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Wednesday, 8 December 2021

When Your Own Typewriters Are Trapped Behind a Paywall

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry this morning when, scrolling through photos of typewriters on Google Images, I came across – at the top of the first onscreen page - a montage of my typewriters. These were nine machines photographed by Amanda Austin on the floor of my lounge room in Swinger Hill more than 10 years ago. The shots were put together for the cover of the first issue of Smith Journal, which came out on September 5, 2011 – 20,000 copies were sold.

I wasn’t so much surprised to see the montage still featuring so prominently on Google Images, a decade after it was assembled and published. Soon after that first Smith Journal came out, screenshots of the cover, sans the masthead and all other details, were proliferating on such places at Pinterest, but never with any credit to Austin or to the owner of the typewriters.
What happened today, however, is that when I clicked on the image of my machines, I was directed to the London Daily Telegraph website, and found to my amazement that my typewriters were behind a paywall. Not only that, but I'm not allowed to save the shot from Google Images. I have no idea why the Telegraph Media Group thinks it can charge me to look at a photo of my own typewriters (and samples of my typing), but I can say without fear of contradiction that it has no right whatsoever to do so. I’m also safely assuming Austin and I get no credits.
The background to all this is that in mid-2011 Frankie Press in Melbourne contacted me and asked if they could photograph some of my typewriters for a planned feature about famous writers and their work tools, the idea being to run a spread in frankie magazine. Right up to the time the first Smith Journal came out, I was still under the impression the typewriters would appear in frankie. Anyway, Austin made arrangements to come from Sydney to my then home in Canberra for the photo shoot.
I didn’t know how Austin planned to set the typewriters up, but to help her identify which machine was associated with which writer, I printed out A4 sheets (using one of Richard Polt’s online typewriter fonts) with the name of the author in capital letters. I then wound the sheets on to the platens of the typewriters. Even when Austin left to return to Sydney, I was still under the impression that the shots which included the name sheets would only be used for identification and captions.
It was only when I received a couple of advance copies of the first Smith Journal that I became aware of the cover montage – and that Austin’s photos with the name sheets in the platens were the selections used throughout the magazine. So featured on the cover and nine full pages inside Smith Journal were not just my typewriters but my typing (and Richard Polt’s font).
With the benefit of hindsight, I should point out for those reading the spread today that 10 years ago I got Bob Dylan’s typewriter slightly wrong: I have since uncovered the fact that he used a Royal Caravan, not a Royal Safari or a Royal Sabre (the differences between them are minute). Dylan was photographed by Douglas R. Gilbert as he was typing the liner notes for his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, in his writing studio above the Café Espresso on Tinker Street, Woodstock, New York, in August 1964.
The pieces that went with each of the nine machines inside the magazine were written – and very poorly written, I thought - by Benjamin Law, who has since gone on to fame and infamy as an author and journalist. His books include The Family Law, shortlisted nominee for Book of the Year at the 2011 Australian Book Industry Awards, and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East. Family Law was adapted into a six-part television series for the SBS network in 2016 and won the Screen Producers Awards for Best Comedy and was nominated for two Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. In April 2018 Law became an ambassador for the National Library of Australia.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Wills, Lies and the Murder of History

Captaining Australia’s national cricket team is often said to be the second most important job in the country, after that of the Prime Minister. The Australian XI goes into tomorrow’s First Ashes Test in Brisbane in one of world’s oldest sporting rivalries - against England - with a new man at the helm, pace bowler Pat Cummins. Until a week or so ago, the captain was wicketkeeper Tim Paine, but then Paine got caught up in a mind-blowingly senseless sexting scandal and retired.

