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Sunday, 24 March 2019

Litton Drags its Caravan Through the Typewriter Desert

Inveterate Imperial typewriter collector Richard Amery will be a little down in the dumps today, following the failure yesterday of the Australian Labor Party - which he represented so honourably in the New South Wales Parliament for 32 years to 2015 - to wrest back power in NSW from a conservative coalition. No doubt Richard will be able to cheer himself up by tapping away on one of his latest acquisitions, an Imperial Caravan.
The Royal Caravan is the same typewriter. They were both made for Litton in the Netherlands. This bottom image first appeared on my blog on February 13, 2013, from a US eBay auction. Just as Imperial used the model name Caravan under Litton, so too did Royal use the model name Companion.
Never heard of an Imperial Caravan? Neither had I until last week, when Richard sent me images of this cute variation on the Adler and Triumph plastic Tippa. It had been unearthed somehow –as is his want – by Philip Chapman of Charlie Foxtrot fame, and naturally the first recipient who came to Philip’s mind was Richard. After all, until Philip and his wife Julie left Australia to set up their typewriter business in England, Philip had been a regular attendee at Richard’s weekly typewriter gatherings in Sydney, where Imperials abound. In Blighty, Philip had also found an equally rare wide carriage Imperial Desk Companion for Richard.
As seen on this blog on April 20, 2015
About the same time as I heard from Richard about his Imperial Caravan, somebody signing himself just “Mike” commented on my blog post titled “Litton’s Typewriter Empire: Its Rise and Fall” from June 2, 2012. “Mike” said “I came here looking for information on a recent find” but found the post “wonderfully confusing … The way these companies fit together is confusing.” His find is a sandy coloured Royal 203. “The sticker on the back says it was made in Japan for TA Organisation. It looks very similar to the 203 in your story above but does not have the Litton logo next to Royal. From your descriptions I would think my typewriter was made in Japan in the 60s prior to Litton purchasing Royal.” Talk about confused! Royals weren’t made in Japan until after Litton had acquired the company in late 1964.
It's a Japanese-made Litton Royal 203 all right.
Admittedly, “Mike” isn’t entirely alone. Richard Amery was also somewhat mystified by his Imperial Caravan, which was made in the Netherlands but is not identified as a Litton product. It is, however, a machine made for Litton, just like the West German (Adler) made-Imperial 90 standard typewriter which Richard got from me four years ago. The Imperial badges are naturally slightly different from those which appeared on the Japanese-made machines.
The bottom line, however, is that Litton owned Royal from December 1964, Imperial from October 1966 and Triumph-Adler from July 1974. It stopped producing typewriters in Britain in early 1975, moving production to the Netherlands. The three brands were sold to Volkswagen in mid-1979, and to Olivetti in April 1986. So any Royal or Imperial made between late 1966 and mid-1979 was made for Litton.
The Imperial Caravan is more commonly seen as the plastic Adler or Triumph Tippa or Tippa S, also made for Litton in the Netherlands. As for the model name Caravan, it had previously been used for a variation of the US-made Royal Safari-Sabre-Custom, the Royal Caravan being the model used by Bob Dylan in photographs taken by Douglas R. Gilbert as Dylan 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 story of Litton’s acquisitions and the subsequent decline in the worldwide typewriter industry was told by me in the Spring 2015 edition of ETCetera magazine (No 108), under the heading “The Boom Before the Bust”. Here is an updated version:
Ho, ho, ho ... Ho and I share a wee joke about Earl Tiffany's remark.
In the finest traditions of George Ed Smith before him, the Royal Typewriter Company’s president from 1965 to 1969, Earl Harden Tiffany Jr (1913-1997), seldom seemed short of zany ideas to publicize Royal portables. In November 1966, United States newspapers reported Tiffany as suggesting typewriters could help end the Vietnam War and “bring Ho Chi Minh to his knees”. Obviously oblivious to the fact that Ho was happily tapping away on a Hermes Baby in Hanoi, Tiffany said, “Perhaps we should concentrate more on increased communications to get Hanoi to the conference table. To my knowledge, no one has mentioned the importance of typewriters as a means of communications in the Vietnam conflict. During World War II, General [Henry Harley] ‘Hap’ Arnold, then commander-in-chief of the [US] Army Air Corps, was asked: ‘What, among all the pieces of equipment the Air Corps uses, is most important?’ The reporters who were expecting to hear about some form of aircraft as an answer were jolted when he replied: ‘The machine the Air Corps could least afford to be without is the typewriter, for communications are the backbone of our operations.’ Alas, typewriters with Vietnamese keyboards are hard to come by, though Royal has come through with a few.”
We’re left wondering, of course, whether Tiffany could have been serious. What we do know is that in 1966 his confidence in the immediate future of the manual portable typewriter was flying exceedingly high. Earlier that year, Tiffany had been widely quoted as estimating that by the early 1970s, annual portable typewriter sales in the US would reach three million. He said the portable would be a “regular kitchen appliance in the two and three-typewriter home”. One in four homes had a typewriter, leaving the market 75 per cent untapped.
