Mr Sparkle

There’s a lot of visual noise along the stretch of Parramatta Road where this sign is displayed, so the use of yellow on black, while not necessarily sparkling, certainly makes it noticeable.


My book Type Town has made it to the printer! Type Town is a photographic feast that highlights the quirky, the fanciful and fantastic typefaces and signage that contribute to the rich cultural fabric of Sydney’s vibrant Inner West. This is one of more than 280 photographs from the book, and here is the story behind the picture.

In February 1935 the Sydney Morning Herald reported a spectacular fire at the Superior Cabinet Company Limited in Excelsior Street. Flames from the incinerator, which had been filled with waste wood, set fire to the wall, sparks ignited sawdust on the floor and the highly flammable oils and varnishes exploded. Within minutes the interior was ablaze. Dense, acrid smoke poured from the building, and flames leapt fifty feet into the air. Brigades from Petersham and Leichhardt worked to control the fire while police tried to control the crowd of sightseers—but it was too late to save the furniture. I don’t know if this building on Elswick Street became the new premises, or was another street frontage of the Excelsior Street factory, but the typography remains intact and the lush red paint is a reminder of a dramatic piece of local history.

Type Town will be launched at my exhibition Typecast on 22 August.

Public library

I have been into this building many times, but it is only this week, while gathering a few more images for my upcoming book Type Town, that I took proper notice of the words. I never knew it said ‘public library’! I knew there were words, I know this is a library, but I know it as the State Library—which is what the sign around the corner on Macquarie St says. I also discovered that this section of the street is called Shakespeare Place. One thing I am still unsure about, however, is the architectural term for the part of the building where the text appears. Above is the pediment and cornice, below is the architrave—but the section in between—I think it is the frieze, but I’m not sure. Perhaps I could find the answer inside, on the library shelves.


Ghost signs are the faded remnants of old hand-painted advertising signs. You usually see them on the side brick wall of a building. Sometimes the state of their preservation is quite remarkable, and the sign is clear and legible. Other times just a hint of worn and weathered lettering remains. This one was uncovered by a restaurant in Cabarita when they removed some tiles in the process of renovating. It is from an advertisement for Rosella, best known for its tomato soup and tomato sauce, and while I can’t make out much of the text, I can clearly see the trademark bird and appreciate the beautiful patina.



My husband does most of the food shopping but occasionally, if he is not pressed for time, he lets me tag along. I slow things down because I am sidetracked by packaging, the patterns and shapes of a display, fresh flowers, the rows and rows of deli goods, and the novelty and multitude of the items that we neither need or want. There is a newish grocery store near us that recently provided a much-needed afternoon diversion. We bought broccoli, leeks, bread and strawberries, and along the way I stopped to check out the typography of seafood.



I’ve seen this pub sign many times before, but on Saturday evening, when my friends and I, replete from a delicious and satisfying dinner, emerged from the chatter and clatter of the restaurant into the buzz and hum of Enmore Road, the drama of the scene caught my attention. The large freestanding letters against the sombre backdrop that swallows up the green light exude a noirish atmosphere that reminds me of Edward Hopper’s painting, Nighthawks, and for a moment, in my imagination, I was transported to that diner.



There’s a building in my neighbourhood, an old corner store, that has some particularly nice ghost signage above the front door, but today I was walking by rather than driving and was rewarded with this side view. It’s more subtle, more complex, more painterly and printmakerly than the more obvious front door sign. It’s hard to make out all the words here, but there’s a ‘choo’, which, in conjunction with the ‘first grade’ below it, most likely makes it a painted advertisement for Lan-choo tea.

No Yes


We recently had a visitor from California. She was in Sydney only for a few days, but it seemed to me that her tour group managed to fit in quite a lot, doing things that I wouldn’t have thought of, like going to the Queen Victoria Building (it’s a great building, but it’s just a shopping arcade) and the koala park. I’ve never been to the koala park, but every time I drive by I glance up at the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of a koala or two. (No such luck, leading me to question the veracity of their existence.) When our visitor showed us some of her photos, it pleased me greatly to see that, rather than being predictable tourist pictures, they were of signage and words. She was particularly fascinated by the instructions posted on restroom doors, the likes of which I had never seen until yesterday when, myself playing tourist for the day, I visited Echo Point in the Blue Mountains.



To my eye, this is an interesting collection of type and textures. I especially like the horizontal red slats butting up against the concrete pillar with its worn and weathered paint. Bar 35 is reputedly home to ‘incredible gourmet fusion pizzas’ (I haven’t tried them) and a choice of 200 beers from twenty countries. Perhaps that’s why there is a sign for taxis right next door.

Sand wich


How our perception of a word can change by such a small adjustment to the way it usually looks! Turning Sandwich into Sand Wich totally confused me! OK, so I can read it and understand it, but it’s not enirely satisfactory. It’s quite possible that the food truck, on which this banner is so gloriously gaffer taped, has made a pun rather than a typo—the truck was parked at a beach after all—but I’m not so sure.