I Grew Up A NewspaperMan

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.

256px-Bundesarchiv_B_145_Bild-F011578-0010,_Boppard,_DruckereiWe’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…

The Dad Interview

It started as I’m the family blog expert. My sister wanted my Dad, Kevin Whalan to create a blog and record his memories.

So I took it on and found that the blog had been started. But there was no content. So I tidied it up and passed it on to Dad. And he added a couple of blog entries. But then there was a pause.

I was unsure how to encourage Dad to add more content. In passing, I mentioned my dilemma to a friend. Typically, she batted it back at me. Interview him, she said, it worked for her family: namely her brother and father.

So I took it on.  It just so happened that I was working a extremely short contract and was in Sydney Thursday and Friday the following week.  I thought if I rescheduled my flights to Sunday and visit my son for the weekend I could interview Dad Saturday.

I told my son and his partner of my plan. They were up for it. So I then invited them to come down and see Dad on the Saturday. I also told Dad what I was doing. He had no problem with it at all. I also bought a web cam and tried it out.

So on the Saturday, it all came together and we arrived. But then I was beset by technical problems. I set the laptop and camera up and nothing seemed to work. Laptop and Mouse

In the end, I managed to get a test video of Dad talking about his meeting Princess Diana. That story was both hilarious, inspirational and insightful.  My son and his partner were absolutely spellbound. Then everything stopped working again. I started to despair. I then thought that if I just get past this, something interesting might happen.

So I put on my desktop support hat. I diagnosed and fixed the problem despite having to borrow some batteries.

So I began again.  The video resumed. I audibly whooped for joy! It probably can’t be removed from the clip. Dad began  talking about how and where he was born. He was born at a small nursing hospital quite close to his parent’s home. I asked him about his parents and his childhood. He lightly touched on that so I didn’t delve.

Then I asked him how he got into being a journalist. I was astonished by his story. He said he was asked to write a story as no-one else would. “So what did you do?”, I prompted. “I just wrote it,” was the reply. Yes I thought, I know that one, no-one told me either. Once a writer, always a writer.

And Dad was away. He spoke about how he became a journalist. He more or less taught himself. He then spoke about how he leased the local paper, the Canowindra Star. It was running at a complete loss. In time after the interview, he ended up writing about it in his blog.

I prompted him again. I asked him why he took it on and how did he know it would work. His reply again just completely surprised me. He said, “he just knew it would.” He just went ahead and leased the paper. It as he writes was incredibly successful.

As the conversation continued, I tried to make myself as scarce as possible. I was amazed how much I remembered as a boy. I quite clearly remember how Dad knew everyone and would say “Gidday” to one and all. So did I and I made sure to drawl out the greeting just like everyone else. I also clearly remember going with Dad to Cowra, the nearest major town each Tuesdays when the paper was printed. I remember the linotype machines and the printing presses. All in all the noise was incredible. It was an oily grimy gritty place to work.  But it had an energy to it that I caught.

"Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated" by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning - Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg#/media/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg

“Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated” by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna; Paul Koning – Original photo (Image:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum.jpg by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. Annotations by Paul Koning. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg#/media/File:Linotype-vorne-deutsches-museum-annotated.jpg

Every so often, the operators would assemble the molten type after dousing it with water into a metal print form. They would then smear it with ink. The would place newsprint over it and run a roller over it. My job was to read the proof. As I was six or seven I can’t be held responsible for the bloopers. But it helped my education.

In truth I didn’t realise how much it helped until I was a teenager. I and my brother were asked to help publish and print the school magazine. It was hard work but it was a job that we both just seemed to know. And the magazine was a success! Thanks to my Dad. It wasn’t until much later that I realised how much I remembered. Besides during the interview, I only touched lightly on these subjects. For you see, the silence was beginning to do its work.

So setting aside my musings and returning to Dad’s story, the Canowindra Star fell on hard times. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the paper was sold and Dad was retrenched.

Since that time, Dad had quite a few ups and downs. On two occasions, he went from finishing  a role on Friday to starting a new one on Monday. While that was not always his experience I began to discern a pattern. But I didn’t say anything.

For I could see and was surprised by the effect of the silence. As the interview continued I became quieter and quieter. In truth, I still think I speak too much and need to listen more. But I learnt much that day about interviewing and especially my Dad.

For Dad became more expansive as he relaxed. He too realised that there was a pattern in the stories he was telling. It was there the silence called it forth much as Anna Deveare-Smith described.

Each time he encountered ups and downs he prayed. He really thought that things would work out. And they did. Every single time.