Economics writer Sylvia Porter (above) leaned on Tiffany’s apparently infinite optimism for her syndicated “Your Money’s Worth” column of June 22, headed “Home Typewriter Explosion”. “From a dollar volume of only $40 million a year after World War II, annual sales of home typewriters have soared to more than $100 million,” Porter wrote. “In 1965, sales of portable typewriters, the typical home unit, totaled 700,000. This year [1966], sales are slated to hit 1,500,000 and, estimates [Tiffany] ... by the early 1970s the total will double again.” Porter said there were an estimated 35 million typists in the US in 1966, including three million secretaries and stenographers and three million students. She also wrote that each year, the age at which teenagers joined the typewriting fold went down. Watching her own children typing, Porter had assumed “the market for home typewriters must be developing”. But after interviewing Tiffany, she revised that view, to one of drumfire rather than a mere development. “What I suspected was nothing in comparison with the facts,” she said. (As “newspaper people,” Porter and her second husband, G. Summer Collins, believed the typewriter was a more vital piece of household equipment than a toaster or a TV set.)
A flurry of final ads before Litton took over:
1. LIFE, December 4, 1964.
Judging by these bold predictions, in mid-1966 the advent of home word processors and computers, or even of electronic typewriters, had not been sighted on the horizon. Nor, it seems, had the threat of the impact of cheaper Japanese models flooding the US market, helped by the consolidation of well-known brand names under the Litton Industries banner, and the offshore production of portables, including Royals. Much would change in the decade to 1976. In hindsight, 1966-67 was, for manual portable typewriters, the “boom before the bust”. But at the time, people like Tiffany and Porter obviously didn’t see it that way. Porter thought the place of the manual portable typewriter would become increasingly secure. The “spreading acceptance” of typewritten personal letters was still being seen as a “most significant factor”, almost 92 years after the Sholes & Glidden had first reached the market. “The whole typewriter industry is in an upsurge,” Porter wrote. “Since 1960, US typewriter sales have risen one-third and a peak sale of 2.4 million units totaling $400 million is anticipated for 1966. The big expansion, though, is to come in the home [portable] market. Tiffany also sees this as a worldwide phenomenon—with what is happening here to be reflected first in Germany, then in the Scandinavian countries, England and finally Spain and France.”
2. LIFE, November 13, 1964.
These are the sort of words one might have expected to read in the mid-1920s, perhaps, when Royal joined a portable market already dominated by Corona, Underwood and Remington. But mid-1966? Surely business experts could not have been that blind to what lay ahead? And not just for Royal, but for manual portable typewriters in general.
3. LIFE, September 4, 1964.
In the short term, the forecasts of Tiffany and Porter proved accurate. As early as January 29, 1967, Tiffany announced that total US typewriter sales had risen the previous year by 17 per cent, to a record 2.755 million. But Tiffany was already adjusting his thinking, forecasting “a more limited rate” of gains in 1967. His 1967 target was close to 2.9 million, representing more than $400 million in sales. As well, Tiffany saw a “dynamic” expansion in the electric typewriter market. The focus had quickly changed.
4. LIFE, May 22, 1964.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the beginning of the end began when Royal McBee stockholders voted in New York to merge with Litton on December 4, 1964, the merger being ratified by Litton shareholders in Santa Monica on December 12. Royal became a wholly owned Litton Business Equipment Group subsidiary in February 1965. At that time Royal had 10,500 workers in the US, at plants in Hartford, Connecticut, Athens, Ohio, Springfield, Missouri, and Ogden, Utah, as well as factories in Canada, Holland and Portugal. Three months before the merger was first mooted, in September 1964, Royal’s annual sales were reported to be $116.6 million for a net income of $1.89 million, compared to Litton’s $685 million sales and $29.6 million profit. Litton also had 46,000 employees and 90 plants in 24 states and 15 overseas countries.
LIFE, September 6, 1968
By 1968 Litton’s Royal typewriter division was already in financial difficulties, and Litton felt it necessary to expand in order to consolidate. In October that year Litton’s acquisitions had engulfed Cole Steel, Imperial, Messa and Triumph-Adler. But with its $51 million German takeover, aimed at “bolstering its Royal typewriter division,” Litton ran foul of the US Federal Trade Commission, an obstacle which exposed its huge reliance on German portable typewriter manufacture. Litton claimed that if its German arm were cut off by the FTC, it would be forced to sell its burdensome Royal division and “leave IBM virtually alone in the US typewriter industry.” In early April 1969 the FTC met Litton, headed by Richard M. Nixon adviser Roy L. Ash, a Beverly Hills industrialist, to discuss the FTC’s opposition to the Triumph-Adler takeover. The FTC believed the acquisitions “might have the effect of reducing competition in the US typewriter market.” Litton offered a deal under which it would only have to divest itself of Triumph-Adler’s US operations. The FTC rejected this and charged Litton with violating antitrust laws. Litton immediately brought diplomatic pressure to bear, claiming the FTC decision would be seen as an “insult to the sovereignty” of European governments and would have huge foreign policy ramifications. On top of all this, Litton shut down Royal’s Springfield plant on April 23, 1969, and was forced to deny it planned to also close the Hartford factory, sack 2500 workers, and move operations to Silver-Seiko's Japanese assembly plant with an annual capacity of 600,000 typewriters.
