Tag Archives: Jeff Sparrow

Ghost Signs of Melbourne

New Theatre

On the corner of Flanigan Lane there is the hand painted sign stating: “New Theatre”. Jeff Sparrow and Jill Sparrow give a short history of the New Theatre in their book Radical Melbourne. The sign dates from around 1937 when the New Theatre occupied “an old tin-doffed loft above a dishes garage next to the Duke of Kent Hotel on La Trobe Street.” (Sparrow and Sparrow Radical Melbourne p.28). The New Theatre was established by the Communist Party in 1937 and  continued into the 1990s. The theatre at Flanigan Lane saw the first performance of Bertolt Brecht in Melbourne. In 1939 the theatre was declared unsafe and closed down but the sign remains on the stone wall.

There are plenty of other ghost signs in that small network of lanes but the new theatre was the only one that I researched. The interest in finding and photographing ghost signs grows. My own take on it is less about the hand painted signs and more about the history and culture that the sign represents.

Telephones

The “Do Not Spit” signs at Flinders Street Station tell of a past Melbourne with an expectorating population that had to be told not to. The metal “telephones” sign in the Degraves Street underpass points to a locked door behind which banks of telephone booths once stood before mobile phones made them obsolescent. The boomerang shaped sign from former Brunswick continental supermarket on Lygon Street and Australian identity; for more see Our Fading Past – Our History in Old Signs.  I have not been able to find out anything about the sign for Balkan Club in Melbourne, but there has always been a Balkan Club somewhere around the city.

Loucas & Christororou boomerang

I am suspicious of the ghost signs from around Chinatown like “Commit No Nuisance” Heffernan Lane in Chinatown. These signs looks too good, perhaps they were restored in an earlier revival of interest in ghost signs. I saw them listed as number 4 selfie spots in Melbourne.The aesthetic popularity of ghost signs is leading to some being purposely revealed, restored or rectified.

commit no Nusaince + paste-up

After the collectors, the fans and the academics, comes the photography exhibitions of ghost signs. Stephanie Stead’s “Signs of Our Times” at the City Library in July was the first of these that I’ve seen but I’m sure that there have been others. Stead’s silver gelatine prints are black and white except for the signs that have been hand coloured in oils. This old fashioned technique matches with the old signs producing beautiful nostalgic images.


Keep Hosier Real

Approximately 2000 people visit Hosier Lane every weekend, even on a cold, rainy Sunday in May. On this particular cold, rainy Sunday there were more than the usual number of people in Hosier Lane. People had to squeeze through the crowd that had gathered to rally in protest at a proposed multi-story hotel development in the aerosol paint covered lane.

Bride keeping Hosier Real

If you think that the lesson of the story about the goose that laid the golden egg couldn’t be more obvious, then you are seriously under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both greedy and stupid. The current proposed redevelopment of the old MTC/Chinese theatre site on Russell Street, that backs onto Hosier Lane into a multi-story hotel is not just an inappropriate development, it is a greedy and stupid.

Inner city Melbourne’s rejuvenation, the result of decades of planning, creating an event and spectacle based city brings people into the city. This in turn created a market for restaurants, shops and hotels – hotels, that would include the proposed multi story development.

Now a reasonable person would think that it would be in the interest of a development next to one of Melbourne’s major tourist attractions to be designed appropriately for its location but this would, again, under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both stupid and greedy.

I am not against development; I am not like Jeff Sparrow in Radical Melbourne moaning that the Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters, at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939, is now occupied by a restaurant. What is needed is development that is appropriate to the location, that doesn’t simply occupy the space, that doesn’t simply take things away from the place without giving something back to the area.

Professor Roz Hansen, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy points that the development doesn’t just threaten the tourist value the street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane it also threatens to overshadow the ‘Winter Garden’ in Federation Square.

This new development will also impact on the Babylonian-revival style Forum Theatre – the proposal admits it has no plans regarding the known vibrations from this live music venue. No doubt after it is constructed they will make a complaint and attempt to shut down the venue?

This is not to forget that Hosier Lane is distinctly different to the designed attraction of Federation Square or even the heritage listing of the Forum Theatre. The development also threatens services to the homeless that are provided by the Livingroom and Youth Projects in Hosier Lane. As well as, the pedestrian zone that the lane way has become.

Adam Bandt Keep Hosier Real

Describing these developers as “the real vandals” as Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, did at the rally today is being too poetic and too kind. Perhaps I am being too kind in simply describing them as stupid and greedy.

There is an online petition and it is interesting to see that people are signing it from Brazil, Croatia, India, Italy and the USA, indicating that this is not simply a local issue.


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