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Saturday 8 September 2012

One Last Typewriter Column: Why I Love Canberra (But Not The Times)

Bill and Margaret Clifford's Imperial Good Companion Model T
The Cooks Travel name tag attached to the Model T's case
As I inch toward the end of a 42-year career of newspaper column writing, my second-to-last column appeared in yesterday’s The Canberra Times. Since I only have one more column left to write, I couldn’t resist this chance to devote one last column to typewriters – if for no other reason than as a way of thanking Canberrans for their enormous generosity in giving me their typewriters during the past 10 years.
This post is an extended version of yesterday’s column. The one which appeared in print was just as I wrote it, 900 words, unchanged. In this form, I can provide a few more details:

I love Canberra in the spring time,
I love Canberra in the fall,
I love Canberra in the winter, when it drizzles,
I love Canberra in the summer, when it sizzles.
- with apologies to Cole Porter  
Forget that boring debate about whether the mining boom has or hasn’t ended. My investments take a much different form, though still predominantly black. Of far greater concern is that I have mined as deep as I can into the rich mother lode of old typewriters in Canberra. My own private typewriter boom is doomed. The typewriter exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery ends in nine days’ time, and this column has just one more week to run. Each of these things has led to me unearthing untold, unexpected treasures. They have been the source of gifts of inestimable value. Given that these machines have been bestowed in person, it is not been so much their rarity that matters as the incredible stories behind them.
       On the Monday of the week the exhibition opened, CMAG social history curator Rowan Henderson and her team were putting together the display when there was a tap on the glass door. Christel, 84, wanted to donate her Olympia portable typewriter. Christel had bought it in the Soviet zone of Berlin in 1951, just before the Iron Curtain fell. She had gone shopping with a friend, who had advised, “Take a typewriter, that way you’ll be sure to get work.” Christel was on her way to join her father, who had escaped Germany before World War II and was a professor of botanical science at Cambridge University. They were to start a new life in Canberra, where her father would work with the CSIRO.
       At the exhibition opening, Lothar turned up from Newcastle with the mint condition Adler portable typewriter his father, Heinrich, had bought in Kassel in Germany in 1932 and brought with him to Australia in 1954.
A few days later Geoff contacted me and we met at CMAG, where Geoff gave me his father’s rare Astoria portable typewriter. Geoff went on to tell me his father had been a Dunera Boy. He had bought the typewriter in Vienna just before escaping Nazi persecution and reaching London in 1939. Somehow the Astoria survived the horror voyage on the Dunera in 1940. After I had told this story, Alan, another son of a Dunera Boy, emailed me to say an inquiry into the voyage had reported “orderly room staff on board had no typewriters for their use, those used being the property of the internees”. There is a pencil and crayon caricature, drawn by Fred Lowen at the internment camp at Tatura in Victoria in 1941, showing a man called Rosenbaum typing. I’ve allowed myself to think it may well be the Astoria that Rosenbaum has borrowed.
Before the exhibition opened, Rod got in touch to tell me about a Smith Corona he had rescued. A dear old widowed neighbour had died and many of her possessions had been dumped in a mini-skip. Out with his wife walking the dog one evening in September 2010, Rod spotted what looked like a suitcase in near new condition. On opening it, he found it contained a typewriter, one of the first machines to include a power pack, so it could be used without an electrical connection. Rod dropped the Corona off at The Canberra Times.
A few weeks later I was interviewed by Louise Maher on ABC Radio. We talked about the exhibition. Louise was keen to get her fingers back on the keys of a manual portable typewriter, so I gave her a little Olympia Splendid. She was taken aback by the gift, but I explained, “Whenever I give a typewriter away, I’m invariably given two in return.” Before I’d even left the studio, the show’s producer tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a note. A listener had called in. The note said, “Ring Lisa on … she has two typewriters for you.”
I met Lisa at a house which had belonged to a much-travelled couple, now deceased. The house was still full of items accumulated from various parts of the world. We found there were three, not two typewriters, two electric Smith Coronas and an old Imperial manual portable, a Good Companion Model T. Lisa and I were talking about such finds, and I happened to mention Rod’s discovery of a Corona in a mini-skip. Straightway, Lisa declared, “This is the same house!” Unbeknown to me, Rod lived right across the road.
The Imperial’s case was festooned with Cooks Travel stickers and address labels, ranging from Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in the “Republique du Congo” to New York and many parts in between. The couple who had owned these typewriters were Bill and Margaret Clifford.
Margaret Mary Clifford (née Sillitto) died in Calvary Hospital, Canberra, on July 16, 2010, aged 89. Bill had died, aged 67, of ischaemic heart disease, at Royal Canberra Hospital on June 6, 1986. The Cliffords were one of those couples who had spend their final years in relative obscurity in Canberra, yet who had led the most fascinating of lives.
When Bill died, the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese refused permission to have his funeral service said in the old rite. This decision helped push Margaret toward the breakaway Lefebvrist movement, and she spent the last quarter of her life fighting for and then defending permission for the old rite in the archdiocese. In September 1988, there was a rapprochement between Margaret and the Canberra Catholic hierarchy, opening the way for the old rite to be said legitimately in diocesan churches.