By this stage Robert F. Stewart had succeeded Tiffany as Royal president, as industrial battle lines began to be drawn. Less than a year later, in March 1970, with Ronald L. White now Royal president, Litton revealed it and Silver-Seiko had asked the Japanese government for permission to combine in a joint venture to own Marukoshi Kogyo, maker of portable typewriter parts. Marukoshi Kogyo was already making parts which were assembled by Silver-Seiko and sold as Royal and Imperial typewriters.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 7, 1970.
In August Royal also announced it was axing 1300 Hartford workers while moving production of some portables to Imperial’s factory in Hull, England. Litton conceded it paid British workers one-third of what it paid US workers. The shift was “due to foreign competition”, presumably from Brother in Japan. Hartford would become no more than an assembly plant. In 1973 Litton’s shutdown of its Hartford plant was complete, and it concentrated production in Britain (Imperial, Hull), West Germany (Triumph-Adler), Portugal (Messa) and Japan (Silver-Seiko). A US newspaper report in October of that year said American typewriter production had all but died out. “Foreign makes have penetrated the US market strongly—all because most typewriter manufacture is labor intensive and therefore not suited to today’s US economy.”
Litton finally got the all-clear from the FTC to retain Triumph-Adler in July 1974, by which time the damage had been done. Administrative Law Judge Alvin L. Berman said Litton would have had to go out of the typewriter business if forced to sell Triumph-Adler, so a ruling that Litton’s holding of Triumph-Adler was anti-competitive would, in itself, be anti-competitive. But matters weren’t helped by British dockers blocking a changed barge transfer system in Hull, forcing Litton to close the Hull factory in 1975. It was part of a widespread US bail-out from Europe, marked by a $1 billion drop in annual US investment. In fairness, Litton’s Imperial division had lost $10 million in two years.
By February 1977, with John W. Gilluly, Royal’s fifth president in 10 years - James M. Mills was the fourth, following White - the end was nigh. All these years later, it is easy to see that rising labor and production costs— both in the US and Europe—contributed to the demise of manual portables, making companies such as Royal vulnerable to Litton. As well, Royal had been facing increasingly hostile industrial relations problems in Hartford since 1953. Could any of this have been avoided? Well, not with the capacity of Japan to produce far more and far cheaper machines. And perhaps not with the lack of realism being expressed by Earl H. Tiffany Jr back in 1966.
A Silver-Seiko (Silver-Reed) Litton Royal Ranger.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Blood on the Tracks: Is Rupert a Racist at Heart? Murdoch’s 62-year Record on Race

John Newfong at his Olivetti Dora portable typewriter.
In 1971 Rupert Murdoch's editors employed and then got rid of Newfong, the first Aboriginal journalist to work in this country's established print media.
 Australians have struggled since Friday to come to terms with the fact that one of their own went to New Zealand, a peace loving country 2600 miles across the Tasman Sea, and as a craven coward committed mass murder. Since then many things have played on the minds of Australians. High among them is the question: What part did Australia’s politics and the nation’s media play in fuelling the sick mind of an Islamophobic psychopath? Has Australia, which blindly continues to consider itself a place of a “fair go for all”, become a breeding ground for white supremacist Fascists and killers?
        In the immediate aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, Australian journalist Richard Glover raised such points in an article in Saturday’s Washington Post. He said the murderer was “acting on a toxic belief system - one that has been long nurtured by opportunists in politics and the media, in Australia and elsewhere. Those innocent victims … reaped what others had sowed.” Glover added, “there are also those at home who’ve created the soil to nourish violence.”
Glover pointed out that, “In its general programming, Sky News Australia has turned into our version of Fox News. (Both are controlled by the Australian-turned-American media baron Rupert Murdoch.) … In a Murdoch-owned tabloid in Melbourne [also in Sydney], prominent columnist Andrew Bolt has written of ‘us’ disappearing as ‘a tidal wave of immigrants sweeps away what’s left of our national identity’ … The Australian media and politicians … have form when it comes to flirting with racism.” He said “‘border control’ becomes code for keeping out Muslims, and ‘equality for all Australians’ means stripping services from indigenous communities.”
Earlier, the Washington Post quoted Ghassan Hage, a Lebanese Australian academic at the University of Melbourne, as saying anti-Muslim rhetoric had been normalised by mainstream right-wing news outlets, many of which are owned by Murdoch. Hage said these publications had fomented “the kind of Islamophobic culture which makes it easier for extremists to think that they are legitimised to enact their deadly fantasies.”
Outside a Queensland cafe.
Glover and Hage are far from being alone in pointing an accusing finger at Rupert Murdoch’s Australian news outlets and the unashamedly amateurish and biased columnists he overpays. In May 2011, John Pilger declared, “Australia is the world’s first murdochracy, in which smear by media is power.” Murdoch, 88 as of last week, has built a $US20 billion worldwide media empire since inheriting News Limited in Adelaide, South Australia, from his father in October 1952. Almost a year later Murdoch arrived in Adelaide from Oxford University to start directing operations, aged 22. Today he’s close to ruling the world.
