Some people race cars.... some people play sport.... some people just like to veg out in front of the TV on their days off. A few strangely unique, twisted individuals, like to run amok with paintbrushes on any old thing that strikes their fancy... we call these people Letterheads!

The most commonly asked question from innocent bystanders who happen upon a letterhead gathering is, "Why are they doing this?" You might as well ask, Why do the stars shine at night?, Why do your feet point to the ground? Why do jobs always go wrong at the last minute?
Because they can!

The reasons aren't important, what's important is that you have FUN doing whatever it is that fills your spare time.

A while back some over-excited signie decided that April 2000 would be a great time of year to undertake a sign restoration in 'everyone's' spare time, and what made this unique was other people agreed. And so on the weekend of the 29th and 30th of April a couple of dozen talented tradespeople descended on an old corrugated iron barn in the Hunter Valley, near the small historical township of Morpeth New South Wales.

This site was owned by Mr Ray Mudd who at 74 years of age assured us the structure hadn't seen a coat of paint in his lifetime. Mr Mudd was an enthusiastic participant in this sign restoration project from the very first mention of were the local heritage committee of Morpeth.
Indian Root Pills in the early part of last century were supposedly a general cure all for such ailments as constipation, sallow complexion and general ill feeling, touted as the answer to everyone's problems, this product was sold right into the late forties.

Advertisements like the three sides of this barn were quite commonplace in regional areas. While pictures of original signs were a little hard to find (even on the Internet) we all had a fair idea of what it was supposed to look like.

The decision was made originally to restore the southwestern wall, and if there was time and enough letterheads we may attempt the eastern wall as well. The overall size of the signs were quite deceptive from our original photographs, with our main focus measuring approximately 10 mtrs in height.

It was our understanding that most Indian Root Pills signs were modified to fit each individual site used, thereby creating a unique look. The work on this barn was no exception, our main problem was that these were all but gone. The only way to prepare the corrugated iron without losing the last remnants of the original signs was to use a transparent covering, Penatrol!

The long-range weather forecast was for fine and sunny days, and as out of towners started arriving in the days before the big weekend, all eyes lifted heavenward checking to make sure the weatherman was correct... the last thing we needed in an open paddock with no weather protection was the rain that is so common at this time of the year.

Darren Watkins from Fraser Coast signs was the first to arrive, he and Melissa had driven all night from Hervey Bay in Queensland so as to be on hand to help with the most necessary behind the scenes work. First thing Thursday morning Darren attacked our sponsors banners with great gusto, all letterheads appreciate the generous support given to our movement by our major sign supply companies and having there trademarks displayed "loud and proud" on site is the least we can do.

We recognise the real cost involved for our supporters to donate their products and technical information that guarantees our voluntary time is well spent. As always Graphic Art Mart, Spandex (formerly the Graphi-Cal Group) and Viponds Paint opened their stores to meet this projects needs, they were joined on our resto by FX Banners and The Flood Company's enthusiastic donation of, the present day Signwriters best friend, Penatrol. With Ark hire and the Valleys local Beavis hire company coming to party we had scaffold and the great Aussie Dunny so necessary for a project like this one.

Actually while we are thanking people, special thanks have to go to Brian of Hunter Valley Signs for the addition of his companies scaffold... couldn't have done it with our you bro.

"Let's get at it then" insisted Jon Butterworth from Toowoomba in Qld, first thing Saturday morning, (wow was the ever anxious).
Jon, or Bushie as he's most commonly called eats these sorts of jobs for breakfast... Bushie has made quite a name for himself as the man who changed the face of Millmerrin in south west Queensland with his amazing mural transformations of old buildings and the most notable water reservoir documented in Signs Australasia Magazine. With his lovely wife Sue, Bushie was eager to get a start.

Jackie Nagle, her partner Steve, the enthusiastic Shannon and 'ever so polite Pete' were more than ready to take their first glimpse of our antique monster.

Melissa ( Darren's right hand girl) just wanted to play with paint.... " and can I use one of those malh sticks too...please ?" she asked, meaning of course that she wished to have a weapon close to bash Darren if he got out of line (which we all knew he would).

By the time we made our way to the paddock Ace had set up camp with all the essentials. We had the 'bloody big esky', a tent and barbecue in place along with Michael George, Cooky, Cheyne, Andrew and Des all enjoying the warm sun and peaceful sounds of a country morning..... well we wrecked that, didn't we!

