Every one tells a story: ghost signs of Brisbane

Anne Jones

Brisbane is a city built of timber and tin which means hunting for ghost signs (old hand-painted advertising signs) requires patience.

Frequently ghost signs were painted with lead paint on the brick walls of buildings. This added to their longevity and explains their other name “brick ads”.

Unlike Australia’s southern capitals such as Melbourne, brick construction is fairly rare in Brisbane and was usually reserved for major buildings.

Brisbane’s old corner stores were constructed with weatherboard and corrugated-iron roofs so not a lot of old signs remain.

In recent years, as shopping habits changed, most of Brisbane’s corner stores have been gentrified and repainted. All those ghost signs are gone for ever.

This also means any remaining ghost signs are more appreciated and frequently given a new lick of paint so they don’t disappear forever.

Brisbane’s favourite ghost sign Moreton Rubber Works at the Gabba gets frequent touch ups.

Others such as Bushells Tea in the Valley are being left to fade away.

Because of their scarcity, the ghost sign hunter may be forgiven for including naming signs on buildings whose owners and businesses have been long forgotten.

Ghost signs are fun to find and a great way to discover Brisbane’s past because every sign tells a story. Here are some of the ghost signs of Brisbane and the stories behind them.

SIGN: Peoples Cash Store
LOCATION: Taylor-Heaslop Building 10-14 Logan Road Woolloongabba
PHOTO: State Library of Queensland
STORY: Added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 2016, the Taylor-Heaslop building is three shops at the Woolloongabba Fiveways built by James and Thomas Heaslop. No. 14 Logan Road was built as a branch of their highly successful People’s Cash Store which traded until the 1920s. No. 10 and 12 were built as an investment properties for chemist, dentist and property investor Walter Taylor.

 

SIGN: Moreton Rubber Works
LOCATION: Taylor-Heaslop Building 14 Logan Road, Woolloongabba
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Taylor-Heaslop Building is the site of Brisbane’s most famous ghost sign. Various merchants operated from the 1890s until 1936 when motor tyre retailer Moreton Rubber Works began trading there. The building still boasts Moreton Rubber ghost signs on both side facades which are lovingly touched up on a regular basis. The building now houses Enoteca Restaurant and Pincadia Bar.

SIGN: John Reid & Nephews
LOCATION: 26-36 Charlotte Street, Brisbane Queensland
PHOTO: Kgbo Wikimedia Commons
STORY: Specialising in wire, rope and hardware John Reid and Nephews traded in Charlotte Street from 1911 until 1969. All but the facade was demolished in 1987 due to construction of the Telstra tower now seen behind.

SIGN: J & J Panel & Paint
LOCATION: 56 Vulture Street West End
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Nestled behind the now-closed Hong Lan Asian Foods is the former premises of J & J Panel & Paint in the old West End shopping centre. The ghost sign adorns a superb example of an industrial shed constructed of corrugated iron replete with rust spots and lifting roof panels. The sign is clearly hand painted in rust-proof red to match the roof panels.

 

SIGN: No 4 Wool Store
LOCATION: Helen Street Teneriffe
PHOTO: Kgbo Wikimedia Commons.
STORY: From the 1990s the wharves, wool stores and factories of Teneriffe were gradually transformed into upmarket apartments, retail, restaurants and business premises. Inside the old stores you can still faintly smell the lanolin from the wool. This sign looks like it’s getting regular paint touch ups.

 

SIGN: No 7
LOCATION: TradeCoast Central Eagle Farm
PHOTO: Robert Whyte for TradeCoast Central Heritage Park
STORY: Hangar No. 7 was once the headquarters of a top-secret unit crucial to the outcome of World War 2 in the Pacific. Under the command of US army engineer Clyde Gessel, the unit salvaged and investigated Japanese technology. In Hangar No. 7 the unit rebuilt a Zero fighter plane and flew it over Brisbane. The hangar itself is a remarkable feat of wooden truss engineering, one of many designed by French engineer Emil Brizay.

 

SIGN: Foggitt, Jones & Co
LOCATION: 3 Lanfear Street South Brisbane near the Go-Between Bridge
PHOTO: Kgbo Wikimedia Common
STORY: This warehouse was constructed around 1917 for Foggitt, Jones and Co. producers of ham, bacon and smallgoods. The land was resumed by the Railways Commissioner in 1957 who later leased it to Paul’s Ice Cream and Milk.