Murdoch has long been recognised as one of the world’s most influential and wealthy people. His control over so much of the world’s media places him on a level with George Orwell’s vision of Big Brother, an omnipresent, manipulative figure. He now decides who governs, and who leads the ruling party, in the United States, Britain and Australia. Not only who, but what their policies should be. His pull in this country is insidious: for example, his Sky News Australia lackeys also wilfully ape their boss’s opinions in such moronic magazines as The Spectator Australia.
Murdoch has been known to switch sides in Australian Federal elections, directing his obedient minions to back either an increasingly right-wing  conservative Liberal-National Coalition or the Labor Party. The submissiveness of his staff in discarding their professional ethics in order to please their master reached its lowest point before the 2013 elections, when under the direction of unhinged New York Post editor Col Allan they turned once serious tabloids such as Sydney’s Daily Telegraph into little than comic strips.   
The campaign succeeded in ousting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who last August described Murdoch as the “greatest cancer on the Australian democracy”. Rudd said Murdoch “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view. While centre-left readers say Murdoch's influence is overrated because people refuse to read his papers, or because social media now dilutes his power, we should be careful about such judgments. Because the electronic media is so denuded of journalists these days, Murdoch's print media has a disproportionate impact on setting the day's overall agenda. The electronics often just ‘rip and read’ what Murdoch has put on the front page.
“Then there is Murdoch's masterful conflation of ‘opinion’ with ‘news’. The two had become one in Murdoch's own world of fake news well before ‘fake news’ became topical after the 2016 US elections. Murdoch is a political bully and a thug who for many years has hired bullies as his editors. The message to Australian politicians is clear: either toe the line on what Murdoch wants or he kills you politically.
“Murdoch saw a threat to his monopoly Foxtel cable entertainment empire - his cash cow cross-subsidising his loss-making print mastheads. The latter were critical as the pillars of his political power. Murdoch feared our [Labor's] NBN would make it easier for Netflix to become a real Foxtel competitor. Murdoch despatched his leading henchman from New York, Col Allan, to run the Murdoch campaign in the 2013 election to destroy the government. Murdoch and [Tony] Abbott's Liberals effectively ran a joint war room for the campaign. If anyone doubts this, just Google ABC Media Watch's conclusions about the monumental level of Murdoch bias. Abbott would go on to deliver what Murdoch wanted - the destruction of the NBN as fibre-optic to the home.”
Murdoch’s flexing of his media muscle in not just Australian political affairs, but on fundamental national policy issues, is nothing new. He’s been doing it for 62 years.
Bill Grayden in 1957.
In 1957 a member of the West Australian Legislative Assembly, Bill Grayden, called for Murdoch to be arraigned before the Bar of the West Australian Parliament to answer charges of being in contempt of the Parliament. It was one of the earliest signs of Murdoch’s determination to interfere in government policy regarding the welfare of Aborigines.
In 1953 Grayden had led an expedition to the Central Aboriginal Reserve, an area of 34 million acres of desert and semi-desert terrain where some Wongi, Pitjantjatjara and Ngaanatyara peoples continued to live as hunter-gatherers. Concerned about the precarious conditions of their life, made worse by drought and violations of the reserve for nuclear weapons testing, Grayden successfully pressed for a parliamentary inquiry. The Report of the Select Committee appointed “to inquire into Native Welfare Conditions in the Laverton-Warburton Range Area” received wide publicity and shocked those who found out about the starvation and extreme deprivation experienced by these people.
After flying over Central Australia, Murdoch, back in Adelaide, decided to declare the report “hopelessly exaggerated”. The statements in it, said Murdoch, were “so careless in their handling of the facts that at some points the truth disappeared altogether.” Murdoch claimed that the people he met in the desert were all happy and well fed. “These fine native people have never enjoyed better conditions”. Tellingly, Murdoch commented, “great companies like International Nickel of Canada are watching for and have prospects of finding some of the world's most valuable mineral deposits in this very area”. Murdoch's article was supported with a deceptive photograph of a plump, happy family group, but readers were not told that the photograph had been taken four years earlier, by Grayden, rather than recently, as Murdoch claimed.
In a News editorial, Murdoch wrote, “Communists and colour-conscious fanatics of several countries in our Near North and at the United Nations quickly used the Grayden report to smear the good name of this country and its people in areas where we are trying desperately to create firm friendship.” Friendship, that is, to fool the inhabitants and then kick them off their land. Writing on behalf of himself, he added, “Mr Murdoch’s report provided a complete refutation of the damaging Grayden allegations.”
Grayden responded by returning to the area armed with a movie camera and accompanied by the highly respected Aboriginal Pastor [later Sir] Doug Nicholls, along with other Western Australian parliamentarians. This film was used effectively by activists to alert other Australians to the injustices experienced by the dispossessed nomadic people and to press governments to take greater responsibility for all Aboriginal Australians. The Warburton Ranges controversy, as it became known, led to the formation of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League and, indirectly, to the formation a year later of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement.
