Scattered across Melbourne the lambent glow of a bygone signage renaissance has all but deteriorated. The Skipping Girl, with all of her iterations now over 80 years old, was once a landmark visual that shared the Melbourne skyline with other larger than life creations. Now, only the likes of Nylex, Victoria Bitter (which SignManager proudly look after), Slade Knitwear, and Pelaco remain. The National Trust, a body striving for the protection of heritage icons, is still fighting to preserve Skipping Girl amidst a sea of residential apartments suffocating her vibrancy. With the site now for sale, the Skipping Girl or “Little Audrey” emerges as vastly important, beyond the fact it was Australia’s first (and possibly last) large animated neon sign.
The original sign was erected in 1936 by Neon Electric Signs who 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 Australia. In the late 1960s after Nycander moved factories, and the building was contracted to be knocked down, the sign was sold on to a panel beater and the original sign was lost to time. In 1970 an electroplating company called Crusader allowed the use of their rooftop, and a new sign was constructed and illuminated at a ceremony on the 13th of November 1970. Australian icon Barry Humphries found the remains in May 1974, laid a wreath, and sang a specially composed song for the event. After the Crusader business closed, and the site was sold, the sign was restored and re-lit on 23 May 1990. By the early 2000s the sign was in-operational again, and in 2007 the National Trust of Australia launched a successful campaign to have Little Audrey heritage-listed, restored, and awarded a National Trust Icon. Powered by clean energy at the turn of the last decade, and with AGL as a major sponsor, Audrey is still (for now) skipping.
So the question still exists, why all this benevolence for a sign that uses ancient technology to promote a brand that doesn’t exist anymore?
“The Skipping Girl has been a continuing motif in my life and many thousands of Melburnians in the past 50 years. She captured my imagination and I hope she continues to capture the imaginations of all who see her, as a universal symbol of a carefree childhood that we can all share” local resident Vivienne Halat said.
The same motif exists in places like Portland and their White Stag or Scranton, PA, where residents from all cultures and communities in the area strive, and have for 130 years, to keep the idea of the “Electric City” alive. An ode to Scranton’s role in pioneering electricity usage in the late 19th century, the sign evokes a deeper human connection.
Could it be more than just pride in a city? Perhaps there is an element of romantic nostalgia as Vivienne alluded to? Maybe the psyche of human condition means most of us share an unyielding desire to establish a legacy. We can’t live forever, but achievement can. If we save Audrey or Electric City, perhaps we can control how we’re remembered? Will future generations preserve our creations like we did? We want those who come after us to caress the signpost that embodies our generational progression, even when we’ve stopped evolving and become an ode to a bygone era. Humans want to know all the work, blood, sweat and tears weren’t in vain. We weren't lost to the hand of change.
The Skipping Girl is a display of preservation, of acknowledgement - a nod those who changed the way brands interact with consumers. They are iconic, not because they made their brands famous, quite the contrary, most of these businesses no longer exist. They are iconic because they represent the human spirit. These signs have transcended societal trends and technological advancements to secure cultural legacies that many strive for. They demand to be admired. They challenged the status quo and won, progressing many industries along the way. These signs give status to brands.
These brands achieve prestige because they carefully adapt their visual and verbal identity to tell their customers a unique story, then they commit themselves to that story over the years and decades ahead. Iconic branding takes time and consistency. The most iconic brand identities find a way to seep into every aspect of a user’s life – becoming embedded in their sense of culture.
It is important to have substance supporting appearance, beyond just the solution provided. Brands that have meaning in their work and moral values behind their actions. Behaviours take a special position in the mind and heart of audiences. Such brands and signs have a soul. This is why they represent something much more than the sum of their parts. True, innovative branding using cutting edge technologies, knowledge, patience and experience will always represent more than just a logo and colours.
Taking care of your signage and understanding how it connects to potential customers is the crux of what we do at SignManager. We are trusted to look after and update Australia's oldest signs - keeping these icons timeless and future-proofed. We have managed some of Australia's most iconic brands like Australia Post and Carlton & United Breweries for over 20 years. Get in contact with us if you have dreams of installing your company's mold breaking sky sign, or if you're managing a large site network let us make it easy with our national network of contractors and purpose-built, award winning systems. We will save you time, stress and money. Contact SignManager today.
Thank you to Iconic Fox and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) for some of the content in this blog post.