I grew up a newspaperman. My dad was the editor of the Canowindra Star, the local paper in Canowindra New South Wales. He wasn’t the grizzled editor from central casting : think of Perry White in Superman or Benjamin Bradlee in All the Presidents Men. No, he was my Dad (Kevin Whalan) : as he describes he was subeditor, editor, journalist, photographer, advertiser and publisher as well.
And my brothers and sisters were newspapermen and women too. For Dad, unusually and non-traditionally, took his family with him when he worked. I can recall seeing Rugby Union matches, the Friday night trots, and even the occasional council meeting (almost certainly I slept through that).
He would take the photos with a Brownie box camera. He would then put the paper together in his office during the week. I can recall visiting him after school as the office was next to the local barber (the one that wasn’t cranky). Later when he worked from home, I saw him write, rewrite, subedit and then dictate copy over the phone.
On Tuesdays, Dad would drive to Cowra where the paper was printed at the Cowra Guardian for distribution on Wednesdays. He would take my brother and I (as far as I can recall) with him and we would go into the printery.
We’d first enter the linotype room. It was a confusion of activity. Men were running everywhere. Linotypes are smelly, loud and dirty. And overwhelming at first. And messy. I still can see in my mind’s eye the texture of metal filings in oil on the floor. Much like shiny black sandpaper. Men would sit on a steel chair and type at a keyboard with copy clipped to the machine. I could hear the roar of the motors and the clatter and rattle of the typing. Every so often metal would issue forth and be added to a metal square (the form).
It obviously was not a safe environment for children. Especially as one of the children (me!) was somewhat accident-prone. But nothing happened to me at all.
When the form was complete and cooled a roller was dipped into ink and spread over it. Then paper would be added and rolled over again. Then the result would be proof-read. I too can recall reading the proof. I don’t recall making any corrections or being responsible for any misprints fortunately. Once proofread the form and paper would be sent away.
Then later in the day, almost as a separate process, we’d see the printing press in action. It too was loud but fast. It would produce the papers as one and then deposit them to be retrieved. It was then we saw the paper come together and quickly!
Then Dad would load up the car and take the early editions back home to Canowindra. The rest of the issues were distributed the following day. He would take a rather circuitous route dropping issues off as twos or threes or sometimes half a dozen at some of the small stops. I can recall too that the papers were never ever bound together : they were loose.
And that detail stayed with me. And was recalled by a conversation with a friend who was working for one of the local Melbourne papers. She was saying how she delivered the papers to the shops all bound and tied. And sometimes they would stay that way. And in the middle of that conversation, I nearly said, “Untie them when you deliver them!” I didn’t realise why until later.
Even in Year 9, I didn’t know how much stayed with me. Edmund Rice College were looking for volunteers to edit the school magazine. My brother David and I stepped forward (or were nominated!). And the school got two newspapermen for free! Except we didn’t realise it at the time. But somehow we knew what to do as well as what to change! We had a page on Anzac Day featuring the Ode of Remembrance. I lobbied successfully for more of the poem to be published. It was then I realised that putting together a paper was hard work. But Dad did it every week! The strangest part was putting it together and then sending off the draft to the offset printers. It was surreal to send it away and have it reappear in another format without seeing it typed, set and printed for real.
Even, in the workforce, I didn’t realise how much Dad’s work had stayed with me. As a software developer and system manager, I would often rewrite procedures, correspondence and emails as they were unreadable. What I found was that I could summarise quite complex writing briefly and succinctly. But all I was doing was what Dad did : sub editing his own copy. Perhaps somehow I had learned his art by osmosis. Ultimately I ended up writing training and technical documentation.
But I didn’t realise how much it stayed with me until the conversation with my friend. Which of itself led to a recollection of what my brother and I remembered from our childhood.
The irony was that this newspaperman wanted to become a journalist. But due to various circumstances I didn’t have that opportunity. In truth, I don’t know what sort of journalist I would’ve made. But somehow it has led to this blog…