A few days after Grayden’s initial response to Murdoch’s claims, Federal Opposition leader Doc Evatt called for Prime Minister Bob Menzies to form an all-party committee to examine the plight of West Australian Aboriginals. Evatt received a “cold refusal”.  But Murdoch’s so-called “whitewashing” article in the Adelaide News was taken apart by the superintendent of the Warburton mission, who described the Select Committee’s report as the best, most faithful and thorough he had ever seen. A leaflet produced by the Women's Christian Temperance Union refuted Murdoch's “misrepresentation of conditions” and public reaction to Grayden’s film drew letters of protest to Menzies. Murdoch found no support whatsoever for his claims. And from the distance of 62 years, one has to wonder what had motivated him to become involved in the first place, and what he had hoped to achieve by trying to discredit Grayden.
In 1959 Murdoch changed tack and found an Aboriginal who could be useful to him, to lift the circulation of the Adelaide News. Rupert Maxwell Stuart had been given a death sentence, but Murdoch, convinced by editor Rohan Rivett to get involved, and threatened with seditious, malicious and criminal libel for doing so, succeeded in having that judgement overturned while making much needed profits from sales of his newspaper.
From left, Murdoch, Stuart and Playford.
A 2002 movie about the case, Black and White,  apparently made with Murdoch backing, magnified the role of Murdoch. Critically, however, Murdoch himself believed Stuart was probably guilty. “There's no doubt that Stuart didn't get a totally fair trial. Although it's probable that he was guilty, I thought this at the time. In those days - although less so now - I was very much against the death penalty." Bruce Page, Murdoch's biographer, said the case was pivotal in his career. “It was the very brief period of Rupert's radicalism, which was a very good thing for Stuart, as it got him out of the hangman's noose. Murdoch galloped into action, but it was a bad fight for him. The truth is it scared him off from ever taking on governments again. He reverted to his father's pattern of toeing the line.”
Evan Whitton in 1975
            A 2016 article by Evan Whitton, “Rupert Murdoch: Our Part in his Evil Upfall”, said, “The libel trial began in March 1960 and ran for 10 days. The jury threw out all charges except one. [South Australian Premier Thomas] Playford and Murdoch eventually made a deal: Playford would drop the last charge if the News stopped going on about Stuart [and thereafter back Playford]. The go-between was a News political reporter [later News Ltd’s Australian boss], Ken May. The last libel charge was withdrawn on June 6, 1960. That seems to have been Murdoch’s watershed: politicians could be used to his advantage. He dismissed Rivett later that month; I don’t know whether that was part of the deal.” Others say the sacking of Rivett was pivotal to Murdoch's cosy agreement with Playford. Whatever, the deal would be the first of many Murdoch would make with buyable and malleable politicians.
Rohan Rivett
John Pilger wrote in 2011, “The most enduring and insidious Murdoch campaign has been against the Aboriginal people” – which he described as “Australia’s dirty secret”. Pilger pointed out that in 1988 an editorial in Murdoch’s London tabloid, the Sun, described “the Abos” as “treacherous and brutal”. This was condemned by the British Press Council as “unacceptably racist”.
Max Newton, from the highly deceitful 1964 prospectus for The Australian.
After his financial success from the Stuart campaign, Murdoch slowly began to extend his Australian media influence, and by 1964 he owned the Daily Mirror in Sydney (now merged into the Telegraph, which Murdoch bought from the Packers in 1972), the Sunday Times in Perth, WIN TV in Wollongong and The Australian, his national daily. 
Walter Imam Kommer
Murdoch launched The Australian in Canberra on July 15, 1964, with first the maverick Maxwell Newton and later Dutch-born Walter Imam Kommer as editor. Kommer was succeeded in 1969 by Adrian Deamer, who in 1971 employed the first Aboriginal journalist to work in the established print media, John Newfong. Newfong, a descendant of the Ngugi people of Moreton Bay, Brisbane, was born in 1943. His mother Edna Crouch, played cricket for Australia in the 1930s. Deamer was sacked in 1971 and replaced by the unimaginative Bruce Rothwell, who in turn was replaced by Owen Thomson. In 1973 Jim Hall, like Thomson a "journalist's journalist" and a survivor at The Australian since it started in 1964, took over.
A young Jim Hall.
Last November Newfong was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame. David Armstrong, a former editor of The Canberra Times and editor-in-chief of The Australian, wrote “Newfong was a general reporter who also wrote about Indigenous affairs. Deamer advised him to develop all-round skills so he would not be pigeon-holed as writing only about being Black. At the end of July, however, it came to a sudden end when Rupert Murdoch sacked Deamer during a dispute over the direction of the newspaper. Newfong was to be a secondary casualty: he was typecast by the new editors as an ‘Aboriginal writer’ and there was no place for him in their plans. A senior editor told him: ‘John, I’m sorry but I don’t think there is going to be much here for you anymore.” That editor would tell this writer that the editor-in-chief ‘reckons Australians don’t want to read about Black people.’”
