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Every three years Australians are bombarded with political ephemera in the run up to the federal election. Over the course of the campaign we see this material fill our letterboxes and pile up on the kitchen bench. It is a source of information for voters, but to the National Library this special type of printed ephemera has even greater significance.
The Library aims to collect an original copy of every piece of federal election campaign material for the National Ephemera Collection, and to achieve that we need your help!
The term ‘ephemera’ refers to printed works that are produced for a specific short-term purpose. Candidates, parties and interest groups use ephemera during election campaigns to convey targeted messages in an attempt to persuade voters.
The fact that items of ephemera are not meant to survive, is what makes them so very valuable to researchers. When gathered and preserved they provide a tangible and direct link to the past, and a true record of political campaigns and approaches. As noted by Sally Young, author of From banners to broadcasts: a collector’s book of political memorabilia, ephemera “are not affected by memory, self-censorship or a later desire to present oneself in the best possible light.”
The National Library is keen to ensure a permanent documentary record of Australia’s political history is publicly available. We’ve been collecting federal election ephemera comprehensively and impartially since 1983, and thanks to our supporters, we now have the largest collection of political memorabilia in Australia covering every Australian federal election since Federation in 1901.
Election campaign ephemera can offer historians of the future fascinating insights into the history of politics in Australia – the rise and fall of policies, issues, parties and careers. Even variations in the paper, colours, printing techniques, finishes, and size will be of interest to future scholars.
Anyone can request federal election ephemera and broadsides and posters for viewing in our Special Collections reading Room. The collection is used in many ways by readers, including students, historians, journalists, biographers – and sometimes even by the politicians themselves.
Our vast collection is ever expanding and broad ranging. Some of the more unique ephemera items and posters already in the collection include: a 1924 cloth poster stating "Correct electoral enrolment is compulsory – penalty for failure not exceeding £2"; a set of 2 dog toys “Chewlia” Gillard and “Boney” Abbott; and “Pyne’s Pizza” box produced as a Nick Xenophon stunt in 2016 in response to the slogan “Pyne delivers”. The pizza box was designed to be empty, or full of “hot air”, as Xenophon told journalists at a press conference. To learn more about our existing collection you can access the Finding aid to Federal election campaign ephemera (1901-2016) from our website.
The National Library needs your help to collect this fascinating, informative and evocative material. Our aim is to collect and preserve campaign items from every candidate, party, and lobby group during the 2019 federal election campaign.
Despite being produced in vast quantities during a campaign, this material is usually quickly discarded or recycled. Our aim is to collect it as it is produced, as we may not have an opportunity to collect it later.
You can send us the smaller items (A4 size or smaller) for free using our reply-paid address. If you are in Canberra you can also deposit items into one of the clearly-labelled collection boxes in the reading rooms. Please contact us directly if you have large, delicate, or heavy items that you want to send.
Our address is:
Federal Election Campaign Ephemera
National Library of Australia
Reply Paid 83281
Canberra ACT 2600
You can contact us in a variety of ways about this election ephemera collecting campaign. You can ask us a question via our Facebook page, or help us get the word out by retweeting us. To talk directly to our team please use our Ask A Librarian service.
Please share this with your family and friends and help us collect the latest chapter of this important documentary record of Australia’s political history.