Australia’s first native-born champion cricketer was Tom Wills (1835-80), who was sent to Rugby School in Warwickshire in 1852, intended for Cambridge University. He neglected studies for cricket and school football and returned to the colony of Victoria qualified for little else but hitting or kicking a ball. Nonetheless he became a well-known figure, helping put cricket on such a sound footing it became Australia’s only truly national sport, and starting an indigenous football code. Things started to go downhill for Wills in October 1861, however, after his father Horatio Wills and 18 men, women and children in Horatio’s party were murdered by Aboriginals while overlanding in Queensland. Tom Wills became a serious alcoholic and suicided in 1880.
Eleven weeks ago Wills was the victim of an appalling lie told by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, this county’s national, publicly-owned broadcaster. The lie was quickly picked up, unchecked, and then perpetrated by the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (both owned by Kerry Stokes’s Seven Network), Murdoch’s Melbourne Herald Sun and Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Special Broadcasting Service and an online site called The Conversation. Only Sky News commentator Andrew Bolt, who writes for the Murdoch papers, has corrected his false assertions. None of the other broadcasters, newspapers or websites have yet owned up to being so wrong, and have thus allowed the lie to grow and fester.
I contacted the ABC’s Media Watch programme, the Sydney Morning Herald, SBS, The Conversation and Bolt with firm evidence discrediting their stories, and only Bolt responded. I gave him the evidence that completely refuted the claims against Wills, and he realised the error of his way. We discussed using my name when he set the record straight in print, but I told him I was “gun shy” after some years ago exposing the lie that track sprinter Peter Norman had been refused selection for the 1972 Munich Olympic Games because he had stood on the medal dais when Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their Black Power salutes in Mexico City in 1968. I won $120,000 in damages in a defamation case against Norman’s nephew, but didn’t get to see a cent of it. Establishing the truth in Australian sports history doesn’t pay, it just leads to abuse – abuse of the truth and abuse of the truth-tellers.
The vile accusation originally made by the ABC against Tom Wills was that he joined vigilantes after his father’s murder and indiscriminately killed Aboriginals in a bout of bloody reprisal and revenge. As with the Norman story, there isn’t a single shred of evidence to support the claim. Indeed, few things could be further from the truth than that Wills went on a deadly rampage against indigenous people in Queensland, murdering en masse.
How did this monstrous lie come about? A Melbourne-based “researcher” called Gary Fearon found an article which appeared on page 34 (in the fifth section) of the Sunday Chicago Tribune on January 27, 1895. Yes, 33 years AFTER the murder of Horatio Wills and 15 years AFTER Tom Wills suicided. And yes, something published in far-off Illinois 126 years ago! The article, “Old Days in Australia”, which appeared over the non-de-plume “G”, was a work of complete fiction which used the name Tom Wills but was in no other way related to the life and family of the Australian sportsman. What’s more, the story was set in Victoria, not Queensland, and some years after Horatio Wills’s death 1861. It involved an English family which had settled in Australia during the 1860s: two parents, three daughters and a son. Tom Wills’s parents were both Australian-born and Tom had three brothers and five sisters, all of whom lived into the 20th Century. G’s story occurs at Christmas, the real massacre occurred in October.
Only a fool could have read in full G’s exceedingly offensive and racist Chicago Tribune story and think it was about the real Tom Wills. But neither Fearon nor the person who wrote the ABC story, Russell Jackson, were fooled. Jackson’s story was illustrated with just one small snippet of G’s article, one that had been cleverly sliced to hide any details which made it clear it was NOT about the cricketer. Fearon is apparently only too well aware “the article contains numerous errors and exaggerations”. It should be recognised for what is actually is: complete fiction
Under the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983, the ABC Board is bound to ensure that “the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism”. In the Wills case it has failed miserably. There are many right-wing politicians and commentators in Australia who have been actively campaigning against the ABC, as an “anachronism that has long passed its use-by date”, arguing that it should be privatised, gutting or defunded. Stories such as the false one about Wills only strengthens their argument.

Monday, 6 December 2021

Using Newsprint in Typewriters – and Getting to the Point Quickly

It will be 56 years this week since I started work as a ‘supernumerary’ cadet reporter on the Greymouth Evening Star. My chief reporter was Jumpin’ Jack Turner, and working under him was, yes, just a gas, gas, gas. His lesson one was: No opening paragraph longer than 35 words, and within the first 35 words must be the what, who, when and where (even a hint of why and how, if at all possible). Those instructions stood me in good stead for the next 47 years.

