Road closed


Lava flow from Kilauea volcano, on Hawaii’s Big Island, has been advancing towards the town of Pahoa slowly but steadily since the end of June. This week the lava encroached the backyards of the houses closest to the volcano, and there have been road closures and resident evacuations. The heat from the 2000-degree lava must be incredible. When I was there a couple of years ago, things were pretty quiet, but even walking around this older lava flow, in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, it was uncomfortably hot. I am amazed at how, despite the blistering temperature of the flow that swallowed this pole, the sign itself remains undamaged.

Fancy goods


‘Fancy goods’ is not a term you hear much, and in fact I realised I didn’t know exactly what it referred to. The dictionary informs me that fancy goods are novelty items and accessories that are primarily ornamental, designed to appeal to taste—or fancy, as the term suggests. I guess, these days, we would call them non-essentials, and we would buy them on impulse with our disposable (!) income. The sign above the adjacent window said ‘stationer’, in matching gold lettering. Then and now, that would be enough to get me inside, always a sucker for some (essential) pen and paper.

Gough Whitlam 1916–2014


Gough Whitlam, 21st Prime Minister of Australia, has impacted the lives of every Australian, whether they realise it or not. He ended conscription, recognised Aboriginal land rights and introduced universal health care. I, for one, can thank him for my tertiary education, which may well have been out of financial reach had he not abolished university fees. And the art world also has much to thank him for. It seems almost impossible to fathom now, but his approval of the purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, in 1973, created a scandal. The National Gallery of Australia was only able to authorise purchases up to $1 million, so Blue Poles, at $1.3 million (a world record for a contemporary American painting), required Whitlam’s approval. The purchase brought into question the perceived financial ineptitude of the government and elicited public debate about the value of abstract art. Blue Poles is on permanent display at the NGA now, but I first saw it at the Art Gallery of NSW during its first showing. I don’t remember how I got there—I can only think that my mother took me—but I do remember the long line of people waiting to view it. The line snaked out of the front door and down the steps, and we had to wait patiently, shuffling along until it was our turn in front of the great work. I loved it then and I love it now. As for Gough’s investment, Blue Poles has gained status as one of the major works of abstract expressionism, is significant in terms of Australia’s politics and history, and is now valued at many more millions of dollars than the purchase price.



This signwritten Regent is not exactly the same as the digital font version, but there’s no mistaking the striking likeness to the Broadway font family. The shadowy vertical type of the unlit neon sign, perhaps more recent than the painted counterpart, is Broadway Engraved. Broadway, a decorative Art Deco typeface, was originally designed in 1927 by Morris Fuller Benton for American Type Founders.

Ipsy lipsy lopsy lorum


In publishing and design, ipsy lipsy lopsy lorum—commonly known as lorem ipsum—is placeholder, or dummy, text. The use of dummy text allows the typography and layout of a page to be designed without using the actual text. This is useful for many reasons: editing and design might be occurring simultaneously, and the manuscript is not ready for layout; the text might not be written at all, so the use of dummy text can determine the word count required; meaningful text can be distracting if the graphic elements are the main focus of a presentation; more words might need to be added and dummy text can be used as filler. Back when we used Quark instead of InDesign, there was a plug-in that allowed you to choose the language of your dummy text: Klingon was particularly popular! Lorem ipsum is based on a first-century text by Cicero, and although it looks Latin, the words have been scrambled and changed so that it is nonsense Latin. As for what you call it—placeholder, dummy, Latin, lorem ipsum—I’ve always called it ipsy lipsy lopsy lorum, or ipsy lipsy for short.

One dollar


United States banknotes are so different to Australian ones! Ours are plastic and brightly coloured—pink, blue, red, yellow and green—and the smallest denomination is $5. You end up with a load of shrapnel in your purse, and think you don’t have any cash because you don’t have any notes left. But all the $1 and $2 coins can add up! In the US, I find the opposite is true. I end up with a wad of banknotes that make me think I’ve got enough ready cash, only to find that every one of them is a single, I’ve got less that 10 bucks on me, and I have to resort to the credit card. The US Federal Reserve estimates that the average lifespan of a dollar bill is 5.9 years. I would say that this one is near the end of its life. It’s creased and worn and thin, and has extra character because it comes complete with its own handwritten message from Nic to Beth.

Dooleys store


I found this above the door of the general store in the small NSW town of Murrurundi. The J Dooley & Co Ltd store was opened in 1901, and the sign above the door is original, although it looks like the PTY was added later, given the spacing and typographic mismatch. It’s not just the letter shapes that indicate the age: the punctuation and superscript used here out of fashion these days, and say as much about the era as the typeface.

Yellow arrow


I love red and yellow together. And I love solid blocks of gutsy colour. This arrow, on the smooth grey concrete floor of the parking lot at my local shopping centre, is positively luscious! The dirty grey stops it from having any pretensions of prettiness—another point in its favour—and highlights the unadulterated mass of primary colour. I’ll need to keep my eye on this yellow arrow: for now, the newly applied paint is vibrant and clean, but in a few months it will have been run over by thousands of dirty car tyres and walked on by thousands of pedestrians, so it could get even more interesting.



The best bookbinding paste I have found comes from a small bookbinding shop in the NSW Southern Highlands. My recent visit to replenish supplies coincided with the annual tulip festival. While the tourist hordes were flocking to the gardens to admire the showy displays, the bookbinder remained unimpressed. ‘We’re Dutch,’ he said, ‘we’ve seen enough tulips!’

Steel and coal


My first reaction to this spiral detail was how clever it was, to include a company logo in the facade of the building in such an aesthetic way. I was convinced it was the BHP logo—before they merged with Billiton and modernised their corporate identity—but now, after quite some time online trying to find evidence that my memory served me correctly, I’m not so sure. I’ve checked every Newcastle and Wollongong steelworks-related name I can think of, but I can’t find the logo anywhere! It’s bugging me that I can’t identify it, yet I can picture it so clearly, in that spot at the back of my mind that is just beyond reach. I am hoping that synchronicity will work in its usual way, and that some time over the coming days or weeks I will see it somewhere else, and experience that ‘ah, of course’ moment that is so eluding me now.