Melbourne Ghost Signs

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GHOST SIGNS are hand-painted signs and stencils preserved on buildings usually for long periods of time, lost reminders of historic enterprises, advertisements, public notices and typographies.  Sometimes they have been deliberately preserved for nostalgic or heritage reasons or temporarily revealed by construction and demolition. All these signs have an important story to tell. The artists who crafted them were ‘street artists’ long before Melbourne’s fashionable art movement appeared in the late 1990s.
EXPLORE the City of Melbourne’s oldest heritage letter-forms and learn how their cultural stories express the life of a city.
OUR 2.5-hour walking tours are a journey through time and place exploring ghost signs in iconic locations: lanes and arcades, chinatown, warehouses, street art lanes and historic buildings. Tours are by arrangement at a time and date of choice.



For our holiday jaunt, the ID/Lab crew went on a tour of historic signage (guided by Melbourne Walks) in Melbourne’s CBD. Walking through the city, it quickly became apparent how much of the city’s history is reflected in the signs people choose to adorn their buildings. The rise and fall of Melbourne during the gold-rush, the various waves of migration, the emergence of street art, and the development of the iconic laneways were all apparent in one of the most common and underrated forms of Melbourne’s cultural expression. We had a fun time and learned a good deal about the history of our great city.” Staff group, ID/Lab Melbourne.

Just dropping a quick note to say thank you so much for this morning’s heritage signs walking tour through Melbourne. We were buzzing afterwards! It was exciting to see so many hidden treasures, and to hear some of your amazing stories. We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to wander around with you, share your wealth of knowledge and discover so many gems hidden in plain sight! Thank you again!  Kieran Doolan, College of Vocational Education, RMIT University 2024

Hunting Ghost Signs is part of a growing ‘retrostalgia’’ movement by young people and urban archaeologists seeking to mine the richness of our past in order to gain a greater understanding of our present. In fact, hunting ghost signs has become a worldwide pursuit, with thousands sharing photos on social media. For those who hunt them, unearthing ghost signs is as thrilling as an excavation of ancient burial grounds.  In March 2013 an international Ghost Sign Conference was coordinated by Dr Stefan Schutt of Victoria University in Melbourne to share experiences from experts across the globe. 

The impermanence of these signs has fostered debate about whether precious signs should be afforded protection for their cultural and artistic significance in the same way as important sky signs such as the Pelaco, Nylex and Skipping Girl signs have been preserved.

Further information:
 Characters: Cultural Stories Revealed Through Typography, Stephen Banham, 2011.


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