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Australian Democratea Tea Bags #2014-0016

Cardboard sleeve supporting five teabags, each of which has a paper or cardboard tab depicting one of the following Prime Ministers (top to bottom): Tony Abbott (holding a ‘boxing kangaroo’), Paul Keating (holding a microphone), John Howard (wearing an Australian tracksuit top), Bob Hawke (holding a comb and, perhaps, a vuvuzela) and Julia Gillard (holding a compass). Each tab is designed so that the prime ministers’ arms are outstretched, allowing the teabag to be amusingly draped over the rim of a teacup or mug as the tea steeps.


The health of Australia’s democratic system is demonstrated by our ability to criticise our political leaders. We especially love to poke fun at our prime ministers, ridiculing their physical characteristics and behavioural quirks. However, we may also admire them and celebrate their achievements. Whatever our opinions, few leaders have escaped caricature. These representations enter our lives and sometimes, as objects, our homes. While some of these objects (such as limited edition commemorative ceramics) have been hand-crafted for connoisseurs, others (candles, fridge magnets, chew toys, dolls and so on) have been commercially mass-produced as an election gimmick, a fund-raising venture, a gesture of support or a symbol of protest. Certainly, cartoons and other light-hearted or satirical artworks, such as the labels of these teabags, help weave the lives of Australia’s leaders into the public consciousness. They demonstrate that personal participation in political satire has long been a part of Australia’s national culture.

These teabags depict five prime ministers: Tony Abbott (2013-), Paul Keating (1991-1996), John Howard (1996-2007), Bob Hawke (1983-1991) and Julia Gillard (2010-2013). Kevin Rudd (prime minister 2007-2010; 2013) is not depicted in the teabag set, and the consumer can only wonder why.

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These teabags have social significance as a contemporary cultural expression of the esteem (or lack of esteem) in which Australian prime ministers are held. Australians’ passion for politics means that politicians can become celebrities and cultural icons in their own right, almost separately from the political system. The impunity with which prime ministers are depicted and lampooned is evident in a variety of politically-inspired paraphernalia, including household objects. The fact that these objects even exist is evidence of Australians’ willingness to incorporate politicians into their private domestic space. After all, if there was no appetite or market for such products, they may not have been manufactured.

By associating politicians with the social rituals of tea preparation, and the social values and even social cohesion fostered by tea consumption, the manufacturers acknowledge that the one thing all Australians have in common is their prime minister—and all will have an opinion on him or her. The tea bags thus have a social purpose: they are a talking point, sparking political debate or reminiscence, or cathartic release through harmless punishment by proxy (dipping an effigy of a hated politician in boiling water). They demonstrate that personal participation in political satire is part of Australia’s national culture.

These teabags have additional social significance in that they were designed by a Hamburg-based graphic designer, Thomas Kappes. His use of caricatures and symbols—a compass for a supposedly lost or confused Gillard, a comb for the hirsute Hawke, the tracksuit for the perpetually daggy Howard—are fascinating for their encapsulation of the perceived character or legacy of the prime minister, from a foreigner’s perspective. (Keating’s microphone is a neat yet possibly unintentional nod to Keating! The Musical! as well as the prime minister’s oratorical skills and previous career managing The Ramrods). The fact that Kappes has designed similar teabag sets depicting British Royalty, world leaders (Putin, Obama, Merkel, etc), rock stars, film stars, artists, composers and fashion designers further demonstrates the concept of politician as celebrity.

  • Australian Democratea Tea BagsAustralian Democratea Tea Bags —


Width 113mm
Height 300mm
Depth 3mm
Medium Paper; cardboard; cellophane; tea leaves; ink; metal
Creator’s name Donkey Products GMBH & Co.
Date created 2013