I was reminded of my earliest days in print newspapers when Matt Marks, a New York prop man working on a period 1960 film in Britain, last week asked for advice on everything from what typewriter a reporter would be using to “the correct paper stocks”. At every newspaper I worked on across the world during the “hot metal” days, “paper stocks” were offcuts from newsprint reels. Printers avoided having the reels run out during a print run, so when the reels got thin they were changed for full reels before the presses started. What was left on the reels was then guillotined into pieces about the size of what these days is called A5 (5⅞ inches x 8¼) – in reality, it was the size of the copy holder on a Linotype machine, about 6 inches by 8. All typed copy was written on these small sheets of copypaper, usually the first paragraph on the first sheet of a story (in case the intro was to be set in a larger type size than the body matter), and three to four paragraphs on each subsequent sheet.
These sheets were never in short supply, and a stack of copypaper was always kept replenished in wooden trays on each desk in the newsroom. Yet the paper was rarely wasted. It wasn’t as if we were necessarily “treehuggers” back then - we just naturally valued the paper. Typewriters made a nice, crisp impression on newsprint, and the subbing marks were all too clear too (My first editor, Russell Nelson, used a fountain pen with red ink: it made a deep impression). On an evening paper, speed was of the essence and wasting time on re-typing was out of the question – we just XXXXed out mistakes and ploughed on. There was certainly no time to change typewriter ribbons, but spool covers were left off so one could keep on eye on how the ribbon was travelling.
In 1966 I was covering a race meeting in Hokitika when I noted Paul “Scoop” Rooney, the reporter from our morning rival, the Grey River Argus, up against a tighter deadline than mine and needing to file by telephone, typed not just across the copypaper but then turned it sideways, fed it back into his Imperial Good Companion portable and typed in the margins as well. When we travelled, our typewriter cases were packed with copypaper – “Scoop”, I suspect, may that day have underestimated his expected output. Still, reading back through copy for corrections, whether in the office or on the road, was so much easier and more efficient with newsprint hard copy than with modern technology – even if one had to turn the sheet sideways.
The “first 35 words rule” was always upheld, even if it applied to the first two pars. At The New Zealand Herald in Auckland, my boss, Terry McLean, habitually wrote 143-word intros, which I thought risked sending his readers to sleep. As a very young upstart covering the pro boxing at the “Big Y”, and another setback for a Tokoroa Māori middleweight, I responded with a 10-word lead sentence: ”Kahu Mahunga and Dame Fortune don’t see eye to eye.” I thought it summed things up nicely. Thankfully, so did the sports sub, Rex Fisher. Anyway, I had 25 more words to cover what, when and where.
On the Daily News in Western Australia, sports editor “Jungle” Jim Davies used to cross the intersection on St George’s Terrace and William Street and have two stiff Scotches in the Palace Hotel to summons the willpower to sub-edit Arthur “Mushroom” Thornton’s pacing previews. When the Interdominion championship was being staged at Gloucester Park, Arthur wrote a preview of the final that was 37 pars long and used 10 sheets of copypaper. “Jungle” churned his way through until he reached the 37th par and read, “Phil Coulson will drive tonight despite the fact he has an ear growing from his stomach.”

There was an enormous scream from the sports subs desk as “Jungle” crumbled up all 10 sheets of Arthur’s preview and threw the balls into the air. Arthur quickly ran to his side. “What’s wrong ‘Jungle’?” he asked. “The last par!” yelled Jungle. “Yes, it’s right,” said Arthur, “Coulson is in hospital with one of his ears grafted on to his stomach. It was sliced off by a rival driver’s whip during the heats on Tuesday night.” To which ‘Jungle’ rightly replied, “Don’t you think that should be the intro?”

Typewriters, copypaper, sub-editors and Linotype machines are no longer used, of course. But something else, something just as important, has also gone – lesson one, the 35 words outlining the what, who, where and where. Today reporters write stories for online consumption not according to the needs of editors and the demands of readers, but the dictates of advertisers. The point of their articles may be hinted at in the headline, but that point is then buried away below multiple links to advertisers and other articles. The idea is to make the reader see the ads and other links before getting to the point of the piece. But often, if one uses “control F” to move straight to a word from the headline in the body matter, it turns out that word isn’t even in the story – it has been used as “click bait”, and nothing else.