 

SIGN: B & W Cabs
LOCATION: 11 Eagle Terrace Brisbane
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: This plaque commemorates Former Minister of Transport in the Bjelke-Petersen government, Don “Shady” Lane opening the Black and White Cabs depot extension. A few years after the plaque was installed, the Fitzgerald Inquiry found Minister Lane had significant unexplained income. He was alleged to have taken bribes and went to prison for misusing expenses in 1990.

 

SIGN: McDonalds
LOCATION: Brunswick Street Mall Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Rather than housing a family restaurant, this shop in Brunswick Street was mostly likely part of the business run by Aldolphus and George Frederick McDonald started in 1929. The pastry cooks operated a bakery from 365 St Pauls Terrace. The business closed in 1985.

 

SIGN: A.C.B. Drapers
LOCATION: 282 Wickham Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: A.C.B. Drapers began trading in the Valley in 1916 with £5000 worth of stock and 17 employees. Owner Albert Byerley quickly expanded, opening numerous branches throughout Queensland. His magnificent headquarters opened in 1921 with the largest single-street plate-glass window frontage in the Commonwealth. When Byerley was declared bankrupt in 1932 his business was described as a “bubble organisation” at the hearing.

 

SIGN: Valley Presbyterian Church
LOCATION: 25 Warner Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: In 1849, 600 Scottish immigrants arrived in Brisbane aboard three ships – Lima, Chasely and Fortitude. They settled in an area they named Fortitude Valley. A Presbyterian Church was constructed for them in 1885. A hundred years later, the number of parishioners dwindled and the building was sold in 1989. In 2023 the building has been repurposed as the Holey Moley Golf Club – a cocktail bar and mini golf course, honouring the Valley connection to Scotland, home of golf.

 

SIGN: Bushells Tea
LOCATION: 420 Brunswick Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: This faded ghost sign now adorns the Judith Wright Arts Centre which opened in October 2001. Tea dealer Alfred Bushell opened a tea shop in Brisbane in 1883 and with his sons, built a tea and coffee empire. This building was constructed in 1913 and sold to Bushells in 1958. Australian tea brands once battled for dominance in outdoor signage. As well as Bushells, still visible signs around Australia include Billy Tea, Goldenia, King, Kinkara, Lan-Choo, Liptons and Robur.

SIGN: Shannon’s Building
LOCATION: 713 Ann Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Built in 1923, Shannon’s Building was an investment property built for Reuben Shannon. Reuben had moved to Brisbane from Sydney with his father Robert around 1918. Here they established Brisbane’s first terracotta tile works in Ferny Grove on the site of the present day Ferny Grove Tavern. Shannon’s Building showcased their tiles. It has six ground floor shops and a large room upstairs now occupied by The Zoo nightclub.

SIGN: Apothecaries Hall
LOCATION: 690 Ann Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Apothecaries Hall is rather a grand title for a chemist shop built in 1882, not 1862 as the sign boasts. Early Brisbane chemist and dentist, Moses Ward operated on the site from 1863-75. Then James Fitzgibbon took over and operated there until the early 1900s. Ward and Fitzgibbon were agitating for professional recognition of pharmacists called “apothecaries halls” in England. The shopfront is now Mi Raak restaurant and bar.

SIGN: Fire Hydrant Booster
LOCATION: 690 Ann Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: This ghost sign is decorating the downstairs entrance to premises on the top floor of the Apothecaries Hall. It’s possible there might be a fire hydrant booster behind the door but probably unwise to count on that in case of an emergency.

SIGN: Fortitude Valley Post Office
LOCATION: 740 Ann Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: Fortitude Valley Post Office operated for 100 years until 1987. The postmaster’s living quarters consisted of two living rooms, four bedrooms and internal bathroom. A service wing at the rear housed the postmaster’s dining room, kitchen and servant’s room. While the ghost sign remains, the building now houses The Tax Office which is actually a bar and restaurant with no connection to the Australian Tax Office except as a taxpayer.

SIGN: Freedman & Co
LOCATION: 758 Ann Street Fortitude Valley
PHOTO: Anne Jones
STORY: The building was formerly a sewing factory for Freedman & Co in the 1940s. The awning read “Home of ‘Favourite’ brand clothing”. The shopfront is currently occupied by Vincere whose business is raffling cars. The factory upstairs was converted to 14 “edgy” apartments in 1997.

 

 

 

 

 

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Author

  • Anne Jones

    Anne was director of ToadShow Pty Ltd 1986-2019. She holds a Bachelor of Design Studies and was chair of Queensland Museum 2002-08.

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