The visual prominence and landmark status of the famous Skipping Girl Vinegar sign in Victoria Street Abbotsford is steadily being eroded by high-rise residential apartment blocks being constructed along Victoria Street.
The cumulative impact of proposed developments next door at 649 Victoria Street currently (currently being considered by City of Yarra) and at the forthcoming Yarra Gardens mega-development (to be decided by the Minister for Planning) is to erode the prominence and significance of the Skipping Girl sign (‘Little Audrey’). As a prominent industrial landmark, the sign is a tangible link to the industrial heritage of the area. Despite the transition to residential uses and development in the area, the sign’s visual prominence, day and night, should not be dimmed by development. The insistence on greater setbacks to the developments to preserve the longer views of the sign must be enforced by Council and the Minister.
The sign has enormous social significance. In 2007 the Trust, in recognition of its social, historical and landmark significance, awarded the Skipping Girl Vinegar sign a National Trust Victorian Heritage Icon award. The current issue has generated coverage on Channel Seven news on 5 January 2015. Vivienne Halat, a local resident, has kindly shared her excellent video about Little Audrey with us.
Architects drawing showing height of proposed apartment block to left dwarfing Skipping Girl vinegar sign and heritage-listed building to right.
The Heritage Victoria statement of significance for the sign states:
The Skipping Girl Vinegar sign is of historical significance as one of an important collection of signs marking Victoria’s industrial heritage in Richmond. Richmond has the greatest concentration of surviving sky-signs in the state, which includes the Nylex, Victoria Bitter, Slade Knitwear and Pelaco signs. The signs have strong associations with the industrial base of the former City of Richmond. These electric sky-signs were once a prominent feature of the Melbourne skyline and are diminishing in number.
The National Trust citation states:
It is one of the few neon sky-signs remaining in Victoria, and is the only one to include an animated figure, and is indeed one of the few to remain animated at all. Of those that survive, there is a remarkable concentration in the Richmond area, flagging its industrial history. They include Pelaco, Nylex, Slade and Victoria Bitter signs.
In 2008 the Trust successfully partnered with AGL as part of a public appeal to restore the sign to working order. The agreement secured the ongoing maintenance of the sign to ensure its continuous operation. In 2012 Little Audrey celebrated her 75th birthday.
The City of Yarra has a longstanding local planning policy that seeks to maintain the prominence of landmark signs to protect views to the Skipping Girl sign. Whilst it is asserted in the town planning report accompanying the application for 649 Victoria Street that views are being protected, there is no systematic assessment and analysis of view lines to the sign and the impact of the proposed development.
In the 1930 the vinegar was being produced in a factory at 627 Victoria Street, Richmond, the building and the brand owned by Nycander & Co. The original sign was erected in 1936 by Neon Electric Signs, later Whiteway, who actually owned it, and rented it to Nycander & Co. It was the first example of an animated neon sign in Victoria, and became the most prominent and popular animated neon sign in Melbourne.
In the late 1960s the Nycander factory moved to Altona, and the site was sold to the Fire Brigade to build a training facility, and the building was to be demolished by Whelan the Wrecker in August 1968. Neon Electric hoped to retain the sign, but Whelan’s claimed ownership, removed the sign, and reportedly sold it to a used car dealer and panel beaters in Abbotsford. Barry Humphries found the remains in May 1974, laid a wreath, and sang a specially composed song for the event. The original sign has now completely disappeared.
In 1970 John Benjamin, Director of Crusader Plate (an electroplating works), located in a 1930s factory at 651 Victoria Street just 200m along from Nycander, ‘came to the rescue’, and allowed the use of their rooftop for a token rental, and a new sign was constructed, smaller than the original, and in a modified design. It was first illuminated at a ceremony on Friday, 13 November 1970.
In c1985, the Crusader Plant business closed, and the site was sold. In 1989 the site was redeveloped as offices, and the development named ‘Skipping Girl Place’. The sign was restored and re-lit after 4 years of darkness on 23 May 1990. By the early 2000s the sign was in-operational again, and in 2007 the Trust launched a campaign to have Little Audrey heritage-listed and raise funds for her restoration. AGL Energy became the principal sponsor of the restoration, with additional grant support from the Heritage Council of Victoria and the Melbourne Heritage Restoration Fund, and public donations. In 2009 the restoration was complete and AGL provided annual maintenance funding and AGL Green Energy keep Audrey skipping. In 2012 she was converted to solar power by AGL.