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May 16, 2024

Stobie poles face up to SA History Festival

100 portraits of South Australians are being displayed on 100 Stobie poles throughout the state as part of this month’s History Festival.

  • Words: Louise Jackson
  • Pictures: Nathan Adams
  • Main picture: Roz Hervey, Creative Director of Restless Dance Theatre with a postered Stobie pole

The History Trust of South Australia is displaying 100 portraits of South Australians on 100 Stobie poles during the History Festival running all this month.


South Australian History Festival
May 1 – 30


The portraits, taken by Adelaide-based photographer Jonathan van der Knaap, follow the festival’s theme of “Power” and are pasted up on selected Stobie poles across the state by local artist Hari Koutlakis.

“They all came with their own stories and their own personal perspectives on power,” says Selena Battersby, Co-Director of the creative agency Super Studio.

“People will be able to go and explore these portraits on Stobie poles throughout the month of May.”

Have you spotted the portrait-filled Stobie poles around town?

Portrait subjects include children’s author Mem Fox, journalist and broadcaster Annabel Crabb, SA Lieutenant Governor and Thai cave rescue hero Dr Richard Harris OAM, AFL Executive and Indigenous social activist Tanya Hosch, and author Hannah Kent.

They are featured in the portrait series alongside everyday Australians.

Battersby says the History Festival has partnered with ten local councils to feature the portraits, including the Adelaide Hills, Adelaide, Burnside, Charles Sturt, Mitcham, Onkaparinga, Salisbury, Tea Tree Gully, Port Adelaide Enfield and Barossa.

Stobie poles have become an iconic artistic canvas for South Australians.

The pole’s 100th birthday has prompted a search for a controversial Stobie pole piece by three-time Archibald Prize winner Clifton Pugh. Painted in 1984, it depicted a nude Adam and Eve, artfully covered by a biblical snake.

But Prospect Council ordered the pole to be removed due to public offence and, after a brief stint in the Centre for Performing Arts car park, it disappeared.

Clifton Pugh painting ‘Eve’ on a stobie pole in Prospect, 1984. This picture was provided to Flinders University’s Dunstan Collection by Ruth Starke/via Trove.

The outdoor exhibition is in collaboration with SA Power Networks and celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the Stobie pole, which was invented by James Cyril Stobie to counter the impracticality of importing traditional timber power poles from interstate. Instead, the concrete design could be manufactured in South Australia and was resistant to termites.

The first Stobie pole was erected on South Terrace and there are now more than 650,000 of them across South Australia.

History Festival tours of the Angle Park manufacturing facility in celebration of the Stobie Pole centenary sold out well ahead of the Festival.

History Trust CEO Greg Mackie OAM says the featured South Australians provided personal reflections on the theme of power to accompany their portraits.

“I can think of no better way to showcase the theme of power than by having 100 people telling 100 stories in this way,” Mackie says.

“These incredible portraits, coupled with their subject’s fascinating perspectives offer insights into what South Australians are thinking about power in 2024.”

Stobie pole manufacturing coordinator at SA Power Networks Brian Docking is one of the featured South Australians.

“When I think of power, of course I think of electricity,” Docking says.

“More importantly though, there’s power in giving back.

“It took a while, but one day I woke up and I thought, it’s time to start giving.”

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