DAY ONEAnd so it begins ...
Already I am almost exactly half-way there. I arrived in the New South Wales town of Taree at 6 o'clock this evening, after 7 1/2 hours on the road. I've covered 621 kilometres (388 miles), and Brisbane is another 634 kilometres (396 miles) further north. And already I have one more fabulous typewriter.
All up the trek to the Breakfast Creek Type-In is going to be a little more than the distance by road from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Hartford, Connecticut.
I mention Hartford, Connecticut, because Taree sits on the broad Manning River. My mind firmly set on typewriters, I drove into town fully expecting to find this vast expanse of water was named in honour of that giant of the typewriter industry in early 20th Century Hartford, Edward James Manning - the Mr Fix It for Hammond, Underwood and Royal. Silly me. The river was named in 1826 after Sir William Manning, back then Deputy Governor of the Australian Agricultural Company. Big Ed wasn't yet born in 1826. The river's far more becoming Aboriginal name is Boolumbahtee.
But my false assumption was not as silly as Wikipedia's, which would have us believe Taree was first settled in 1828 by Sir William Wynter, who was a 16th century English admiral. Taree comes from "tareebit" the native Biripi word meaning "tree by the river", or more specifically, the Sandpaper Fig. And that word has been around at least 600 years.
Ah, Taree is a gorgeous town, and the Manning is magnificent - it makes me think of the mighty Mississippi and my latest idol, Mr Mark Samuel Clemens Twain. I hope to make an early enough start tomorrow to get photographs of the Manning, in the bright morning light. Taree is just one of hundreds of wonderful old towns and villages dotted across the enormous state of New South Wales. But because of our highway system, the traveller no longer gets to stop at these places, to dwell in them and savour their offerings. Instead, he or she savours the rich country smell of petrol, at a refuelling stop.
I wanted to get the photos of the river tonight, but by the time I had settled in, taken my walk through the town and had my barbecued prawns at the Aquatics Club, it was already pitch black.
Wednesday was the day from hell. I was on the go for 20 hours start. starting at 3.30am, two or three hours before I usually wake. I couldn't get back to sleep, so decided to get on with preparations for the trip to Queensland. The long haul ended last night with me presenting a paper to the Canberra chapter of the Australian Society for Sports Historians on California's complete conversion to rugby union from American football from 1905-1917. Not that Typospherians would be interested in such a subject, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.
I'd got a good night's sleep and because of the forward planning, was able to get away from Canberra by 10.30, an hour and half ahead of schedule. Twelve portable typewriters in their cases had been assembled for Sunday's Type-In in Brisbane, and I also loaded the station wagon with a Remington 7, a Smith Premier 10 and an IBM Selectric with Blickensderfer keyboard to give to Scott Kernaghan (The Filthy Platen). (Sorry, Scott, I forgot all about the bloody Facit 1620!)
Having a bit of time up my sleeve, I pulled off the Hume Highway to spend a short break in Berrima, my long-time favourite off-the-beaten-track village. When my sons were young I often took them there to raid the Lolly Swagman. The sweet store is now run by a fellow New Zealander, yet he was temporarily out of stock of that Kiwi delicacy, chocolate fish. So I tried some jaffa fudge instead. Yum!
Driving into Berrima, I headed for the large antiques store on the southern edge of the village. This warehouse-size building was a place where once, not so very long ago, one could be guaranteed of finding a matching button for an 1890s dress. It also had some toy typewriters from a slightly later era, but at prohibitive prices. It has closed, shuttered up. I asked the lady at the general store about it, and she said the couple who owned it had both died. I then enquired about another antiques store I'd spotted out of the corner of my eye, a little closer to the village. "I've been too busy here to get down there and have a look through it," she said, "so I don't what it's like. But I'm sure it's well worth a visit."
I drove back to the antiques shop. My heart skipped as I spotted the name over the door. "The Write Stuff" in a Courier font. Very promising, indeed!
But my heart quickly sunk again when I walked in the door and saw what looked like a battered, decal-less Royal 10, so dilapidated it was hardly recognisable. "So this is it," I thought. But as I turned to walk out, I saw an adjacent room and, gently guided by the Typewriter Gods above, happily decided to check that out too.
My heart started racing again when I saw the three shiny black old portables, gleaming and looking magnificent side-by-side in their glass cabinet. One was an Imperial Good Companion, another a Corona four-bank. But the one that really caught my eye was a Corona 3 Special. The moment the shop owner, Janene Colbran, took it out of the cabinet and I realised it had an azure front panel, I was in love with it. I had to own it.
Janene also had some beautiful typewriter advertising poster prints, which I bought, but sadly I had to leave the IGC and the Corona four-bank behind. After leaving Berrima I reached the M4 Westlink Motorway and swung close by Richard Amery's home in Rooty Hill. As I whizzed past, I yelled, "Imperial Good Companion in Berrima!" But somehow I don't think Richard heard me. If he had, he would have been off the Berrima in a flash.
I rarely go to Berrima without continuing a little way out of the village to Berkelouw's famous bookshop. It has changed considerably since I was there last. The loft has gone, the books have been reduced to a fraction of what used to line the shelves, and now it's crowded with midday diners and imbibers. I found a 1935 Popular Mechanics Shop Notes book with a lead story about "typewriting your name on tools". The lady behind the counter said the shop no longer had so many books because "we got rid of all the crap". Funny, I'd visited that shop many times before, and not once had I ever seen a "crappy" book. Is there really such a thing, I wonder?
I'd reached Berrima, 165km from Canberra, just after noon, and after taking in the Lolly Swagman, the general store, The Write Stuff and Berkelouw's, it was twenty to two before I headed off in the direction of Sydney, 130km away. I now had 13 portables on board, which may not have seemed a good omen, but the rest of the trip was a cinch. After another hour's drive, and 40 kilometres out of Sydney City, I turned on to the M4 and by 3.20 was headed for Newcastle. I got there an hour later and pressed on to Taree.
All the way I heard the good wishes of Jasper, Georg, Professor P, the Reverend Mr Munk and Ryan Adney ringing in my ears. Clickety-clack, Richard had said. But then a new rhythm emerged. I remembered when I first visited my home town after settling in Sydney, 44 years ago, an uncle had asked me, "What're the roads like in Australia?" "Concrete slabs," I said, "So I've heard," my uncle said. And today, once more, it was pittedy-pat, pittedy-pat, pittedy-pat, just like the typing of an old Corona 3.
Tomorrow I will drive as far as the Gold Coast, 87 kilometres (54 miles) short of Brisbane. I will stay there with a very old friend. Gary was the first person I ever sat next to in high school, 51 years ago. We're still the best of mates. What did I give Gary to read that day in 1962? The typewritten draft of my first novella, the story of Anthony Marks, inspired by the sordid books of Carter Brown. That Gary still remembers this immature work so fondly is the reason I'm still so fond of him. Well, partly at least ...