and the plethora of the American road trip novels — perhaps most famously Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1951) and more recently in films like David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) and Wild at Heart (1990). Australia too has contributed with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and the like. Posters, maps and memorabilia in the Shell Company collection echo this examination, providing guides and suggestions for exploration.

I guess the question we are left with is whether we have lost our sense of adventure with the advent of modern technology. Google Earth, global positioning systems, electronic navigation have somewhat taken the adventure out of the road trip. This exhibition gives us a chance to explore the nostalgia and longing for a bygone era and a fundamental piece of the Australian character, that of exploration and adventure, while revealing a wonderful business collection from the University of Melbourne Archives. Special thanks to the Shell Company Limited, donors of the Shell Company Historical Collection, Guy Featherstone, Shell Company Historian for his input and advice and to Davina Gibbs, Community Relations Manager, RACV Heritage Collection for organising the loan of additional items to complete the exhibition.

To receive a printed copy of the exhibition brochure, please email the curator, Melinda Barrie.