I was working for The Australian at the time Newfong was employed by Deamer. Wikipedia claims, “In 1971 Murdoch sacked Deamer for writing an editorial which criticised the Springbok [rugby] tour of Australia at a time when public opinion was quite heated about South Africa's regime of apartheid.” It was me who launched The Australian’s campaign questioning the advisably of the tour, and who publicised the impending demonstrations. At the time, I was under the impression Deamer had been sacked after an argument with Ken May regarding a Murdoch comment that The Australian had, under Deamer, become a “radical broadsheet” (despite higher daily sales than ever, it lacked subscriptions). Deamer was succeeded by Bruce Rothwell, who was already editor of the woeful and happily short-lived Sunday Australian. Rothwell’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography says, “From the outset, rivalry between Rothwell and Adrian Deamer, the editor of the weekday Australian, factionalised the staff”, which is an understatement: Deamer was popular, communicative and progressive; Rothwell was not. Rothwell didn’t last long – he was replaced by Owen Thomson. Based on my experience of working for all three editors, I would say it was more likely to have been Rothwell who got rid of  Newfong, under instruction from Murdoch. The decision is not one the Thomson I knew so well would have made. However, opposition to Newfong’s employment – presumably seen as part of Deamer’s “radicalisation” of The Australian - very much fits into the pattern of Rupert Murdoch’s long-held attitude towards Australia’s Indigenous population.
DISCLAIMER: The author of this blog post worked for Rupert Murdoch at The Australian, 1969-72, the London Sunday Times, the Sunday Independent (Perth), Sunday Sun and Daily Sun (Brisbane), 1985-87, and the Townsville Bulletin, 1993-97.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

THE AXEMAN COMETH: St Patrick’s Day Odyssey - Out of the Forest and into the Woodchopping with Typewriter

Les Gilsenan on the jiggerboard.

On this day half a century ago, I found myself on a road in the middle of a pine forest, in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where I was headed or how I was going to get there. I hadn’t a cent in my pockets, but a portable typewriter in my hand. A sports writer with a typewriter could always earn a quick quid somewhere, I figured, and indeed I did, no more than a day later.
Out of the pitch black backdrop a set of headlights appeared on the horizon, offering little illumination on the seemingly endless empty road ahead of me. I walked to the side of the road, waiting for the car pass. But it stopped. A man leaned across from the driver’s seat and asked, “Do you want a lift?”
'Jump in,' he said: My only shelter from the storm.
I guess he needed someone to help keep him awake. He hadn’t long knocked off work after a heavy night shift in Nelson, he said, and he had a very long way to go. “Where’re you headed?” he asked. “As far as you’re going,” I said. But I wasn’t much company. I nodded off pretty quickly, and the next thing I knew it was daylight, we were in a town, and my saviour had other business to attend to. He dropped me off outside a shop. It belonged to my father.
I had stayed awake long enough for my driver to tell me, with some prodding, that he was going to a St Patrick’s Day sports meeting at Victoria Park in Greymouth. He would be representing New Zealand in a woodchopping Test match against Australia. He would be cutting the last leg of the international relay, on a jiggerboard. Not only would razor-sharp axes be flying close to his head, but large thin-edged wood wedges would be slicing through the air, and he’d be standing high above the ground on a slither of timber shoved into a nick in a tall log. He made it all sound so matter-of-fact. He was a modest man, but he was also a world champion. And he’d suddenly become my overnight hero.
Covering the woodchopping, 1969.
Armed with what he told me, I found myself qualified to earn my quick quid that afternoon. I covered the woodchopping Test match for the Dominion Sunday Times in Wellington. It was one of the most thrilling sporting events I’ve ever covered, right up there with Ben Johnson “winning” in Seoul in 1988, the Ashes cricket Test at Headingley in Leeds in 1981, Björn Borg beating John McEnroe in five sets at Wimbledon in 1980 and the Barbarians beating the All Blacks at the Arms Park in Cardiff in 1973.
The man who plucked me with amazing grace off the road to nowhere on St Patrick’s Day 1969 was Les Gilsenan, one of the greatest axemen in a long and rich history of competitive woodchopping. He remains a hero of mine to this day. I was once lost, but now I am found (50 years on).
 Vancouver Sun, Canada, August 30, 1967
 The New Zealand team, with Les in the back row, far left.
Dangerous work: Tasmanian Doug Youd on the jiggerboard,
Royal Sydney Easter Show, 1964.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

World's Youngest Typewriter-Using Published Author: Now a Canadian Think Tank President. It Figures!

Bill Robson, 11, types one of his adventure tales in 1970.
In the Barr Smith Library of the University of Adelaide in South Australia, there is an illustrated book – actually three pint-sized adventure tales under one cover - called The Magic Mailbox, The Boronian War & Trouble UndergroundThe university’s librarians, in their infinite wisdom, say these works are by William Robson (1785-1863). They are right, in as much as there was an English writer and translator called William Robson, who fell into poverty in spite of writing such tomes as The Walk, or the Pleasures of Literary Associations (1837), The Old Playgoer (1846), John Railton, or Read and Think and The Life of Cardinal Richelieu (both in 1854) and The Great Sieges of History, as well as publishing translations of Joseph François Michaud's History of the Crusades (1852), Alexandre Dumas's Three Musketeers (1853) and Honore de Balzac's The Quest of the Absolute (1859). Trouble is, the book in the University of Adelaide library was published by New Press in Toronto in 1970.  And the author was actually William Bertie Provost Robson, an 11-year-old boy who wrote the stories on a Smith-Corona portable typewriter.
