Despite recent gentrification efforts its gorgeous grittiness remains…

I love spending time in North Melbourne. Whether it’s slowly meandering down busy Errol Street, popping into The Auction Rooms for scrumptious bite of lunch, or grabbing a quick takeaway coffee from Code Black Coffee, North Melbourne is a delicious blend of shabby and chic, posh and passé, glamour and grit.

North Melbourne Auction Rooms

It is also a suburb rich in old hand-painted and architectural building signs with a few rare examples of old neon signs too. Being an originally working class suburb, buildings have not been particularly well-maintained and many signs still exist from the turn of the century through to the 50s and 60s.

With every new discovery I found myself reaching for my iPhone and angling for the perfect shot. My sign-hunting addiction was showing no signs of abating…

North Melbourne Greys

North Melbourne

North Melbourne is a residential, commercial and industrial suburb immediately north-west of central Melbourne. It is often associated with West Melbourne (in which is situated the North Melbourne railway yards), and the boundary between the two is Victoria Street.

Established in the 1840s, by 1861 the borough had a population of over 7,000 people. In addition to the churches and the benevolent asylum, it had numerous hotels and, by the turn of the century had grown to over seventy.

North Melbourne Arden CourtFrom this time and well into the 1950s North Melbourne was considered a working men’s suburb, with local industries and plenty of housing within walking distance of work. Some remnants of this time still remain today adding a contrasting edginess to the growing gentrification of the area.

North Melbourne ClevelandThe Cleveland sign was one of the first that I was drawn to capture in North Melbourne. I love the great old deco font, the boarded-up door and iron gates. I am intrigued to know more about the business that presumably operated from here in the 20s or 30s. Do let me know if you have any insights or information regarding this old architectural building sign!

North Melbourne KB Johnson ghost sign

This old factory sign for K.B Johnstone is also a wonderful example of a very early sign from North Melbourne’s industrial past.

While I thoroughly enjoy the mystery that surrounds those signs for which the Internet offers no explanation, I am always thrilled to find out more about signs and their history when I can!

The Bulla Cream sign is one such example where I have been able to source more information. The owners of Bulla Cream opened the premises on Arden Street, North Melbourne in 1928 some 18 years after successfully inventing a new process that created pasteurised thickened cream.

In 1935 a boom in family-operated milk bars meant big business for Bulla Cream whose ice-cream and cream were regularly purchased by consumers from their local milk bar. In the 1950s and 60s their products could be purchased for the first time through supermarkets and the brains behind the brand developed innovative take-away containers for ice-cream and cream responding to huge improvements in home refrigeration and growing public demand. Bulla Cream is still operated by decedents of the founding family and has remained successful by continuing to evolve, innovate and respond to consumer preferences and market trends. What a great old sign – I simply adore the slightly upside-down looking ‘B’!

North Melbourne Bulla Cream

I love this old milk bar signNorth Melbourne Milk Bar Cigarette which depicts a just visible smoking cigarette. With the current ban on all smoking advertisements in Australia it is an interesting marker of a time when smoking was much more ubiquitous and acceptable.

North Melbourne The Age Herald Sun

The hand-painted The Age and Herald Sun newspaper signs may well have been from the 50s or 60s given the ageing and the font style used.

The Sun newspaper is no longer operational since its merger with The Herald in 1990.

Here is a taste of a few of the other great signs I found in North Melbourne. Do you know of any others? Let me know!

North Melbourne Trading Hours

North Melbourne Rubbish Removed

Northcote Coke Sign & ghost signs

North Melbourne Plumber sign

North Melbourne Holley Performance


13 responses to “Despite recent gentrification efforts its gorgeous grittiness remains…

  1. Great signs in North Melbourne. It’s not an area I know very well but looks rich in history. I particularly like the Bulla Cream sign and only just realised the “B” is upside-down – very distinctive!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow – the signages look so unique and beautiful! I always feel sad whenever I see people demolishing old buildings because the new buildings will never have the same charm and character as the old ones. You did a great job and capturing the bygone era!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Yes I don’t think most new signage is nearly as well designed and individual as these signs. Hand-painted signs have becoming more popular in recent years tho so perhaps we will see that change over time. Fingers crossed!


  3. I love the Auction Rooms sign!! I don’t know North Melbourne very well but all the photos you’ve posted are amazing as usual!

    Do you really take all the shots on an iPhone?!

    – Ashleigh


    • Yes I love the Auction Rooms sign too! I do take all the shots on my iPhone. It’s so great having a camera with me at all times but the quality would be better if the I carried a digital camera with me. One day I might reshoot some of my favourite signs on a digital SLR… If they’re still there to re-shoot! You just never know with these vintage signs…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes unfortunately… Sometimes a recent demolition will uncover a great piece only for it to be completely covered up again days later by a new development… The Bournville Cocoa sign on my home page was one of those signs which only appeared briefly and is now gone. Sometimes overly zealous local residents will give old signs a little retouch too which I think really spoils their historic appeal!


  4. Another round of stunning photos! I love that Bulla Cream sign too but I’m also intrigued by Cleveland and KB Johstone. Could be a link to Johnstone street in Fitzroy? I love unravelling the local history of an area. I bet the local council or maybe an archive library would have more information. Have you seen the tv show about the history of houses? I think it’s called ‘Who’s been sleeping in my house’. I love it for the mystery and the amazing things they learn about the building’s past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered the same about the Johnstone street signs actually but I’m not sure and I think it’s possible it’s just the same name. Great idea about the archive library! Thank you. I’ve had a look at the Fitzroy Historical Society but I haven’t been able to find anything about the signs in Fitzroy on the site yet… I have seen ‘Who’s been sleeping in my house!’ Fascinating stuff!


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