Creative People

Welcome To Tim Ross' Design Nation

We’re consistently raving about Tim Ross, but if you’ve seen him talk about design you’ll understand why.

From his sold-out Mid-Century Project to our own TDF Talks, the funny guy and Aussie-design aficionado sure knows how to captivate interest in the built environment!

Today he’s back to get us all excited about bulky torches, Mum’s favourite place-mats (which you’ve since dug out to cherish), and more. We’re talking, of course, about his new exhibition ‘Design Nation’, on now at the Powerhouse Museum as part of Design Festival Sydney.

Tim Ross

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Tim Ross
8th of March 2018

In my early 20s I came up to Sydney from Melbourne with a bunch of my uni friends for the Festival of Student Theatre at the University of Sydney. After a day of boring drama workshops, we were lured by the sights of the city, and that afternoon we found ourselves riding on ferries, wandering around the Sydney Opera House and getting used to the size of schooners of Tooheys New.

On the way back to our motel in Glebe, we stumbled across the Powerhouse Museum. Immediately curious, we piled inside and almost the first thing I saw was a classic Leyland P76 car on display. Next to it were two small screens with headphones telling the story of Mojo, the advertising agency responsible for jingles such as ‘You Ought to be Congratulated’ for Meadow Lea margarine and ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ for World Series Cricket.

I was dumbfounded. This was the first time I’d seen things that had been part of my life represented in a museum.

As a Melbournian, I’d spent too many school excursions looking at Phar Lap and, not that I want to throw shade on an Australian legend, I always felt disconnected from ‘a stuffed old horse in a glass case’.

The programming at the Powerhouse was a revelation to me, and it has had a long-lasting effect. So when the opportunity arose for me to curate an exhibition there on my passion for Australian design, I jumped at it.

With ‘Design Nation‘, a selection of iconic but ubiquitous Australian design objects from the MAAS collection, I’m paying homage to the work of those curators and trying to capture the essence of how I felt on that memorable first visit…

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Gold Phone

It seems crazy to think there was a time before mobile phones when you had to find 30 cents to ring your Mum to tell her to come and pick you up. Ever stranger was that you often did it on a phone designed right here in Australia.

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Dolphin Torch

The Mark 2 Dolphin torch was designed in Sydney by Paul Cockburn in 1974. For the next 14 years it was the highest selling torch in the world. Many would remember them from camping trips, playing spotlight or them rolling atone in the back of Dad’s car.

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.


Designed by Charles Furey for Sebel furniture in 1974, these injection moulded chairs have been sat on my almost all Australians. The mainstay of school halls, public pools and hospitals, the integrated chair has had remarkable success overseas. Most notably almost two million of them have found their way into prisons in the US, who favour them because you can hit someone over the head with them and you won’t do too much damage. In a bright green, red or yellow I think they look superb.

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Cafe-Bar Compact

The Cafe Bar was the replacement for the old fashioned tea lady who used to walk around offices with a tray of tea pots and biscuits. The compact was designed by David Wood in the mid-1970s and it’s contemporary design in plastic saw it win a stack of design awards and fill workplaces both here and abroad. You would grab a cup, twist the handles for a serve of instant coffee and some sugar and then fill it up with hot water that was bubbling away in the central core. It was the 1970s and 1980s version of the Nespresso machine.

Photo – courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Place Mats by Ken Done

Ken Done’s bright and optimistic works were a revelation in the 1980s, and they leapt off the walls of art galleries and on to T-shirts, doona covers and place mats. The fact that his art was both unashamedly Australian and mainstream should be celebrated.

Design Nation’ curated by Tim Ross
March 2nd to December 2nd
Powerhouse Museum
500 Harris Street
Ultimo, Sydney

Don’t get FOMO Melbournians. Tim Ross will also be in town for The Mid Century Project at ICI House for Melbourne Design Week. Find out more information at

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