Views of Skipping Girl under threat

A new 9-storey apartment building is proposed at 647-649 Victoria Street Abbotsford. The site is on the north-east corner of the Burnley & Victoria Streets intersection, opposite Victoria Gardens shopping centre. The National Trust has objected to the negative impact that the new building will have on the heritage significance of the adjacent Skipping Girl vinegar sign, known colloquially as “Little Audrey”.

In 2007 the Trust, in recognition of its social, historical and landmark significance, awarded the sign a National Trust Victorian Heritage Icon award. 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.  The sign is included on the Victorian Heritage Register. Whilst a permit is not required under the Heritage Act or under the heritage overlay, developments in the neighbouring area can have an impact on its significance. The Heritage Victoria statement says:

For the thirty-two years that the Skipping Girl sign stood above the vinegar factory it was regarded as a local landmark and a public outcry followed its removal. In response to this a campaign was undertaken to reinstate it. With the involvement of businessman John Benjamin, a new Skipping Girl Vinegar sign was reinstated on the roof of Benjamin’s Crusader Plate Company, a short distance from its original location.

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.

City of Yarra’s local planning policy 22.03 seeks to maintain the prominence of landmark signs within the municipality.  The National Trust submits that the views of Skipping Girl are not being protected by this application. Views to drivers travelling both east and west along Victoria Street should be maintained, but the analysis provided by the developer were taken from viewpoints that represent someone driving down the wrong side drive east along Victoria Street on the wrong site of the road.  The impact of the new building will also be to create a backdrop to views from the east, whereas the sign is currently a “sky” sign when viewed at ground level, not diminished in prominence by a lit building (see photo below).

The cumulative impact of this proposed (and other forthcoming developments) is to erode the prominence and significance of the Skipping Girl sign. 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, the sign’s prominence should not be dimmed by development. The National Trust urges the developer to increase the setback of the facade on Victoria Street to preserve the views of Little Audrey from the streetscape.

Yarra City Council have failed to determine the permit, and the matter will now proceed to a full 5-day hearing at VCAT from 2 May 2016.
Yarra City Council website is hosting all the relevant plans and documentation, and will be kept updated as expert evidence is circulated in late April.
Click here to view the relevant page on the City of Yarra website. 

Click here to read the relevant article in The Age, 4 January 2016.

Photo by Aaron Murphy

Photo credit: Aaron Murphy


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