Archive, Expo 67 Australian pavilion, paper, compiled by Kate Burke, Canada / Australia, 1966-1967
This archive was compiled by Kate Burke who worked as a hostess in the Australian pavilion at Montreal's International and Universal Exposition, known as Expo 67, which ran from 28 April to 29 October 1967. It was one of the twentieth century's largest international expositions, with 62 nations taking part and fifty million visitors. Its 90 pavilions included a series of exhibitions around the theme of 'Man and His World'.
Australia was one of the last countries to commit to involvement in Expo 67, after the Canadian Prime Minister persuaded Sir Robert Menzies that we should take part. The Australian pavilion was hailed as one of the best at Expo 67. Essentially an exercise in public relations presenting the Australian way of life to the world, it coincided with a shift in Australian foreign policy and cultural orientation from Britain to North America.
The unconventional and modern fan vaulted design of the Australian pavilion came from the young architect Jim Maccormick and his team at the Commonwealth Department of Works. Maccormick submitted three designs. On his last day in office, Menzies chose Maccormick's favoured design, even though it cost more than double the allocated budget. The pavilion resembled a large floating square box, with lots of natural light and four funnels that supported the roof and inducted air into the air conditioning system.
Inside the pavilion the exhibits, designed by Robin Boyd, were seen by twenty million people. Themed around the 'spirit of adventure', they were grouped into four categories - science, national development, the arts and way of life. The primary communication aim was to ensure that 'the visitor to the Australian pavilion at EXPO will come away with the knowledge that Australia is no longer an isolated wilderness but a sophisticated, self-reliant nation equal to any in the world' (Australian Exhibit Organisation Staff Manual, p 42). Despite the aspiration to sophistication, the pavilion was landscaped with a bushland setting, decorated with Australian trees, shrubs, flowers and a coral wonderland. There were live kangaroos on display and one escaped for a swim in the St Lawrence.
A highlight of the Australian pavilion was the Lounge area, with 240 hi-tech, talking 'sound chairs', designed by Grant and Mary Featherston. Each chair had built-in speakers activated by a switch under the seat, playing two minute audio commentaries about Australian culture by well-known Australians, in English and French. These 34 recordings were produced by Crawford Productions.
Australia's Commissioner General for Expo 67 was Sir Valston Hancock (ex-RAAF). He oversaw the employment of 21 young women and seven young men chosen to represent Australia as hostesses and attendants. Rosie Fenton, who had been crowned Miss Australia in 1960 and later became well-known as Rosemary Sinclair, endeared herself to the hostesses as their supervisor.
Kate Burke was one of these hostesses and the archive documents the experiences of her and her fellow workers. Known then as Kay or Katie Williams, she arrived in Montreal for a training program six weeks before Expo opened. The hostesses were accommodated in a new high-rise apartment building at 6550 Sherbrooke St Westmount. Although it had a heated pool, conditions were cramped, with five girls per two-bedroom apartment.
Well-dressed, beautiful hostesses from many countries were a feature of Expo 67, but the bright orange outfit worn by the Australian girls made them stand out. The dresses were designed to be knee-length but Kate took hers up after seeing the fashionably short uniforms worn by the English hostesses. The uniform was unusual in not including hats. The Australian male attendants wore dark double-breasted suits with six buttons.
Hostesses were positioned around the pavilion to control the flow of visitors. One of their roles was to look after visitors who used the sound chairs. If a visitor sat in a sound chair for an excessive period, the hostess would request that they vacate it. Hostesses had to switch on the power in the various stands, test the sound chairs and check the cleanliness of the exhibit area each morning.
On Australia's Special Day, 6 June, the Prime Minister Mr Holt visited, the Seekers and Don Burrows performed, and there was a live satellite telecast from Montreal to Australia highlighting Australia's contribution. Worldwide satellite transmissions had only recently become possible and Expo 67 was designed to accommodate such broadcasts.
The hostesses' uniforms, combined with the sound chairs and the white woollen carpet of Boyd's interior, plus the pavilion's modern architecture and the satellite broadcast, created an impressive pop culture and space age aesthetic. The Australian pavilion was judged to be a successful overseas promotion.
The archive consists of documents and photographs created by various makers including the Australian Exhibit Organisation for Expo 67 and its staff, and by the publishers of newspapers and magazines. With the exception of the 1966 letter confirming the employment of Kay Williams, the documents and photographs date from 1967.