ONE of Melbourne’s most recognisable icons and first erected in 1936 atop the Skipping Girl Vinegar factory on Burnley St Richmond, the Skipping Girl Vinegar sign has had a colourful history. The skipping girl’s identity is unclear – she could be a likeness of a girl called Elma, the daughter of a milk bar owner that the original factory manager knew. Later she was nicknamed “Little Audrey”, but debate continues – it’s been suggested the original vinegar bottle labels were based on one girl and the sign on another.
The original sign was replaced in 1970 and since then the new structure has been switched off several times for restoration and maintenance and is now a heritage-listed treasure with laws now in place to protect views of Little Audrey.
Construction consists of a painted metal structure outlined in neon tubing depicting a little girl skipping rope. At night the sign’s outlines are illuminated, the skipping rope being displayed in four sequential positions to give the appearance of motion.
The sign was designed for the Nycander factory premises by artist Jim Minogue (who would go on to build the Nylex Clock in 1961), and built in 1936 by Electric Signs, later called Whitewall Neon, then Claude Neon. The company rented the sign to Nycander & Co who in turn placed the sign on top of their Nycander factory at 627 Victoria Street in 1936.
The sign advertising their “Skipping Girl” brand of vinegar was immediately popular, becoming a well-loved landmark. The origin of the connection between vinegar and a skipping girl is a skipping rhyme, usually “salt, vinegar, mustard, pepper, if I dare, I can do better…” to which the rope would be spun faster. In 1938, the company promoted its product with a girls’ skipping competition.