Portland: Signs of Yesteryear

The above is dotted on signposts leading towards the town of Portland in central west NSW, and it is a case of accurate advertising. Portland, between Lithgow and Bathurst, has a population of 2,400 and a drive around its streets will result in many old-fashioned advertising signs being spotted along shopfronts, alleys and walkways throughout the town.

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Sunlight Soap is still around. The reward would have been a small fortune back in the day!

The signs advertise nostalgic brands. There are some products that are still around, and it is interesting to note that while some changes have inevitably taken place in the advertising world, some branding is still the same.

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Jaffas and Minties are still around too, even if ownership of the brands has changed.

Portland has an unusual history as it is one of a handful of company towns in Australia. Whilst people had been living in the area before the establishment of the cement works, it was the construction of the cement plant that resulted in the town’s development. There had been lime and quarry works in the area and in nearby towns prior to the commencement of the Commonwealth Portland Works, but the scale of the operation and its ongoing success was to dominate the identity and livelihood of the town for nearly a century.

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Uncle Tobys is still around. Interesting claim at the bottom!

In 1991 the cement works closed and the town began the slow adjustment to a life beyond the cement industry.

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A beautiful reproduction of a seed and bulb manual

A decade later, trade signwriter Ron Bidwell was joined by fellow signwriters known as ‘The Letterheads’. Together they recreated vintage signs from 1895 to 1945 and in doing so added significantly to the town’s aesthetic and tourist appeal.

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Some more wonderful signwriting work and in the bottom right hand corner, the artists have left their mark.

The signs are positioned throughout the town and encourage exploration on foot and an appreciation of the heritage shopfronts.

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One of the beautiful old shopfronts in Williwa Street, Portland

The signs featured here are a small sample of the many colourful reproductions of ‘signs of yesterday’. You can see more of them here.

 

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On A Nostalgic Note

It might be due to a sense of nostalgia but recently I found myself looking at record players online. The sum total of records in my life at this time? One: Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday. I recently bought it for a dollar at a community fete. I had flicked through the other offerings which included a bewildering number of tartan-inspired tunes celebrating Scottish heritage as well as a couple of spoken albums including an all-cast version of The Little Prince. Maybe I should have bought a couple more.

I had been tempted by some of the compilation albums featuring some of the big names and groups of the 1970s whilst smiling at the cover art. There was even an album in the stack celebrating James Cook with a mixture of jigs, classical music and poetry, the inside of the album containing drawings and exploratory maps.

Although I am wary of gathering more stuff in my life, there is room for records. I love listening to music and usually have the radio or an iPod shuffling in the background. A huge variety of music is available on various devices at any time. I still have boxes of CDs which I’m reluctant to let go, although most of my music is now digitalised. There are also old cassette tapes squirreled away too, mainly mix tapes carefully compiled for long trips or created by friends.

There has been a vinyl comeback in recent years with some artists embracing the format more than others. A browse on eBay turns up iconic albums re-released on vinyl.

So what is the appeal? Better sound quality. Listening to an album in the way it was intended, without the cherry-picking or just listening to the top-rated songs. To listen to the songs in order instead of ceaseless flitting from one thing to the next, even though compilation albums mix it up. To rediscover songs and memories on old albums discovered in future travels.

It is also to revisit, or attempt to revisit, my own musical history and memories. The first record that I can remember as a Christmas gift was Corroboree by Split Enz, the cover brown and black and white. Buying Crazy for You by Madonna as a 45 after seeing ‘Desperately Seeking Susan‘ with teenage girlfriends. A whole range of music embedded in my memory from childhood from some of the hundreds of albums owned by parents, family and friends. The art of lining up the needle with precision on the desired track, the hiss and crackle of motes of dust. Cover art still vivid in my memory, including the helicopter shot on the front cover of ABBA’s album, Arrival.

Do records tap into nostalgic memories for you?

[Photo: front cover of the Billie Holiday album, Lady Sings The Blues]

Paragon Cafe, Katoomba

A Katoomba institution, the Paragon Cafe celebrates its centenary this year. It was established by Zacharias Simos in 1916 when he leased premises in Katoomba Street to start his business. The cafe walls are adorned with friezes including Roman inspired gods and goddesses, and chariots in full flight. What it is famous for, apart from its longevity, is its exquisite handmade chocolates.

The front window is presented with a wide collection of gifts, novelties and toys to appeal and draw you in. Inside is a cluster of booths along the walls with tables arranged in the middle, and signs directing to the Blue Room and Banquet Hall towards the rear of the building.

Around the picture rails are a wide assortment of photographs, documenting various celebrities who have dined at the cafe. Familiar faces of actors sit alongside politicians across the decades, some photos signed with a flourish.

The cafe embodies the tradition of an older time, embracing stylistic elements of the age of Art Deco. The atmosphere of a nostalgic time is further reinforced by soft jazz music playing in the background, and the wide assortment of paraphernalia associated with the cafe’s long life on display in cabinets.

It is a popular spot for tourists and locals, and has its own dedicated club – The Friends of the Paragon Cafe Inc which has a great website with a treasure trove of history, images and stories relating to the cafe and is well worth a visit. There is also a link to an article by R. Ian Jack providing an extensive history of the cafe.

If you’re in the area, drop in and experience the atmosphere, buy some of the amazing chocolates, enjoy morning, afternoon tea or lunch in the cafe, or book in for one of the jazz & dinner nights. The cafe’s Facebook site can be found here.

[Photo: inside the Paragon Cafe at the counter loaded with all kinds of temptation]