Cars taking over the city: art and propaganda

During the last 50 years the motor car has been one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest , influence on the built form and landscape of Australian cities.

There have been recent indications that motor car usage in Melbourne and other cities is peaking, at least in per capita terms, as people seek to get around by more sustainable means. Governments are lagging this imperative, especially in Melbourne, where the city has been permitted to expand towards the horizon with the issue of mobility remaining the plaything of major producer groups.
It is surprising that the motor car and its influence on life has not been the subject of greater artistic expression in recent years.

As reported by Robert Nelson in The Age,  the As if  exhibition of the works of Ken Whisson at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen, may be something of a corrective:

“The Australian landscape triangulated from the restful density of Umbria (in Whisson’s work), is littered with cars and sheds, and most people witness it from cars, which tear up space in ugly striated patterns. Whisson’s deployment of cars is more than spatial punctuation. They’re deposited in the same spirit of rupture as occurs with car travel itself.”


Propaganda and advertising has dominated the rise and rise of the motor car in Melbourne and Australia. Artistic interpretation has come a distant second. This has typically been associated with producer groups such as car manufacturers, motor insurance companies, roads authorities, petrol companies  and toll road operators.

In recent years, however, we have seen the installation of a number of sculptures on the EastLink reservation. More recently, the McClelland Gallery in Langwarrin struck a 25 year multi-million dollar deal to place two sculptures every two years along the soon-to-be-opened Peninsula Link freeway  between Carrum Downs and Dromana. At the end of each two year period they are to be replaced with two new sculptures. Upon retirement from the freeway reservation, the sculptures are to be placed on permanent exhibition at the McClelland Gallery sculpture garden.

What a deal. But what is its purpose? It may anaesthetize the memory of the Mornington Peninsula as it once for car travellers as they whizz along the motor way into what threatens to be a rapidly filling car park.  In addition, it may be explained as compensation to the McClelland Gallery for the unfortunate fact that it will be located only 100 metres from the road noise of Peninsula Link. The “retired” sculptural pieces can also be seen as a parody of sorts of the used car yards and their contents on the nearby Nepean Highway. There is artifice if not art in propaganda!


About Friends of Banyule Inc

President & Public Officer of Friends of Banyule Inc, a community not- for-profit organisation to enhance and protect the environmental assets of Banyule City. Currently fighting the proposed NE Link freeway through one of inner Melbourne's most ecologically sensitive areas and historical areas.
This entry was posted in Car Dependency, Freeway Art, Road Lobby. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cars taking over the city: art and propaganda

  1. Tony B says:

    “… the city has been permitted to expand towards the horizon with the issue of mobility remaining the plaything of major producer groups..” A new report, Victoria in Future 2012, shows that the state’s population is expected to grow from 5.6 million to 7.3 million over the next 20 years, an average annual growth rate of 1.3 per cent. This means that the pressure on our roads, parking and public transport will grow at the same rate. There are no population targets. Our governments are allowing unregulated and runaway population growth, and are expecting the people of Melbourne to accept congestion on the roads, higher costs of living, and be deprived of adequate parking and public transport. “Temporary” employer-sponsored visas are unlimited, and permanent “skilled” immigration will be increased next year. Half of the skilled migrants end up in Melbourne or Sydney, not targeted to where their skills are needed. Julia Gillard blames the States for not controlling their electricity prices, but it’s the poles and wires that must be continually upgraded and expanded for what is a bipartisan agreement that the free-market economy should decide our population growth – not the people.

  2. Mary G says:

    Kelvin Thomson spoke about the East West Link on Saturday at the Royal Park Protection Group AGM. He cited a paper that said that as soon as new roads are constructed, people start making more trips and of course with population growth the roads fill up very quickly. This is the case with the Peninsula Link. Melbourne is in a traffic mess and the key case population growth. In Victoria we are adding 200 per day, 75,000 per year.

    Melbourne 2001 we had 3.3 million people,
    2009- 4 million,
    2050 7 million and more cars
    Cars: 1991- 1.8 million
    2005: 2.45 million.

    Melbourne has more road space than any other city. The increasing cost of congestion and urban sprawl makes things worse. Infrastructure Australia says we need to face the problem of traffic congestion. Kelvin Thomson says the solution is to re-think population growth and referred to his 14 point population plan. Infrastructure situation is like a dog chasing its tail. Post WW2 public transport has failed to failed to keep up with growth. He quoted Ross Garnaut that more roads means emissions.
    Kelvin named some projects he considered worthy-
    rail Victoria Park to Doncaster
    Huntingdale to Roweville
    Belgrave Lilydale duplication
    rail to Monash University

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