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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



My I Spy: something beginning with ‘T’

The letter T brings to mind tea for two, tricycles and teddy bears. There are T’s everywhere, it would seem. Here are a few that I’ve spotted in my travels.

Three Sisters, Echo Point

Three Sisters, Echo Point

Three Sisters, Echo Point

This sandstone formation is instantly recognisable to many people and is a major tourist drawcard in the Blue Mountains. From the early days of photography, a popular gimmick was to take photos of three sisters in front of the Three Sisters. There is an image of an early photograph by Ernest Brougham Docker here. The formations are “sheer yet crumbling, they rise a thousand feet above the forest floor. The Jamison Valley in which they are situated is fed by scores of waterfalls and cascades. The view alternates between the damp luxuriance of rainforest and the stark yellow of weathered cliff” (Martin Thomas, The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains).

There was a legend that the three sisters were members of the Katoomba tribe, living in the Jamison Valley. They fell in love with three men in the neighbouring tribe at Nepean, but their marriage was forbidden by tribal law. A battle between the tribes followed and an elder turned the sisters to stone to protect them. Unfortunately, the elder was killed in the battle and no one could turn the sisters back. The legend has been subsequently revealed as an attempt to make a local landmark more interesting, although the traditional Aboriginal owners, the Gundungurra, have a legend that includes the rock formation.

Tiles, Globe Hotel, West Wyalong

Tiles, Globe Hotel, West Wyalong


Travelling through country towns, it is common to come across tiled shopfronts, especially  on old pubs. Pubs seem to survive above all else in some places. These tiles were spotted on the old Globe Hotel at West Wyalong, a gold mining town in the central west of NSW. The original pub was built in 1894 but was rebuilt in 1908 after being destroyed by fire. The tiles below were on one of the many lovely old shopfronts along the main street in Temora.

Tiles, Temora

Tiles, Temora

Tulips at Eden Park

Tulips at Eden Park


This lovely display was spotted in front of a large garden centre in Macquarie Park, north west suburb of Sydney. Floriade in Canberra is an annual celebration of tulips with over a million blooms carefully planted in creative displays since 1988. There is a link to the photo gallery here.

Tools at Mt Victoria Museum

Tools at Mt Victoria Museum


There is something about tools lined up neatly on a board. This collection is at the Mount Victoria Museum.

Typewriter at Mt Victoria Museum

Typewriter at Mt Victoria Museum


I couldn’t resist this old Remington typewriter, also spotted at the Mount Victoria Museum. My fondness for typewriters and keyboards in general was revealed earlier in this quest, and just looking at it reminds me of how clumsy keystrokes or too much enthusiasm could result in the keys mashing together in a tangled mess.

Have you spotted anything tricky beginning with T lately?

Keep an eye on Autumn’s insightful spying here, as well as atman.art.studio on Instagram.

And now I’m off to uncover something beginning with U.



Mini Mountain Moments

Some observations from my recent wanderings.

  • Spotting a unicycle in the back of a ute.
  • Stray beanies left on the steps of a shopfront. A sign that spring is on its way?
  • Smiles. Lots of smiles.
  • Standing quietly and feeling a tangle of languages and moments and experiences wrap around me. ‘When I was in Spain …’ ‘Have you seen …?’
  • The click-clack of luggage being hauled along by tourists across the paved footpaths.
  • Hissing buses taking tourists around the sites, their faces smudged against the glass.
  • Backpackers carrying what seems like their own body weight on their back, foreheads covered with bright scarves.
  • Phones and cameras wielded with enthusiasm at the many look outs and beauty spots, as well as along the main streets in the villages.
  • Long term locals identifiable by their easy walking gait up the steep stretches of Katoomba Street.
  • The elasticity of time. People completely relaxed, with all the available time in the foreseeable future, or in a rush, trying to jam as many experiences as possible into a tight timeframe as if on a manic kind of quest.
  • Changeable weather. The high clouds sometimes dart across the sun providing shade before moving on and a blinding light follows.
  • A feeling of acceptance that is difficult to define. An attitude that whoever you are, that’s okay.
  • Sighting a recorder (the musical woodwind instrument, that is) lying in a display of bright spring blooms. I thought later that I should have taken a photo for #MyISpy but when I went past the next day it was gone as someone else must have spotted the musical potential.
  • An assortment of tantalising aromas from the wide range of restaurants and cafes.
  • Murals tucked into the many alleyways, just waiting to be discovered.

What have you spotted, heard, smelt or felt in your neighbourhood lately?

[Photo: Butterfly Walk, Katoomba]

Eskbank House

Recently I went along to have a look around Eskbank House. It is located in Lithgow and was the first house built inside the Lithgow valley. Built in 1842 for Thomas and Mary Brown, the house was their residence for nearly 40 years. The helpful guide advised me that they were the only owner-occupiers of the house until it became a museum in 1966. There were various other tenants over the years, mainly mine managers and their families, and the house has had various incarnations over time.

The property was one of the earliest house museums in NSW, opening in 1966. Originally the house consisted of four rooms and a central courtyard. There were fireplaces in each of the rooms, and during my visit on a glorious late autumn morning the flagstone hall had a definite chill despite the warmth outside. It would have been very fresh there in winter.

There have been various additions and demolitions over the years, and there are four outbuildings in the large gardens. There are displays in each of them, including the most recent building which was constructed in 1993. This is the pottery museum and it holds the Lithgow Pottery Collection. There is also a range of industrial machinery in the grounds, including Possum the Locomotive, which worked on the Lithgow Ironworks from 1919 until 1928 when it was relocated to Port Kembla. Possum was gifted back to the museum in 1969.

Throughout the house and the gardens there are various items of interest. The furniture in the master bedroom includes an exquisite four-poster bed, and there are several period pieces of furniture as part of the Bracey Furniture Collection which help provide an insight into how the house would have looked over a hundred years ago. The wide assortment of tools and household paraphernalia in the stables and blacksmith area are a testament to the skilled trades of a bygone era, as are the samples of the Lithgow Pottery Collection.

At the time of my visit, the gallery space (old courtyard) featured some amazing local artwork courtesy of the Waste2Art Exhibition 2016. There are regular exhibitions held here which help to keep Eskbank House a living space and worth a visit.

There is an excellent website on Eskbank House here, and a detailed blog post here by Anne Dignam which helps to flesh out the history of the property. Some of the photos I took at Eskbank House are available through this link.

What brings history to life for you?

[Photo of Eskbank House taken near the stables]