It seemed to only take moments before Bushie had one letter painted in silver, drop shadowed in black, and a small amount of the background ultramarine blue cut in to show everybody what was expected on their section of wall. Three hours flew by with 22 brushes cutting through the work faster than anyone had anticipated, by the time we stopped for our barbecue lunch.. sitting back to view the progress, we realised our hope for the second wall wasn't so unrealistic after all.
The larrikinism that is so commonly found when a few Ozies get together was never far from the fore as the afternoon passed with among other things Ace's display of lettering (cover your eyes ladies) the old adage of 'time fly's when your having fun' was again proved.
And by the end of the first day it was smiles all round the camp as locals in media types stopped by to admire our handiwork. Someone ....who cant be mentioned in an effort to hide the guilty :) suggested in addition to restoring the original signs a 'Ladies Wall' be painted on the small iron return. Bushie had found some delightful artwork noting 'Women of the Highest Type' that we just HAD to copy. When the projector blew a fuse we decided to mark it out after dinner instead and so it was off to goal we went.

Not five minutes from our work site lies the 150 year-old maximum security Maitland prison affectionately known as "The Hill". Since it's closure last year guided tours of this amazing facility have drawn crowds from all over and with the new Goal Break Cafe offering a terrific feed to starving paint splattered signees it seemed like the best place to be.
Our tour looked through a number of different cell blocks that once housed such notorious figures as Ivan Mallat, John Travis and the Murphy boys, all people who you most certainly wouldn't wish to have dinner with.
At one point to punctuate a story a volunteer was called to enter a black cell.... with the door closed this room allows for absolutely no light whatsoever, seems Devo couldn't let Cooky brave the darkness alone and his mate Darren wasn't going to miss the fun, (I know a few of us wished the locks from the old gaol had still been in operation) but sadly the warder had to let them out and as they emerged, hand in hand, humming a tune, we figured... best not to ask what was like!

The things you find out about on a tour like this one really do make for interesting dinner conversation and so it was off to the cafe we went. I don't think anyone expected the feast we were offered, and as hungry as we were I know most of us couldn't make it through dessert...

Day 2
Sleeping in the back of the ute... was fine
Getting a cold nose from the early morning dew... was fine
Getting BLOWN UP BY DARREN....WAS NOT FINE!!! well like they say... ya get that.

Sunday morning kicked off with a bang (now you had to expect that didn't u) as the over eager, over excited, over hung members of our collective sprang... ( more like stumbled) into action painting out the eastern wall with the background colour. Because of repair work done to this wall and doors of the shed it was decided to just paint over everything and then tick out the sign, instead of cutting in. Devo raced off to get a layout for everyone to work off, while the 'ladies' viewed their marked out wall.
Now at this point I have to explain that after returning to the site the night before, a few of the boys most gallantly offered (am I gunna get in trouble if I don't do what she wants?) to mark out the return for me... not withstanding Ace falling asleep on the bottom line of text, I thought it looked ok... till the sun came up that is :)
Nothing that an outline wont fix.

New bodies arrived to replace some who had to leave on Saturday and the day progressed at a steady pace. One of the fun things about this many people together is always the oop's that can occur. When there is a customer and a deadline things that go wrong aren't very funny, but with no such constraints... spilled paint and errors in judgement are down right hilarious. Like the fact that John Rigby is known for never getting any paint on himself whilst working, so when Darren helped dispel that belief my passing the yellow pot to John (from the top of three lifts of scaffold) all Mr Rigby could do was cop it sweet and pose for the photo's.
Ben Hadfield gave us a few notes from his now famous dig and then jumped in and painted everything in site. Dave Wilson, a local signee stoped by to say hello and got roped into going home to change and returning to help finish the wall.

Thanks to both Ace and Andrew we all had Indian Root Pills t-shirts to wear for the final group photo's and apart from no-one wanting to be on a plank with Uncle (alias Jamie) the photo's show just how happy we were that is was finished.... well almost.

Two weekends later Michael George and Ace (Adam Howison) returned to the shed to finish off with the clear. Now all that's left to do is screw the signature panel in place and it is inri.

As always different people recall different things from any letterheads gathering. My favourite moments were perhaps

1- The view of Ace that I'd never seen before (nor wish to see again) and the dear elderly lady who raced across the road with camera in hand to get the proof!

2- Cookie who can sleep anywhere, doing just that in his high-rise hammock.

3- Drop-dogs (as apposed to drop sheets) who as Jackie put it, were in need of just a little contrast

4- Anzac cookies... or more rightly the effect they can have on the unsuspecting.

If your intrigued then the only answer is to come to the next letterheads meeting and see for yourself.


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