The Cottee’s trademark logo on a Tenth Street building, the PS Melbourne Paddle steamer signs and the new Mildura Central mural all have one thing in common, they were all hand-painted by Merbein’s Terry “Moose” McGowan. Caitlyn Morgan got to know the sign-writer behind many iconic signs and murals in Sunraysia. Pictures: Ben Gross
WITHIN moments of meeting Terry “Moose” McGowan it is clear he is still as passionate about sign-writing as the day he first discovered a paint brush.
His workshop in Merbein, originally The Milky Way Dairy, is filled with inspiration and work he has created over the past four decades.
Moose still clearly remembers the day he decided he wanted to be a sign-writer.
“I would have only been about 17 and I was dressing a window when I saw an old sign-writer painting a shop in the street,” he says.
“I knew then that I wanted to be out there doing that and not in here.
“I still remember clear as day the advice he gave me when I asked for a job during my lunch break, he said ‘there isn’t enough work for another sign-writer, stick to being a ticket writer’.”
Moose admits it was that advice that made him even more determined to build himself a career as a sign-writer.
After leaving his job at Maples department store in Mildura to move out of the district, Moose took his skills learnt while on the job as a ticket writer and those instilled in him from his mother Irene who was an artist and started his own business in 1976.
“I had spent some time in Melbourne and Adelaide before relocating to Merbein and working for myself pretty much ever since then,” he says.
“It’s a craft that can be so rewarding.”
While Moose says there have been many career highlights, he has also experienced low points.
With the introduction of new technology, Moose recalls a time when his talent and skills were no longer required.
“The 90s were the worst,” he says.
“It’s only in the past few years that people have gone back to seeing value in hand painting and it being fashionable.”
In the past 12 months, Moose has been kept busy painting numerous murals around Sunraysia, this has included the one at the Target end of Mildura Central and more recently the Mildura mural on Ninth Street.
“To have been chosen to do these when they could have asked anyone was really nice and worth the sleepless nights stressing over them,” Moose says.
When Moose spoke of the many jobs he has acquired over the years, one that definitely got him smiling was when he spoke of the artwork he has painted and repainted over the years on the bottom of the toddler pools in Merbein and Dareton.
“That is one of the most rewarding jobs, I like doing them and the kids love them,” Moose says. “It’s quite strange but rewarding to know that (those paintings) are something they will remember long past their childhood.”
While his career has enabled him to create many varied works, his admits his “bread and butter” is in something you wouldn’t expect… honour boards.
Since 1979 Moose has created honour boards for clubs “everywhere from Wentworth to Robinvale”.
And while he admits he hasn’t done them for every club, he has done more than he can count.
Throughout his long career, Moose says there has certainly been some unusual and often challenging requests.
“I have done a few coffins and urns, which are something that can be a challenge and a job that you don’t have much notice for,” he says.
While sign-writing and art in general is a big part of Moose’s life, so is his love of music, this again was something very obvious when he spoke about his collection of vintage instruments that each had a special place in his music room.
“I played a little bit as a youngster and then eight or nine years ago I wanted to stop smoking so I started playing the trumpet,” Moose says.
“I always loved history so have since collected quite a few historic instruments since then. I am always on the look out for something at the second hand shops.”
With commitments as the chair person of the Mildura District Orchestra, member of the Brass Band and chair person of the Merbein Arts Group, it’s hard to imagine Moose finds much time for anything else.
“Formed through the recovery storm group, the Merbein Arts Group is the best thing since sliced bread,” Moose says.
“We are all about beautifying the town, currently working on a mosaic for the town centre.”
When Moose isn’t working or performing, he can be found riding one of his many treasured motorbikes.
“I spent 40 years as a member of the Mildura Motorcycle Club and only stopped racing speedway a few years ago,” he says.
“While we don’t travel a lot, we do ride often.”
The Merbein grandfather says he will be looking to relax the workload in the coming years, with his son Travis looking to take on the reins of McGowan Signs.
“He has been doing his apprenticeship with me for the past 30 years,” Moose says.
“He has slowly been taking over more things and helping with the bigger projects.
“While I have always preferred to work with my hands, Travis has recently purchased a vinyl cutter so we will be combining the two together to make things more efficient.”
The next project the pair will tackle is the Irymple Bus Shelter.