Bill Robson in 1970.
And it’s unlikely this William – or Bill – Robson will die destitute, like his English namesake. He is at present president and chief executive officer of the C.D. Howe Institute, an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. It’s widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank - a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.
Bill Robson in September 2001.
Although it seems this particular Bill Robson no longer wishes to make any claims to fame about his book writing, it is almost certain that he remains the world’s youngest published author among those who wrote their manuscripts on a typewriter.
Bill's artwork for The Boronian War.
There have been many claims – most especially in the past five or six years – to the title of the world’s youngest published author. The Guinness World Records has its own claimant, but none of those listed online, including an exhaustive collection of names on Wikipedia, appears to have used a typewriter. Indeed, Bill Robson’s name does not appear on any of these lists, even the Wikipedia one, although his achievement – given the minor success of his collection of stories – may well give him a stronger candidacy than almost all others.
Edmonton Journal, December 18, 1970.
Perhaps stories about young authors have begun to proliferate online because, in this age of computer and video games and the like, news outlets and bloggers have found it greatly heartening that young people can still be imaginative enough, and creative enough in their own right, to write books. In which case, of course, someone who used a typewriter to write a trio of yarns which were merged together in a published book should be royally saluted by the Typospherian – even 49 years after the event!
The Star, Phoenix, December 5, 1970.
I won’t go into the circumstances behind Bill Robson’s 1970 book, instead leaving that to the article which appeared in Maclean’s magazine in Canada on January 10, 1970. The image at the top of this post was taken at Georgian Bay by Mario Geo for the Toronto Star on August 12, 1970, three days after Bill’s 11th birthday (he was born on August 9, 1959). At that time, Bill’s book was due to be published in a month or two.
Bill, left, has been chief cook and bottle washer at the C.D. Howe Institute since July 2006, after serving as the institute’s director of research from 2000. He still writes a lot, just not on a typewriter any longer. Bill is responsible for more than 230 monographs, articles, chapters and books on such subjects as government budgets, pensions, healthcare financing, inflation and currency issues. His work has won awards from the Policy Research Secretariat, the Canadian Economics Association, and the Donner Canadian Foundation. He is a senior fellow at Massey College and a member of the panel of senior advisors to the Auditor-General of Ontario and the World Economic Survey expert group, and a regular commentator on BNN/Bloomberg.
Bill’s father, John Mercel Robson (1927–1995) was the co-author of the witty The Hmnnn Retort, also published by New Press in 1970 (how many fathers and 12-year-old sons have had books published ever, let alone in the same year by the same publishing house?). On a much heavier note, Jack Robson was general editor of the 33-volume Collected Works of John Stuart Mill. He was also the chairman of the Manuscript Review Committee at the University of Toronto Press from 1975 until his death, and served as the general editor of the collected papers of Northrop Frye (1912-91), the hugely influential Canadian critic and literary theorist.
The Province, Vancouver, September 17, 1970.
As for Jack’s author son, among Bill Robson’s present-day roles is advising new graduates to work on their communication skills and find something they love to do. A typewriter or two might help there. In the meantime, here is a rundown of young authors:
Guinness Book of Records
The youngest commercially published female author is Dorothy Elmhisrt Straight (born May 25, 1958), of Washington, DC, who wrote How the World Began in 1962, aged 4. The book was published in August 1964 by Pantheon. Dorothy was then 6. Her father, Michael Whitney Straight, was a novelist and patron of the arts – and a KGB spy.
Rochester, New York, Democratic and Chronicle, September 13, 1964
TopTenz’s 10 Youngest Authors in History
(as at September 27, 2014):
10. Romanian-born French author Flavia Bujor (born 1988) wrote her first book, The Prophecy of the Stones, when she was 12 and published it with HarperCollins when she was 14.
9. Nancy Yi Fan is a Chinese-American author, born in Beijing in 1993. She moved to Syracuse, New York, when she was 7, started writing her first novel, Swordbird, when she was 11, and completed it a year later. She boldly emailed it directly to the CEO of HarperCollins, who published it in 2007. It was a New York Times bestseller, and HarperCollins also published Sword Quest in 2008 and Sword Mountain in 2012.
8. Florida’s Jake Marcionette wrote Just Jake, a loosely autobiographical novel about moving to a new school and “how kids can do big things” in the summer of 2012, at the age of 12. His novel was published the next year and reached the New York Times bestseller list. He was the youngest author in the history of Penguin Books to land a publishing deal. Three more books have followed.