In the days when we used typewriters and newsprint copypaper, we would never have dared try to get away with such a blatant abuse of journalistic responsibilities – not to mention the sacred requirements of readers. What we see now is barely fit to print on toilet paper.

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Castro's Olivetti Typewriter

Fidel Castro’s much battered and bruised Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter went on display at the Fidel Castro Ruz Cuba Center in the El Vedado neighborhood of Havana last Thursday. The centre aims to “perpetuate the thoughts and preserve the writings of Cuba’s revolutionary hero”. The center opening was part of commemorations marking the fifth anniversary of Castro’s death, aged 90. It is the first and only Cuban building to carry his name.

A law passed a month after his death in 2016 prohibits the naming of institutions, squares, parks, roads or other public places after the former president. Also banned, in accordance with Castro's wishes, is the erection of monuments, busts, statues or plaques in his name or image -- though this has not prevented the proliferation of murals and placards on the streets of Havana.

The only exception to the law are institutions created solely for “the study and dissemination of Castro's thinkings and work”.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took over from Fidel’s brother Raul Castro in 2018, tweeted that Castro's office at the seat of government, the Palace of the Revolution, “is as he left it on his last day there”. “I try to imagine him in the midst of the hard battles of so many challenging years. It inspires me, it excites me. And I'm still fighting,” the president said.

Having spent much of the past year writing the biography of the New Zealand-born journalist and spy who, according to Ian Fleming himself, was the real inspiration for James Bond, I am particularly interested to know Castro used an Olivetti Lettera 22. Castro threw the subject on my book out of Cuba, not so much for his newspaper writing as his spying activities on behalf of the US.

Friday, 3 December 2021

A Shout-Out For Nurses

Just as they did during the "Spanish Flu" pandemic of 1918-1920 - coincidentally, the period when the Underwood three-bank portable typewriter was being developed - it is nurses who have borne the brunt of battling Covid-19 . As one news outlet put it, “Across the world, nurses are burnt out. In the two years of the pandemic, they've been on the front lines of every aspect of the Covid-19 response: testing, tracing, screening, isolating, vaccinating and treating the disease. That doesn't take into account the existing non-Covid-related work, a backlog of which continues to build up. With no respite and ever-increasing demand, nurses across the world — and across both public and private systems — say they're feeling stretched to the limit.” 


Thursday, 2 December 2021

Typewriter Toy Story: ozTypewriter and the Temple of Doom

A bevy of Berwins

I’ve been going through boxes and chests of toy typewriters in the typewriter workshop and trying to work out the easiest way to offload them all. I photographed 37 in the driveway on Tuesday and yesterday peeked inside a large old chest high up on a shelf. Inside were another 20 Simplex and Dial typewriters. I posted images of these hordes on Instagram and almost immediately someone in Singapore (where else? Does anything change?) thought he or she had spotted a Monpti at the back of the pack on the driveway. It was no such thing, of course, but a Sears Adventure, an Olivetti Valentine lookalike. I had another potential buyer making an offer for the same toy today, but I suspect it will soon be on its way to Singapore.

After I posted an image of the non-boxed Simplexes in the chest, a chap I follow on Instagram, Sean of Calgary, Alberta, commented “I always imagined you had a treasure collection reminiscent of the warehouse at the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and this sorta confirms it!” I was tickled pink by that - it brought a smile to my face. Cheers, Sean! Oddly enough I was holding open the heavy lid of the chest with one hand and trying to photograph the contents with the other when the lid slipped and fell on my head, with such a bang it knocked my glasses off. So I guess it was a kind of ‘temple of doom’ situation for me. Well, at least my collection of toy typewriters is doomed, though I'd hardly call my typewriter workshop a temple!

After a visit yesterday from a seller of antique and vintage items, I’m considering offering her everything for one overall price and letting her worry about such things as shipping and dealing with customers, or vice versa. I’ve had quite enough of that sort of stuff for one lifetime, thank you. A man who lacks the patience of Job and cannot lie straight-faced will never have a career in typewriter sales.

There are a few that will be staying in my collection, such as the Bambino, made by Optima and based on the Frolio 5, and the little Kamkap, otherwise known as a Revere and a Byron Junior.

