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Published October 20th 2017
Ghost Signs on an Abandoned Hotel Near the Flinders Ranges
A ghost sign is usually an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been on a building for decades. I'm going to use a more relaxed interpretation for this article - it can include any signs from many years ago, including fading ads, and old painted brick ads.
Almost wherever you go in South Australia you can find ghost signs, but some locations are more likely to have them. Country areas are the best places to look for old signs, but you will find plenty of painted ads on brick walls around Port Adelaide. Other suburbs with old heritage buildings also often have antique advertising signs, but you can still be lucky and find vintage signs lingering in forgotten places almost anywhere.
What I like best about ghost signs is the clues that they give to our hidden history, leading us to uncover some of Adelaide's best-kept secrets. Sometimes it takes just a barely visible word or two on a painted brick ad to discover things of interest from the past. Let's take a quick look at some places where we found ghost signs, and invite you to share your locations with us.
Ghost Signs in Adelaide City One of the best-known ghost signs in Adelaide was the huge painted sign advertising Gerard and Goodman off Rundle Street. That iconic building has now been demolished, but you can find other antique signs in Adelaide CBD.
Painted Signs for Conqueror Tobacco in Light Square Adelaide
Tobacco use was once very common, and you can still see a huge painted sign for Conqueror Tobacco Works on the side of an 1880's building in Light Square. A century later the building became Cobbs Restaurant, where topless waitresses served high ranking Courts Department executives and other corporate high fliers.
A few steps away, look for a brick ad on the facade of the former City Mission Hall. A 1878 lecture here preached How to manage a baby, but by the 1990's the hall was Regines nightclub - an upmarket place for gay boys and girls to play in a way that would have shocked the original owners.
I have never discovered much about the metropolitan Saw Works and its faded sign on Compton Street, but it was also the location of Bert Edward's cafe - part of a more notorious dark history of Adelaide.
Painted Brick Ads at Port Adelaide One curious vintage sign in Port Adelaide admonishes us to "Walk around corners", although I have always wondered why it's located there. Was it once a black spot for pedestrian accidents?
The more modern South Australian Country Arts building sign may not be of venerable age, but is quite distinctive in its own way. Take a short stroll around Port Adelaide and you can easily uncover many more of these vintage artworks.
Ghost Signs in Other Suburbs
One of my favourite old painted signs adorns the former 1850 Mitcham Hotel, later a temperance hotel. It's had some love and a lick of paint in recent years, and appears quite authentic.
You wouldn't expect to find much heritage in the former Chrysler and Mitsubishi factory at Tonsley. A fading enamel sign on a fence is a blast from the past, warning us to keep away from the Mitsubishi high-speed test track.
Country Ghost Signs in South Australia
Old signs abound in many country towns, but near the Flinders Ranges you will find many painted brick ads. Abandoned shops and businesses often show fading pictures of long-forgotten products like Rosella sauce, Amscol ice cream, Bushell's tea and Woodies lemonade.
Fading Ads Near Derelict Railways
Abandoned railway stations and train infrastructure offer rich pickings for enthusiastic sign hunters. Most old steam engine water tanks have painted ads for soap or tobacco still visible from a distance.
There was Havelock Tobacco on the watertank.
The Walk Round Corners sign adjured the flying feet of all the office boys who attended the old Customs House: a wonderful old sign that let's hope the present and future owners will respect.
"Walk Around Corners", I have a vague recollection of being told that it was an instruction to the drivers of trolleys, wagons and other horse drawn vehicles to dismount and lead their animals around the corners to avoid collisions and other accidents. Quite a few people died from these incidents let alone the injuries resulting.