The Signs of Melbourne
I have made some discoveries recently about Melbourne’s “sky signs” which are those old neon signs positioned on the tops of buildings that advertise brands.
A few weeks ago, I posted a story about the restoration of the famous Nylex Clock in Richmond (refer to the story here). Well, as you can see from this photo I shot today, the restoration is well underway, and I look forward to seeing the final result.
The Nylex sign in Richmond under restoration
The Nylex Clock is only one of several “sky signs” in Melbourne that are not just iconic but of heritage value as well.Perhaps the most famous of all is “Audrey”, the ‘Skipping Girl’ in Abbotsford. This sign was erected for Skipping Girl Vinegar in 1936. Although Audrey is not heritage listed, she is nonetheless significant as a classic Melbourne Icon. Her design was created by Jim Minogue in 1915, who won a competition to create a symbol for vinegar manufacturers Nycander and Co. Pty Ltd. He based his design on his eight-year old sister, Kitty. After many years in Melbourne’s favour, the original sign fell into disrepair but was replaced in the 1970’s when it became evident the community wanted to keep the Skipping Girl. However, Nycander didn’t want it in the 1980’s and after much controversy was relocated to its current location above a crockery factory. The factory was converted into the trendy Skipping Girl Apartments in the late 1980’s.
I have personally never seen her glow at night, which is a pity. Perhaps the trendy residents of Skipping Girl Apartments don’t like it?
Skipping Girl, Victoria Street, Abbotsford in 2005 and 1968.
Another significant iconic neon is the late-1960’s ‘Slade Knitwear’ sign in Dover Street, Richmond. This is actually a difficult one to photograph, because Dover Street is so extraordinarily narrow. The Slade Knitwear sign is apparently the largest operating neon “sky sign” in Victoria, at 31 metres long. It can be clearly seen from the platforms of Richmond railway station, not far from the distinctive Bryant & May factory clock tower. Despite many late-night train rides, I have never noticed it lit before and it seems that it is also not switched on at night.
Slade Knitwear, Dover Street, Richmond
Of course, a review of Melbourne’s “sky signs” would be incomplete without mention of the Pelaco sign, which was erected in 1939 on top of the Pelaco company’s factory in Richmond. This one is heritage listed (no. H1149) and was re-illuminated in 1997, after many years of dereliction. This sign is just so enormous that it can be seen many suburbs away, whether it is illuminated or not. It sits upon the old Pelaco factory, which is now the offices for a radio station instead.
Pelaco sign, Goodwood Street, RichmondBut this is perhaps the disappointment. Neither the Slade Knitwear, the Skipping Girl nor the Pelaco signs shine at night. Only the famous Victoria Bitter on the Arcadia Hotel seems to have life left in it these days.
Arcadia Hotel, Toorak at night
Well, with the Nylex coming back online soon, Melbourne’s night skyline won’t be completely devoid of these classic signs.
Image credit: Skipping Girl in Victoria Street in 1968, from The Age.