They may sit alongside this chromed Bennett, seen here among the lilies:

And these lovely lady typists:

Saturday, 27 November 2021

RIP Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021)

There are many versions of Stephen Sondheim's Opening Doors from his 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along. Although the vision in this clip is not as clear as in some others, I chose it because it has the most authentic typing I could find - and none of the simulated sound of a typewriter (how cheap and nasty!). It features Tara Filowitz, Zack Handlen and Max Ferguson of Brandeis University in a performance at the Laurie Theatre in 2000. Sondheim was using an electric typewriter in 1957, when he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story, and this particular scene is set in 1959. Sondheim said Opening Doors was "only autobiographical song I've ever written". 

Music, Music, Music (and Kids With Typewriters too)

Zoë Barry and friends typewriting the script for “The Boy Who Loved Tiny Things”, a show Zoë partly created.This snippet was filmed while Zoë was driving into Melbourne in 2018.

Putting typewriters aside for a day, the undoubted high point of the past week was my stepdaughter, Zoë Barry, winning the Australian Recording Industry Association’s award for Australian Music Teacher of the Year. The ARIA Awards are this country’s equivalent of the Grammys. Zoë, a renowned cellist, teaches children – many the offspring of immigrants from South Sudan and Ethiopia – at the Sacred Heart School in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Zoë is the first Australian Music Teacher of the Year Award winner from a city school. Sacred Heart has about 150 students - 95 per cent of them having English as an additional language and nearly all living in a nearby public housing estate. Some speak Vietnamese at home, others Arabic, others Mandarin, Dinka and Nuer. There are even a few students from Chile who speak Spanish.

Zoë’s win came on the third anniversary of the performance of Leroy Anderson’s “The Typewriter” by the National Capital Orchestra during a concert at the John Lingard Hall, Canberra Grammar School. Percussionist Veronica Bailey, herself a music teacher, "played" my poppy red 1971 Adler Gabriele 25 portable typewriter. Veronica has been the classical percussion teacher for the Australian National University’s Open School of Music since 2010. Like Richard Polt, I’m a little bit “over” hearing “The Typewriter”, but I'm especially piqued when people send me video links to overseas performances. I keep telling them that I’ve seen “The Typewriter” performed much better, and live here in Canberra, when one of my own typewriter was used.

At the end of the 2018 Canberra concert, children interested in music were encouraged to meet orchestra members and take a close look at their instruments - in some cases even to play them. However, by far and away the greatest drawcard for the youngsters was the typewriter, and even long after the musical instruments had been packed away, children were still milling around Veronica as she explained the workings of the Adler to them. The typewriter literally "stole the show"!

It was 65 years ago this month that the Parkview High School in Springfield, Missouri, performed “The Typewriter”.  Nathalie Smith was on typewriter and she was accompanied, from the left in the photo above, by Stephen James, Dorsey Dysart, Don Templeton and David Kollmeyer, members of the school’s first graduate class.

Meanwhile, children at my granddaughter's school here in Canberra have been on the TV news showing their typewriting skills:

Friday, 26 November 2021

Life of a Typewriter Technician (Installment 7 - Training on the Facit 1850)

                                            By Guest Poster Michael Klein

Continuing my story (last installment July 28, 2020) of a young wet-behind-the-ears school leaver, navigating a career with a Melbourne office equipment supplier, servicing all brands of typewriters, but specialising in the Swedish brand Facit.

One morning, on arriving at work, my boss, the shop owner and salesman, was in a somewhat furtive conversation with my supervisor Norm (the senior typewriter technician and my mentor). I had been at the organisation long enough to know not to eavesdrop on such conversations, as these were a regular occurrence and were often dodgy deals being hatched, so I took the hint and disappeared to buy a cake and drink from the milkbar next door.

