Lonely Planet Writer

Australia's colourful, geographically diverse food cartons added to National Library's collection

Ever heard of cartonography? We hadn’t either, but the National Library of Australia‘s online resource Trove has now added the evolving, organic process of cartonography – a combination of cartons and their geographic locations around Australia – to its collection.

“The cartons are a great example of the importance of cultural artefacts, and are indicators of current cultural trends in the fruit growing industry and Australia as a whole,” support officer Tighearnan Kelly told ABC. “Knowing that your great-grandmother had access to a particular biscuit or tea that you still drink today makes your ancestors seem more connected.”

Part of visual artist Sean Rafferty's cartonography collection. Image: Sean Rafferty
Part of visual artist Sean Rafferty’s cartonography collection. Image: Sean Rafferty

Kelly says that collecting the cartons digitally on Trove is the best way to ensure a record is kept of the artefact, even after it physically degrades.

Irish-born Sydney visual artist Sean Rafferty collects colourful fruit and vegetable boxes, and he was the person who coined the phrase ‘cartonography’ to describe his collection of cartons and their geographic locations around Australia. His interest was sparked when he noticed that many cartons were from particular parts of regional Australia, and began to wonder about the producers behind the designs.

Tropico Farms, Tolga, Queensland. #cartonography #produceboxart #tolga #tropicofarms

A photo posted by Sean Rafferty (@cartonographer) on Oct 21, 2015 at 2:23pm PDT

He began collecting and mapping them, and is delighted that his unique collection is now uploaded on a regular basis to the online collection database, Trove. Each record contains a photograph of the carton and details including the location of the farm it came from and any other significant markings. Farmers and producers can add information to be included on the database with their carton.

Rafferty has limited his collection to cartons specifically designed for individual farmers, rather than mass-produced ones, and now has over 500 cartons in his collection. To see his collection, visit here, and to see the collection on Trove, see here.

Part of Sean Rafferty's cartonography collection. Image: Sean Rafferty
Part of Sean Rafferty’s cartonography collection. Image: Sean Rafferty