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Friday 4 March 2011

Typewriters in Paradise

Once more I had the opportunity to quote that glorious opening line from The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil (appropriate, some might say, and some might be smarter than the average bear). "Please allow me to introduce myself," it goes. And, yes, there I was, beaming from the pages of my newspaper -with all my falsehood contained in a brand-new dinkus.

I had a lot of fun finding out where the word dinkus comes from. Easily the most acceptable answer was contained in the Macquarie Dictionary: "A dinkus is a small drawing used in printing to decorate a page, or to break up a block of type. It was coined by an artist on The Bulletin magazine in the 1920s, and it is derived from the word dinky, meaning 'small'." Better, for sure, than the Urban Dictionary, which says a dinkus is "A person that does stupid or weird things. When you act like an idiot, you are being a dinkus." Yet I don't look so dinky any more. Perhaps more like a dinkus. I'm certainly not decorative, and I'm not sure I could break up a block of chocolate let alone a block of type. Still, it was fun to be refreshed, and it seemed as if The Canberra Times would have to give away pairs of 3D glasses with each Friday issue.

The instruction was to be photographed in my "natural habitat". The photographer, Martin Jones, had not so long previously been to my home to snap some of my old typewriters, and assumed I'd be shot in a lounge full of them. Trouble is,there is no room to swing a cat, let alone a camera bag in the lounge. "More arrived?" asked Martin, matter of factly, as is his wont. I suggested the shed. "Working environment," I said. Martin wasn't convinced. But once he saw the dozens of typewriters hanging from the rafters, and the late Canberra winter sun pleasantly (and just adequately) dappling in through the doorway, he was won over. I adopted the pose in which one sees Richard Polt on his Classic Typewriter Page website, in my case a Blickensderfer in hand. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," I assured Professor Polt. "Glad I could provide a little inspiration," he replied.

Many of those typewriters in the background of my dinkus have long since gone, sold on eBay to new homes from France to remote islands in Fiji. From Townsville to Tasmania, from Yokine in the west to Yennora in the east. They have gone to California and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of the Olympia SM9s beyond my right shoulder became, out of the blue at 7.21 one morning, the subject of a minor bidding skirmish. I was taken aback to read: "Dear Robert, if I win this auction, can you send it immediately Express Post to Melbourne? Please. Like, as soon as possible. It is going to Fiji for a lady who runs a little school on a remote island without electricity, and the shipment's very last day for receiving is the 30th. I am in France and will stay up to 2am to see the end of the bidding. Atharv."

Atharv turned out to Angela McCardell, of Sydney, who in Europe is usually based at an old monastery at Maria Hoop in Limburg in the Netherlands. "Everybody is waiting around the world with bated breath for the outcome of this! Well, not everybody, but quite a few people this will make the Fijian teacher very happy, she has been having to write everything by hand for years!" At 10.15 it was, "Yee har! Won it! Now I can toddle off to bed! If it didn't make this shipment it would have had to go on the next, which might be months."

I was still mystified. Then all was explained: "The story is that I belong to a religion with a live guru called Adi Da Samraj (below). He lives on a remote island in Fiji called Naitauba and the whole island is his ashram, called Adida Samrajashram (new temple, above). On that island, which was once owned by Raymond Burr [Perry Mason, Ironside; Burr (above) bought the 1600ha in 1965 and sold it to Adi Da in 1983], there is a Fijian population which tends to the farm and the gardens. Many of them come from the next door island called Vanuabulavu (top and bottom of post photos). My friend Susie Bagshawe promised to find a typewriter for the teacher lady, who has been running the school for years there and has never had anything to write on other than paper and with pen. The reason for the panic to get the thing over there is that the boats from Suva to Naitauba only go every week and then there is only one little boat that takes the stuff from Taveuni island to Adida Samrajashram. The boats to Vanuabulavu are also few and far between and Susie is due to go at the end of September, and this is the only shipment from Australia that will get there in time for her."

Two other Olympias went to what I like to think were good causes; one to a young Australian hoping to complete a TAFE (technical and further education) course in a Thai jail. The third now belongs to nine-year-old Robert Burbidge-Smith. Watch that name. He's taken the well-chosen path of Paul Auster in using the SM9 to embark on his goal to be a famous author.

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