On my return, the boss somewhat sheepishly approached me and asked if I wished to partake in a week-long technical training course on the new Facit golfball typewriter about to hit the market. I couldn’t understand what all the cloak and dagger was about, but with hindsight, I suspect my boss was sounding out with my supervisor whether I would be technically capable and if it would be worth the investment in me being off the tools for a week’s training.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather – this training offer was beyond anything I had been expecting. Not only had my supervisor given me the tick of approval, which in itself was a huge ego boost, but my boss was giving me the opportunity to become the “golfball specialist” within the company. My supervisor was a very old school typewriter mechanic, having come up through the ranks of what was then almost a full-blown apprenticeship, albeit not a recognised trade. He nevertheless had spend many years with a company called Sydney Pincombe, then later with Philips when they bought out Facit. What he didn’t know about manual and electric Facit typewriters wasn’t worth [type]writing about! However, golfballs always seemed to be a bit beyond him, or maybe he wasn’t inclined to want to learn of their intricacies late in his career. I, on the other hand, was a very enthusiastic young lad at the time, always willing and eager to learn about new mechanical devices and concepts.

Norm took me into the training facility, so that he could introduce me to some of the fellow technicians, who, while they were with opposition companies, he obviously knew by first name. I also arrived late in the morning, when the class had already started, further adding to the mystique around the last-minute decision to send me on the course rather than Norm, who was obviously enrolled in the course originally.

I couldn’t contain my excitement of being there. I may as well have been starting on a rocket maintenance course, such was the regard I held for these complex machines that I was to spend the next week playing with. I was also the youngest chap in the course, which further boosted the sense of self-importance I felt within myself by being there amongst a group of very experienced technicians. Many of the course participants went on to become long-term associates, with one in particular displaying dodgy business practices just like my current employer (more of this in later installments, no doubt).

June 1978 Australian newspaper ad

The IBM golfball was regarded in the industry as something quite untouchable, as IBM had a very tight control of the market for its machine. It was only sold through their own sales channels, and the spare parts and service literature was very tightly controlled, making it extremely difficult for small dealerships such as ourselves to be able to service or repair the complex machines. In fact IBM behaved in many ways similar to, say, a Mercedes dealership does today by restricting availability to service manuals, mechanic specialist training and software diagnostics, so the local mechanic has no hope in being able to service these cars. It was at this time (around the mid-1970s) that the worldwide patent on the IBM golfball ran out, allowing all the other manufacturers to step in and take a slice of a lucrative market. They also had an advantage in looking back on some 20 years of stifled progress and to be able to come out with some very innovative approaches to golfball typewriter designs, by not being shackled to having to keep a flawed design in production to get return on sunk investment costs. Ford suffered the same fate with the Model-T car in that they would not, or could not, change the basic design for decades while new innovations came to market from nimble competitors.

March 1977 United States newspaper ad

Facit was one of those manufacturers who turned the golfball design on its head, coming up with a machine that addressed all that was wrong with IBM’s somewhat tired and dated offering. Many of the parts in the IBM that either broke or needed constant adjustment, due to inherent poor design, were simply engineered out of existence due to the new crisp and stylish Swedish design.

During training, we each had a brand-new machine to play with for a week, under the guidance of an engineer from the factory in Sweden. Facit had just been bought out by the multinational Electrolux group, of vacuum cleaner and whitegoods fame. I spent a week pulling my machine apart and putting it back together and adjusting it to make it all work again. We had the opportunity during that week to take apart components that ordinarily wouldn’t have to be disassembled during the life of the machine. We really got to know the inner workings of those typewriters!

The instructor’s first language wasn’t English, and the class got accustomed to this and managed to adapt so that he could understand us and we could understand him. However, there was a somewhat amusing yet delicate episode when one day the instructor wore his stylish (in Europe, no doubt) suit to the class. It was a VERY lairish shade of green (almost like Kermit the frog), and it was somewhat difficult for the class to contain themselves and to stop sniggering and breaking out into uproarious laughter throughout the day. Towards the end of the day, one of our fellow students made a side joke in what we thought would be a disguised manner, by weaving some Australian slang into the statement to try and hide the fact we were poking fun at the instructor’s dress sense. Well,  the instructor obviously had a better command of English than we’d bargained for and he turned somewhat red with rage. Having put up with us  whispering about him all day, this last joke was the final straw. Needless to say we toned it down after that episode and didn’t pick on the instructor anymore.

After the course finished, we all said our goodbyes and went out into the world equipped with the knowledge to become Facit golfball typewriter experts. To this young lad, it was a pinnacle of my career path. I was about to embark on what were, to me, very exciting times.

