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Brisbane's Beautiful Ghost Signs

Home > Brisbane > Art | Architecture | Photography | Unusual Things to do
by May Cross (subscribe)
I'm a writer, artist and keen photographer.
Published July 23rd 2017
I ain't afraid of no ghost signs
I have been a Ghost Sign Hunter for a while now. When I began I didn't even know there was a term for the photos I was taking. I was finding old, faded and redundant signs and photographing them while I was Urbexing around the city. This pursuit has become a world-wide passion in many major cities, especially in the UK and USA, and in countless country towns too.

ghost sign, urbex, moreton rubber, wolloongabba, brisbane
Moreton Rubber at the Gabba (image by writer)

So what are Ghost Signs?

According to Wikipedia:

A ghost sign is an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building for an extended period of time. The sign may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner.'

qld cement co, urbex, railway, ghost sign
Qld Cement Co (image by writer)

They are fading painted signs, from the 20th Century (or earlier if you are lucky), for businesses and products that no longer exist. You may have seen them around already but, like me, not known what they were called. As well as "Ghost Signs" they are also sometimes called "Fading Ads" or Brickads".

McDonnell & East, store ghost sign, urbex
McDonnell and East Ltd (image by writer)

McDonnell & East Ltd

I am fascinated by the history of the signs and often wonder at what the story is of the building and/or product. They gently tease you as you'll never know the whole story. I also love the craftsmanship that has gone into these old beauties. They are hand-made signs of their times and may be over 100 years old. You can't help but admire the skill of the artists and sign writers (or masons) who created them. It saddens me that signage now is so disposable.

Good Year, cafe, gabba, wolloongabba, ghost sign, urbex
Good Year Gabba (image by writer)

It is open to interpretation whether GHOST refers to the faded, ghostly-looking image itself; or to the defunct, or dead, business it once advertised. I like both ideas but you decide. Either way, they are symbols that echo forgotten products from our past.

moreton rubber works, good year, ghost sign, gabba, stones corner, oil filter,
Moreton Rubber Works (image by writer)

ghost sign, brisbane, Foggitt,urbex
Foggitt ghost sign (image by writer)

It is generally agreed that Ghost Signs should be preserved as faded remnants of another time. As visible signs of urban decay, they have become quite fashionable. Similar to how shabby chic is on trend. But the ever encroaching progress of our cities means that many buildings with fine examples are being demolished.

Chinese ghost sign, brisbane, hamburger, urbex
Chinese ghost sign (image by writer)

There is some debate on whether the Ghost Signs should be touched up. Should they be restored or repainted? Some modern day merchants are reproducing new versions of historical signs. Other businesses are producing faux Ghost Signs by having their sign-writers deliberately "age" their signs to look old and faded. "Explorers" in the city and "Antiques" in Oxley are two such businesses that spring to mind.

Archers, ghost sign, brisbane, oxley, urbex
Archer's ghost sign (image by writer)

I have deliberately not given all the addresses for the Ghost Signs that I have shown you here as most of the fun is in the hunt and the joy of discovery - like a treasure hunt. Sometimes they are hiding in plain sight. I have listed one location below to get you started. Let me know what you find and I'd love to see your pics. Happy Hunting!

wishing tree, O'Reilley's, ghost sign, urbex
Wishing Tree ghost Sign (image by writer).

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Why? Discover faded signs of by-gone times.
When: Anytime - but many are disappearing
Where: Any city or town.
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Great article, May. I think these signs are fabulous pieces of history and, while I love to see them preserved, I prefer them in their faded glory. I love these history snaps on a smaller scale, too - we have a few old industrial signs etc as decor pieces in our house.
by Geraldine Massey (score: 3|8182) 2138 days ago
May, have you ever been to a small town in Western Queensland called Cracow. It has an amazing amount of old store buildings not used anymore but with signs that have faded (not completely) with the decades of time. It would be worth a trip out there if you have the time. I wrote about the town in one of my first Weekend Notes articles. Susan Bowes
by Susan J Bowes (score: 3|2835) 2061 days ago
You have a keen eye May, to have spotted all these signs. Lovely article :)
by Diana (score: 2|719) 2143 days ago
Very interesting May, well done!
by Chloe Doyle (score: 3|1473) 2143 days ago
Very interesting article May
by Roz Glazebrook (score: 2|925) 1997 days ago
A Most fascinating article!
by Anthony Carrick (score: 2|263) 2139 days ago
Hi May, Great article, I always look out for fading artwork on buildings in Sydney and suburbs. The buildings seem to be fading away as the signs are fading away. The other thing that still catches my eye are the old build boards as you drive into country towns.
by Bob Wozga (score: 1|98) 1309 days ago
Excellent - You have provided me with a new weekend photographic project! I fully expect that a project of this size might just take a few years to complete :) Thanks for the very descriptive article.
by Brizzypix (score: 1|53) 2142 days ago
Happy hunting Rachael. I am sure that you will find plenty in the UK.
by May Cross (score: 3|8394) 2142 days ago
Full2 I feel happy at the discovery then pleased that they have endured.
by May Cross (score: 3|8394) 2138 days ago
Hi Brizzypix. Yes it is an ongoing hobby. But I still love the hunt and finding new signs. I would love to see you photos when you have some :)
by May Cross (score: 3|8394) 2141 days ago
I often think with sadness of the hope and excitement that was present when the signs were brand new and of the ghosts of the people who made them and they were made for. Finding their history is part of bringing their lives and excitement back to life :)
by full2 (score: 0|2) 2139 days ago
Fabulous article, already thinking of the signs near me- will have to get hunting 😊
by Rachael Sneddon (score: 1|62) 2143 days ago
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