In the alleyway beside the building at 89 Isabella Street, Wingham you will see a ghost sign. A ghost sign is a hand-painted advertisement on a brick wall from years gone-by.1 This particular advertisement is for Lifebuoy soap which was popular in Australia between the two world wars. Lifebuoy soap was introduced in 1894 as the world’s first mass produced anti-bacterial soap. The anti-bacterial ingredient of carbolic acid gave the soap its red colour.2
But why and when was this advertisement painted? The charming two-storey building was erected in 1904.3 It was built as a bakery and remained so for over 80 years.4 A bakery does not seem the typical place to advertise soap. The photo below though shows the building was prime ‘advertising space’ due to its size and location. Isabella Street was once the main thoroughfare between the town and the wharf, directly cutting through Wingham Brush.5 The advertisement would have been unavoidable upon entering town.
Most of the advertisements for Lifebuoy soap show an old sailor holding onto a lifebuoy, yet this ghost sign illustrates a country scene. An extensive search revealed one advertisement from 1921 depicting a similar scene, indicating Wingham’s sign may have been painted in the early 1920s.7 Furthermore, given the width of the alleyway, this sign had to be painted prior to 1924 when the building next door was erected.8 After hours of researching this painting’s history I returned to look at the painting only to notice at the bottom in small print the name of the painter and the date: G L Stead, 18-12-23! There is still one mystery what does ‘0-5-18386’ mean?
Author: Janine Roberts
Further information: Education Resource ‘Lifebuoy Soap to the rescue! Compare advertising techniques across time’
2 Lifebuoy: www.unilever.com/brands/our-brands/lifebuoy.html.
3 Wingham Municipal Council Historical Rate Books, 1889-1907.
4 Arthur Cooper et al., Strolling around Wingham, Journal, Manning Valley Historical Society, Number 34, August 2008.
5 Aerial photo of Wingham held at the Manning Valley Historical Society.
6 NLA, PIC Album 1197/2, PIC/15675/412.
7 Sydney Morning Herald, 17 October 1921.
8 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 12 September 1924; LPI, Vol-Fol: 3611-191.
9 Photo taken by Janine Roberts, November 2017.