Recent Ghosts

One day late last year I was travelling along Parramatta Road, looking out the window as the bus moved slowly towards the city. My eyes travelled over the shopfronts like I was reading a text I knew by heart. But this time there was a piece missing: a shop had recently been demolished, exposing the side wall of the neighbouring building. The bus accelerated, following the green traffic light up ahead, and as it drove past the gap I caught sight of a ghost sign on the wall. The bus was moving fast, but I managed to read one of the words, LAV… Lavatories?

Indeed this was correct. The next day I returned on foot and peered through the hoardings to read it properly. In plain black lettering it read, through the distortion of the mortar and grime: Lavatories, Hearth and Verandah Tiles. Then: Grates, gasfittings &c. Terms Cash.

It wasn’t the most spectacular ghost sign, but it was an old one as such signs go. In the early 1890s the Steam Marble Works on Parramatta Road in Annandale, near Johnston Street, had sold these tiles, grates and gasfittings. The works had been run by a partnership, two men with the Dickensian names of Moodie and Creak. Almost as soon as I found this out, I read a further newspaper article that described how the marble works had been destroyed by a fire in 1894, drawing that part of their story swiftly to a close.

A few months later there was another Parramatta Road demolition nearby, down the hill from the Lavatories sign, towards Johnston’s Creek. On the first day I noticed it, half of it had been revealed.

Then soon, more.

I recognised the slogan, ‘easy starting, sweet running, more miles’, as I’d read it on another ghost sign some years before, on New Canterbury Road in Hurlstone Park, for another product of the Vacuum Oil Company, this one named Benzine. Both were from the 1920s, when names like Benzine and Plume would have signified a new technological era, rather than environmental damage.

A century on, cars continue on these busy roads. Buildings are demolished and new ones are built, and sometimes, in between, these messages are briefly revealed. I keep a good lookout for them.


4 Comments on “Recent Ghosts”

  1. jayandp says:

    I have a musician friend in US who travels all over. He did a photo essay on “signstryingto hangon” I sent him a few from around Sydney at the time. Check his Instagram Steve Poltz. Some good photos. Mine is John Ross @johndonaldssor. Love your stories.

  2. Jim Soulios says:

    Another superb and we’ll written read Vanessa ! Just a matter of timing to reveal an intriguing history.. had you’d not notice the aged signage no further research would have been done or photos posted. Whilst not all of the past can be retained such reminders that are removed not only erase the immediate link but at times associated history connected with it.


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