Even by itself I would like this worn Shelleys drinks sign, painted on the wall of what would undoubtedly have once been a corner milk bar, but what makes it stand out is the addition of the row of red stencilled birds. Who knows whether they mean anything or if they are just some whimsical spur of the moment addition. I suspect that they were embellishments put there by one of a string of proprietors, but whoever it was, they are long gone.



Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin came to Australia from the United States in 1912, when they won the international competition to design Canberra. (Those roundabouts — what were they thinking!) Walter Burley Griffin designed the Willoughby Incinerator in the 1930s, after they had moved to Castlecrag. It was constructed as part of an employment initiative during the Great Depression, and in the 1960s was saved from demolition and was subsequently heritage listed. In its time it has operated as a sewerage plant, a restaurant, an office, and after its most recent restoration has become a community art studio space and gallery. The Griffins believed that architecture and landscape should be harmonious and that buildings should integrate into their surroundings, and this is certainly a fine example.



This pizza man could well be holding up an artist’s palette, but then again, maybe he is! He certainly looks proud enough of his work. Some years ago I worked just around the corner from this Italian restaurant and enjoyed many a good lunch there — brief respite from the awfulness of the job — but I had forgotten about this man. Recently I happened upon him again, pleased to see he is still there. And everyone loves a good pizza, so here, in alphabetical order because there is no other way to rank them, is my top five.

  • Frankie’s, Mendocino, California
  • Kings View Cafe, Kapaau, Hawaii
  • La Disfida, Haberfield, NSW
  • Pizza Cafe at the Grand, Mildura, NSW
  • Pizzeria Due, Chicago, Illinois

Door 5


It is widely believed that black on yellow is the best colour combination for readability and visibility. Yellow and black does have the highest contrast, but high contrast doesn’t necessarily equal readability. It’s true that black and yellow might work well for road signs, police tape or door numbers painted on brick, but much less true for 8pt serif type on a computer monitor. It reminds me of the time when all the zebra crossings were yellow – highly visible on tarmac, especially in the rain. Then came the safety campaign for yellow raincoats for schoolkids (I can still hear that jingle: ‘wearing yellow raincoats is the best protection yet’), which of course was anything but safe – the kids in yellow raincoats all but disappeared on the matching yellow zebra crossings! It was a farce: the campaign was so successful that white raincoats were replaced by yellow ones, but there were so many accidents due to reduced visibility they had to make all the zebra crossings white!

American Typewriter


ITC American Typewriter is a proportionally spaced typewriter typeface. It was adapted from monospaced typewriter styles by type designers Joel Kaden and Tony Stan in 1974 and was first used as cold type. Cold type – typesetting such as photocomposition done without the casting of metal – became widespread in the 1960s, but was subsequently outmoded by the rise of desktop publishing and the use of digital type. Everyone knows what American Typewriter looks like whether they realise it or not: graphic designer Milton Glaser used it to create the I love NY logo in 1977. The logo has become a widely recognised symbol and the original concept sketch and presentation boards are part of MoMAs permanent collection.

Post office


Government architect Walter Liberty Vernon was responsible for public buildings such as the Mitchell Library, the Art Gallery of NSW, Fisher Library and Central Station — all pretty impressive works. But what I like most is his introduction of the Arts and Craft style to the design of Sydney’s post offices, fire stations and courthouses. Many feature this distinctive and decorative signage style, and Annandale Post Office, build in 1896, has a particularly fine example — well aged and in excellent condition.



The New Brighton Hotel on Manly Corso was built around 1879 but the 1926 that it so proudly displays marks the year it was redeveloped in the Egyptian style. Although the architecture does feature some Egyptian-inspired decorative elements, there’s nothing very Egyptian about the number. But it hardly matters! Manly was a prosperous place in 1926, and preparations for the Manly Jubilee were well under way. Plans included a Venetian Carnival, Jubilee Surf Carnival, Jubilee Grand Ball, Grand Jubilee Water Pageant, and even a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York. The royals never made it: instead, parties of naval officers were brought in as compensation. I don’t know what part the New Brighton played in all this, but I bet the bar was jumpin’!

Tea rooms


The weather has been warm and sunny and if this building had still housed the Ocean Beach Tea Rooms I would most certainly have stepped in for afternoon tea. The idea of tea rooms by the beach evokes some atavistic memory of the sound of the seaside on a hot day, the splish splash of gentle waves as they break onto sand too hot to stand on, the strangely lulling hubbub carried on the breeze. What surprises me about the signage, dated 1898, is how well it seems to work, despite there being so many things wrong with it from a typographic viewpoint. The sizing is wonky, the spacing inconsistent, and worst of all, every A is a different type style!



Taking a shortcut to avoid the lights led me past this magnificent fraction, although it’s not really a fraction but a warehouse unit and street number. It’s the highlight in a pretty ordinary stretch of factories, a stretch that is particularly quiet on the weekend when everything is closed. But this number is lively at any time: it shouts ‘look at me look at me’. And indeed I did! I like the scale of it, and the spacing — and I don’t know if it’s a slash, a solidus or a virgule, but whatever you want to call that obtuse line, this one certainly makes a statement.



This reminds me of the work of Jasper Johns, whose use of commercial stencils transformed ordinary and commonplace shapes and symbols into works of art. Jasper Johns is probably most well known for his American flags, but in the 1950s he started using stencilled letters and numbers as the basis for his paintings, prints and drawings. He produced many variations of numbers: single numbers, grid patterns of repeating rows of numbers, superimposed numbers. He was interested in exploring the ways we see and why, and his work has certainly made a difference to my view of the world around me.