7. Alexander Pope wrote his first poem, “Ode to Solitude,” at the age of 12 in 1700.
6. Jyoti and Suresh Guptara are twins who finished the first draft of their 700-page epic fantasy, Conspiracy of Calaspia, when they were 11. They had to rewrite it 10 times before it was finally accepted for publication when they were 17. When Jyoti turned 18 in 2007, he was the youngest full-time novelist in the world. He also published an article in The Wall Street Journal when he was 15, the youngest person to do so.
5. Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, had to lug around an oxygen tank and was wheelchair-bound up to his death at the age of 14. Mattie wrote seven books of poetry. He started writing poetry when he was 3 to cope with the death of his brother. A book of his poetry was published by a Virginia press in 2001. He died in June 2004.
4. Alec Greven was 9 when he wrote How to Talk to Girls. Alec has also written How to Talk to Moms, How to Talk to Dads and How to Talk to Santa, all of which are published by HarperCollins. He made the New York Times bestseller list for a book he said took a week to write.
3. Daisy Ashford is famous for writing The Young Visiters in 1890 at the age of 9. The book wasn’t published until 1919. When she was 4 she dictated a story called “The Life of Father McSwiney” to her father, which was published in 1983.
2. Christopher Beale was 6 when he wrote a story in his bedroom after lunch every day. It grew to 1500 words and five chapters. Called This and Last Season’s Excursions, it was published in London in November 2006. Christopher is from Zug in Switzerland.
1. Dorothy Straight.
Dorothy Straight, right, with her book, 1964.
World’s youngest bi-lingual published author
December 11, 2017: Saarth Khanna Sohum, 6, a Singapore second-year kindergarten student, wrote a book first in English, then translated it into Hindi. Giant Twoe & 100 Beanstalks is a twist on the classic fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk.
Other claimants
In 2005 Brazilian Adauto Kovalski Da Silva, 5, had a book published.
December 7, 2017: Thanuwana Serasinghe, 4, the son of a Sri Lankan couple living in the Seychelles, had his book published by Sooriya Publishers. It is titled Junk Food.
October 6, 2016: Michele Nkamankeng of Kensington in Johannesburg, 6, completed her first book. A year later she completed the fourth in her series, The Golden Ring.
2005: Libby Rees, of Hampshire, England, was 9 when she wrote 60 pages on how she dealt with her mother and father’s divorce. Aultbea Publishing put out the book Help, Hope, Happiness.
May 2015: Brooklyn's Anaya Lee Willabus, 8, launched her writing career with The Day Mohan Found His Confidence. It made her the youngest person in the US to publish a chapter book.
November 1, 2018: Wisconsin boy Aiden Zeng, 9,  self-published two chapter books and had another three in the works in his series of novels The Great Dinosaur Rebellion.
June 20, 2017: Mallory Whiting, above, of Mount Gambier, South Australia, began writing her first book at 10, finished it at 11, and at 13 saw Behind the Wall published.
December 24, 2018: Stacey Fru, 11, of Johannesburg, says she will have two books - Where is Tammy and Tim's Answer - published in 2019. She became Africa's youngest published author after writing her first book, Smelly Cat, at 7.
Wikipedia, Selected
(not already mentioned above)
Wikipedia says, "This is a list of notable books by young authors and of books written by notable writers in their early years  ... The list is arranged alphabetically by author."
Alexandra Adornetto (born 1993) wrote her debut novel, The Shadow Thief, at 13. It was published in 2007.
Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (born 1984) had her first novel, In the Forests of the Night, published in 1999.
Celeste and Carmel Buckingham wrote The Lost Princess when they were 11 and 9.
Taylor Caldwell's The Romance of Atlantis was written when she was 12.
Hilda Conkling (1910–1986) had her poems published in Poems by a Little Girl (1920), Shoes of the Wind (1922) and Silverhorn (1924).
Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), Tragicall History of Piramus and Thisbe (1628), Poetical Blossoms (1633).
Juliette Davies (born 2000) wrote the first book in the JJ Halo series when she was 8. The series was published the following year.
Anne Frank (1929–1945) wrote her diary for 2½ years starting on her 13th birthday. It was published posthumously as Het Achterhuis in 1947. 

Sonya Hartnett (above, born Melbourne, 1968) was 13 when she wrote her first novel, Trouble All the Way, which was published in Australia in 1984.
Palle Huld (1912–2010) wrote A Boy Scout Around the World when he was 15.
Leigh Hunt (1784–1859) published Juvenilia; or, a Collection of Poems Written between the ages of Twelve and Sixteen by J. H. L. Hunt, Late of the Grammar School of Christ's Hospital in March 1801.
Gordon Korman (born 1963) had This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall published in 1978.
Emily Pepys (1833–1877), daughter of a bishop, wrote a vivid private journal over six months of 1844–45, aged 10.
Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891) wrote Le Soleil était encore chaud (1866).
John Thomas Romney Robinson (1792–1882) saw his juvenile poems published in 1806, when he was 13.

FOOTNOTE: The author of this blog post wrote, at age 5 in 1953, the illustrated book Jimmy the Jet. I believe the original book still exists, somewhere in the family archives, but sadly, at the time, the author's parents did not think it worthy of being published for the benefit of the general public. Sob!