June 1977 US newspaper ad

The golfball typewriter was a very expensive item, retailing at around $1800; considering that an average family-sized car cost around $4000 at the time, this will place the cost of the typewriter at probably $22,500 in today’s money – a huge investment for a company, and one usually only made for executive secretaries. There were very few of these machines sold to home users - they were almost purely a corporate business tool. There was good markup to be had on them as well, which led to some very competitive sales tactics amongst the small fraternity that was the office equipment supply market in those days.

We had the advantage of having a large number of Facit service contracts, which also gave us a shoe-in for sales. I suspect that the bulk of the customers we had on the books came as a result of Philips relinquishing the Facit franchise, as staff at our shop were ex-Philips employees. Also, a gift to us was that not many of the other smaller typewriter shops seemed to have anywhere near the range of Facits under contract as we did, nor did they seem to have a desire to step into that space, as it was somewhat a niche market compared to IBM and Remington, who had a huge portion of the market.

Over time, we very successfully migrated many of our customers from the Facit 1820 (a very robust workhorse of an electric typewriter) to the Facit golfball - the model 1850. But with success comes some angst as well, as we soon discovered that there was a design flaw in one of the components that controlled the shift function (in a golfball, this is achieved by rotating the ball through 180 degrees, compared to lifting the conventional typebar basket up and down, or in the case of many portables, shifting the platen up and down to make the upper or lower case letters strike the paper). Because of the speed that the golfball operates at, this part was under a lot of stress and would break after about a year in service, and due to the design of the Facit 1850, a complete module had to be replaced. Eventually a better designed mechanism came out in the next model release, but this would have cost our Australian wholesaler a fortune, as it was its responsibility to make good on all of this disaster. We would have replaced dozens (hundreds perhaps) of these modules; it’s not just the cost of the effort in physically replacing the part, the pick up and dropping back of the typewriter to the customer (it wasn’t practical to do this job onsite), but there was probably untold loss of goodwill and the customers’ faith in Facit as a product, after having invested much of their hard-earned capital in a fleet of typewriters.

I don’t know if it was all of this, plus the logistics of the wholesaler having the unexpected impost of having to import all those replacement parts, that contributed to their ultimate demise a few years later, but there were other factors at play with this particular wholesaler. It simply wasn’t a big enough set up to be able to service their network of resellers Australia-wide in the way that Philips used to be.

 I thoroughly enjoyed the years in which I had the good fortune to work on Facit typewriters, and in particular my privileged opportunity to specialise in the Facit golfball. They stood me in good stead when I was to later apply for a job at Remington, which turned out to be another major turning point in the career of this naive young lad.

Bees Invade Typewriter Domain

It has taken the best part of five weeks for us to get an expert to come and take our bee swarm away. There has been, apparently, a massive demand in Canberra this strange spring from people trying to get help in dealing with established colonies of bees. The Canberra Region Beekeepers Association lists 24 contacts on an online Swarm Collector List, but our best efforts in reaching out to them were fruitless until this week, when one man finally agreed to come to our aid. The swarm was on a beam outside the Japanese Studio, where usually the only humming can be heard from a collection of ancient typewriters. For a while, dead bees, trapped inside the studio, outnumbered typewriters. Normal service has now resumed. We gather someone close by is a beekeeper, as queens don't travel too far. Anyway, our majesty is now on her way elsewhere, along with her thousands of loyal subjects.

Earlier this month, a swarm of bees was found attached to a car in the city centre:

Optima M14 Standard Typewriter

This beefy East German monster almost drew me out of my typewriter-collecting hiatus last evening. My "bidding buddy" alerted me to an auction here in Canberra, and at first glance I wasn't tempted. But then curiosity got the better of me and I agreed to put in a bid of $35 on it. For one thing, I wanted to know what lay beyond that huge "Berlin Wall" at the front of the machine. We were beaten by a buck, however, so I guess I'll never know what it's like to type with an Optima M14. This model was produced from 1962 until 1970, and the slightly more colourful M16 from 1965 to 1977, until they were succeeded by the Daro 18 and 20 from 1977-85 and finally the Robotron 24 from 1985-1991.