Women sitting around a table, drinking tea that had been poured from a teapot into tea cups. Advertisements for tea painted on the sides of buildings. In my childhood, in the 1950s, these sights were all around me. I thought they’d always be there. A drink that was advertised on the side of buildings was surely as safe as houses. The women who drank tea were scathing when teabags appeared on the market: “the sweepings from the factory floor”.
I couldn’t have predicted the way things would turn out.
The brands of tea I remember from my childhood in Australia in the 1950s are the aforementioned Billy Tea and:
- Kinkara, and
Brands I heard about later were Robur, Tetley, and Liptons. I plan to write a few posts about all these brands of tea. This post will mention Bushells tea.
After I started this post, back in May 2014, I became completely derailed trying to find out about Tea in Australia. The post arising from that distraction, Some general tea history, is largely based on the PhD thesis Bushells and the cultural logic of branding by Susie Khamis. Here’s what she says (on page 83) about tea advertising:
[B]randing ties products to any number of emotions and ideals; one brand of tea, for example, may conjure images of convenience and efficiency, while another brand of seemingly indistinguishable tea is wrapped up in notions of patriotism and tradition. In other words, brand marketing can invoke a consumer’s sense of identity, as he or she gravitates to whichever brand of tea complements his or her values regime – or, at the very least, this is how most marketing literature posits this scenario.
Emotions, ideals, seemingly indistinguishable tea, values… Not much to do with taste, then! 🙂
The quote supports my impression, dating from seeing these signs and hearing tea ads on the wireless in childhood, that tea advertising is some of the most flagrant manipulation around. As I go through the brands of tea I remember, I’ll give examples of their slogans to illustrate the baldness of their unsupported assertions.
While looking for examples of ads I could show on this blog, I learned that old ads on buildings are known as “ghost signs“. There are hundreds of wonderful Australian examples on the web, mostly photographed by people who reserve all rights. I’m grateful to those who choose to share. I’ll be posting ghost signs associated with most of the brands listed above.
Bushells: The Tea of Flavor
Not at all ghostly Bushells shop sign on the Bundanoon newsagent’s shop
Original photo by Danny Yee
Reproduced here with his kind permission
I love the way the steam rising from that cup looks like a baby squid (or part of a flannel flower) tumbling into the tea! Not so keen on the spelling of “flavor”. A cursory Trove search reveals that it was being used as far back as the 1930s – so it’s not that the recent owners don’t know the Australian spelling.
According to Wikipedia, Bushell’s was Australia’s tea trailblazer: Alfred Bushell is said to have opened the first tea shop in Australia in 1883, and his sons to have founded the first commercial tea seller in 1899. If you look at the Australian Dictionary of Biography, however, there were great swathes of 19th century tea merchants swanning about even earlier.
Bushells is blended, imported tea, as most teas sold in Australia are. Its old slogans focus on “finer flavor”:
- More cups Finer Flavor (one instance of “Flavour” found)
- The Tea of Finer Flavor
- Blue Label Tea: the Multi-refined Tea (one instance)
– Flickr search on “Bushells tea”
Finer than what? What counts as a fine flavour? But hang on; look at this!
“Young tender leaves picked fresh and cured slowly, give Bushells Tea that enticing flavor.”
As well as the young, tender, enticing tea picker, a box of Bushells Blue Label Tea is shown, with the slogan “The flavor is finer”. Goodness me.
(This ad was photographed from the back cover of an old knitting pattern: Cushions and Cosies Series 6 published by Madame Weigel Pty Ltd of Richmond VIC.)
Just by the bye, my mother wouldn’t have Bushells tea in the house. She didn’t like its fine flavour. I on the other hand have revelled in the odd pot of Bushells tea: at Ida Bay in Tasmania in January 2013 and at the Bemboka Pie Shop on the way to the coast. It seemed to me good plain black tea – not too bitter, not too mild – that I could put a slosh of milk in and enjoy.
Bushells has been foreign-owned since 1978, and owned by the UK company Unilever since 1988.