Harry King of the Posters

One of the joys of summer in Hobart, for me, is to wander around the CBD, or down in Salamanca, when a cruise ship is in. Both locations are abuzz with folk sporting lanyards around their necks, often communicating in foreign tongues and on occasions, asking yours truly for directions or tapping into my local knowledge. I always ask after their provenance and how they are finding us. The word on all their lips seems to be MONA.

Tasmania, particularly down here in the south of our state, is receiving a spike in visitor numbers – not only are more and more ocean liners plying their way to us but airlines are lifting their flights in to cope. Even in winter the recently completed Dark MoFo had the joint hopping and filling hotel beds in the off season. All this is on the back of one visionary man, David Walsh, who is giving our city an edge over its rivals. He continues to plan as big as kunanyi to enhance the burb of his birth.

kelly 02

I remember another time when similar occurred and that was in the early days of Wrest Point, opened in 1973, during my uni stint. As the only casino in Oz the punters flocked in and our former backwater came alive. Then other places caught on and we returned to our slumber.

We are on the cusp of something special, or so it seems. Yet there are also a small group of the well heeled and/or rabid environmentalists who oppose any fresh, innovative ideas to keep the ball rolling. The Battery Point elite, ten in number I believe, have successfully prevented community and tourist access to part of our glorious foreshore because they have cash and therefore, they believe, rights above the rest. Arguments over a cable car to Mount Wellington and a light rail drag on. Even Walsh’s newly proposed tower had its naysayers. All this in tough economic times when our young cannot get jobs!

Ours is a very special place and so alien to the rest of Oz which can focus on beaches, sun, large cultural hubs and the wide open outback. There have been a long line of state government campaigns to attract national and international audiences – some have worked, some have been abysmal.


But let us go back to more innocent times and the first concerted effort on the part of our isle in the southern seas to lure the mainlander to the sublime attractions here. It seemed a no-brainer that the natural wonders to be discovered should tease numerous souls to sail across the Strait. Of course, back then, there weren’t the millions to sink into the multi-media campaigns of today – it was all done on a smaller scale. But it was still seen that our enticements needed to be given a helping hand.

So was it Governor Sir James O’Grady, back in 1926, who set it all in motion with these words?:- ‘I sometimes think that Tasmanians – living in their beautiful surroundings, enjoying their ideal climate, revelling in beauty upon beauty until some of them forget that it is beauty at all – do not realise the bountiful gifts that they have.  I can tell them – and I am glad to do so – that Tasmania is a scenic wonderland without rival, a tourists’ paradise without peer, a holiday Island that has no equal in the Southern hemisphere.  Let your friends of the other States know about these things.’

His comments appeared in the Mercury in September of that year. By November, ET Emmett, head of the Government Tourist Bureau, had commissioned one Harry Kelly to design a series of posters to spruik our island as a serious destination for the Australian tourist pound. What Harry produced are treasured as a pinnacle of advertorial art, with his product having a serious impact in an era way before television and the World Wide Web.

Harry K was a Gallipoli veteran, a resident of Kempton and prominent in local artistic circles. Because of his talents Cadbury at Claremont came to employ him as their art director. Later on he was prominent in producing recruitment posters during the war years, as well as garnering other advertising work.


For his efforts in promoting our Tassie, he was duly praised in an edition of the Hobart newspaper in 1929 – the island was about to find out that it needed every penny it could muster from whatever source:- Tasmania is to be congratulated on the excellent posters that are being designed and printed within the State at the present time for the Tourist Bureau.  The one-sheeters advertising the tourist resorts are works of artistic merit.  The London underground railway has become noted for the series of artistic posters produced to advertise its various lines, and these have been so constantly sought for framing purposes that they are now sold to the public as well as used on hoardings. Two recent paintings by Harry Kelly, the Hobart artist, showing Lake Marion and a trout-fishing scene are worthy artistically of inclusion in such a fine series as that produced by the London underground. Among the Australian States Victoria has produced by far the most striking series of tourist posters but if Tasmania maintains the standard of its recent posters Victoria’s supremacy will soon be challenged.

Gaze on his work promoting the city under Wellington, the wilderness and the lure of the trout – it is still impressive, even in this era of digital complexity.

Recently I was able to view a selection of them in the flesh at the State Library – I refuse to address it under its new branding – and it can still be found around the traps as souvenir items in the form of post cards. Harry Kelly was a pioneer in the promotion of our beloved island and should not be forgotten by history.

1 thought on “Harry King of the Posters

  1. Having just completed another foray into our central wilderness area I can only agree with the sentiments in this article. Such a fantastic area in which to live, such beauty so close to home. Admittedly a few challenges in some weathers as we discovered last weekend but always worth the effort.


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