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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

46 Years at a Typewriter

Today marks the 46th anniversary of me starting a career as a newspaper journalist. I'm still at it, four countries, 13 cities, 23 newspapers and 34 editors later.
I'm also still at a typewriter. Though my column for The Canberra Times is written as a Word Document, submitted by email and laid out and sub-edited electronically on computer screens in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne, it is written at home on a 1928 Underwood 4 portable typewriter - one of Jack Zylkin's USB typewriters.
I started at the Greymouth Evening Star in New Zealand as a cadet reporter on Monday, December 13, 1965. My first office typewriter was an old Imperial banger someone had dug out of the storeroom and dusted off for me.

Three months later I owned my own Olivetti Lettera 32, and I thought I was just the bee's knees.
One of my very first published newspaper articles, poorly worded, even for a 17-year-old tyro:
Last Friday, Spectator Australia editor Tom Switzer laughingly referred to former Australian Labor Party leader Mark Latham as a "brilliant writer". Latham is seldom found guilty of an original thought, and in his column "Latham's Law" he regaled the "great [though perhaps apocryphal] story" of Northern Irish soccer star George Best:
I have to admit I was tempted today to think the same of my newspaper career: "Where did it all go wrong?"
After all, it seemed to get off to such a promising start (the letter-writer in the first instance was Roger Allebone, the ABC foreign correspondent who worked as a freelance in San Francisco):
But there have been some very interesting times and many memorable assignments. I suppose there's got to be a book in it, somewhere (These Pat Campbell illustrations, by the way, used to appear with my column in The Canberra Times, which often sing the praises of typewriting).
I carried that Lettera 32 around Australia, through Ireland (where rugby players, smarting at my criticism, were prone to take it apart and send it out on airport luggage carousels in several parts), across Europe, to exciting and exotic places from Fiji to Tahiti, Panama to Barbados, Egypt and Morocco, and back to The Land Down Under once more. It was stolen out of my bright yellow Triumph Spitfire in Dublin, but returned by the Garda Síochána from fences in Meath. Once, at Twickenham rugby stadium in London, I was so late filing my copy they locked the joint up with me still inside. I had to scale a 20-foot high iron gate to get out, but happily my Lettera 32 was thin enough to squeeze through the railings. Believe me, there were many times when I had reason to thank this finest working tool of all.
Highlights would include covering Olympic Games in Seoul (where Brother supplied hundreds of orange 310s) and Sydney:
OK, I confess, it's an NEC
Even in the late 1980s I was still using an Imperial in my home office:
For the first 38 years of my career, I was a sports writer. But I also wrote about popular music:
My sons, happily, share my interest in sport and music, among other things (not to mention a passing interest in typewriters). Here is me as a fresh-faced 21-year-old sports writer in 1969, and beside me my youngest son, Martin, who turned 21 last Friday:

I fully intend to make it to 50 years. I will still be typing happily away when I do. A newspaper journalist without a typewriter is a judge with a gavel. Impotent.


Adwoa said...

What a fascinating life you have led, Robert! Congratulations on celebrating the 46th anniversary of your journalism career, and here's to many more! You are right, there is a book in here somewhere, and we can't wait to read it :)

Great anecdotes too - my favorites were Brother supplying orange 310s to all the journalists; and of course the fantastic story of scaling a stadium fence!

notagain said...

What an interesting career! I would write the book from the point of view of the L 32.

Ted said...

A truly full working life is surely a pleasure to document. I look forward to your book (:

Rob Bowker said...

Happy 46th anniversary. Living the dream...

Cameron said...

It is so very nice to catch a glimpse into the man behind all these fascinating & historical typewriter posts!

You certainly have been blessed with an interesting life. It reverberates in your writing.

Here's to many more years of sharing your craft!

Richard P said...

Thank you for sharing the story of your (type)writing life. Great photos and illustrations.