Estonia 1901 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1970

  • Australia from 1926


Melbourne, Victoria, Australia commenced 1863

printer, lithographic (organisation)


commenced 1934 – 1970

publisher (organisation)

Australia surf club. c.1936 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, posters, ink; paper lithograph, printed in colour inks, from multiple stones Support: paper
Edition State: published state
Impression: undesignated impression as issued
Edition: print run unknown

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: printed image 98.6 h x 60.9 w cm sheet 101.6 h x 63.4 w backing sheet 106.8 h x 67.8 w
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1626
Subject: Australia, travel poster
Image rights: © Nik Sellheim, courtesy Josef Lebovic Gallery

Gert Sellheim was born of German parents in Estonia. Initially trained as an architect, he was in the first exodus of émigrés from Europe in the 1920s who anticipated German repression.

In 1930, Sellheim moved to Melbourne where he set up his own architectural practice and also began designing and exhibiting posters. It was not until the 1930s that commercial art became recognised in Australia as a profession. Sellheim produced many commercial designs, most memorably the QANTAS flying kangaroo. Increasingly, Sellheim’s work became more closely associated with the Australian tourist industry with his most memorable posters being produced for the Australian National Travel Association, which were widely distributed overseas. Tailored for an international market, Sellheim’s images display the archetypes of Australian beach culture with catch phrases like ‘Sunshine and Surf’ and ‘Surf Club’.

From 1902, beach swimming and surfing had become a popular recreational and sporting pastime – part of the Australian way of life. As surf bathing grew rapidly in popularity, its dangers also became apparent, which in turn spawned the surf lifesaving movement that this poster promotes.

Sellheim was considered to be one of the most innovative poster designers and Australia Surf Club is typical of his cutting-edge design: he employed a strongly diagonal composition with dynamic repeated elements of lifesavers participating in a routine reel-and-line rescue exercise. Surf, sun and sand are strikingly captured by Sellheim with his use of flat areas of colour – the sea blue of the stylised foaming waves, the deep sandy yellow and ochre of bronzed suntans, with minimal black accents and the white of the paper.

Jude Savage 2002.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002