Agatha Christie at her Remington Model 5 portable typewriter
Gerard McManus’s obituary for Margaret opened: “If detective writer Agatha Christie was indirectly responsible for saving the traditional Catholic Latin liturgy in England and Wales, then another Englishwoman, Margaret Clifford, who was also something of a sleuth herself, was directly responsible for saving the traditional liturgy in Canberra. British soldier, cryptologist, humanitarian and diplomat's wife, Clifford was one of Canberra's more unusual identities
“To understand the Agatha Christie connection it is necessary to recall an obscure but significant event in recent Catholic Church history. In 1971, Pope Paul VI was besieged by the cream of Britain's cultural elite pleading with him not to ban the traditional Latin mass in the Church's rush to modernise itself in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope had just granted permission for local churches to translate a newly created rite of the mass into vernacular languages, and Vatican officials were attempting to bury the Latin mass. Among the dozens of petitioners urging the Pope not to vandalise its richest treasure were prominent non-Catholic and Jewish intellectuals. Kenneth Clark, Dame Joan Sutherland, Cyril Connolly, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Cecil Day Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin, Nancy Mitford, Iris Murdoch, Maurice Bowra, Philip Toynbee, William Rees-Mogg, Agatha Christie and two Anglican bishops were among the identities arguing a ban would be tantamount to the destruction of basilicas and cathedrals. The petition was published in The Times on July 6, 1971, coincidentally Margaret Clifford's 50th birthday.
Iris Murdoch's Erika portable typewriter
“Pope Paul was unmoved until he spotted the name of a favourite author, Agatha Christie. That prompted a special narrow permission for the Latin mass to be said in England and Wales. Afterwards known as the ‘Agatha Christie Indult’, the dispensation in fact helped the old mass survive until 1984, when Pope John Paul II widened permission to the world provided bishops agreed. In 2007, Benedict XVI fully restored the old liturgy to its central place inside the Catholic Church.”
William Clifford was born on October 6, 1918, in Bradford, Yorkshire, the son of a printer’s labourer. He and Margaret Mary Sillitto met in Egypt in 1941. Bill had enlisted in the Royal Air Force in May 1940 and was posted to the RAF Police in the Middle East in March 1941. In 1939, aged 18, Margaret had enlisted with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women's branch of the British Army) and attained the rank of sergeant. The couple married at the Chapel of the English School of the Immaculate Conception, Cairo, on July 22, 1944. After the war, Margaret was awarded an African Star, an Italian Star and was made an Officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem
The couple served in the British Colonial Service and later for the United Nations.
Cryptanalysis at Bletchley Park
Margaret was trained as a cryptologist by some the best minds at Bletchley Park. Her skill at deciphering was deployed during her husband's first posting, in Cyprus (1952-58), where at the height of the Cold War she helped monitor the activities of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile Bill, as director of social development in Cyprus, was charged with bringing Cypriots closer to administrative independence. He promoted ethnic integration policies and founded Greek and Turkish children’s homes around the island.
Bill’s later postings took the Cliffords to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia, 1958), where as director of social welfare and probation services (later commissioner of social affairs), Bill worked for greater racial integration and in 1962 became the founding principal of the Oppenheimer College of Social Service, the first multiracial college in central Africa. It is now the University of Zambia's School of Humanities and Social Sciences. In 1964 the Cliffords moved to the United Nations, organising refugee services in the Congo (Zaïre). Bill went to Japan in 1966 as a senior adviser to the UN Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.
University oi Zambia
Margaret was actively engaged in her husband's work in her own right, including overseeing the supply of food and clothing in the aftermath of the Paphos earthquake in Cyprus in 1953. In Zambia in 1961 she played a key role in informing the world of the death in a plane crash of the second UN secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold. And in the Congo, her welfare work was honoured by a gift from the senior Methodist churchman, who gave her a powerful ivory staff.
Dag Hammarskjold
From 1968 the Cliffords were in New York, where Bill was UN director of social defence. He was executive secretary for the Fourth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders at Kyoto, Japan, in 1970. Made head of the UN’s crime prevention and criminal justice services, he was also an adjunct professor in criminology at New York University. He wrote numerous articles and influential monographs on prisoner rights, preventive criminology and crime control.
In 1974 Bill, by now a renowned pioneering criminologist and prison rights reformer, accepted an invitation from then Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam to become the first permanent director of the newly established Australian Institute of Criminology, and the Cliffords arrived in Canberra in 1975. Bill was determined to ensure that Australia did not succumb to the racial tensions of the United States, which he believed underpinned rising crime rates.
Bill noted the high rate of imprisonment of Aborigines and sought to train Aboriginal social workers. Clifford believed in prisoner rights, opposed the death penalty and pioneered fields such as white-collar criminology and victimology. He argued forcefully that crime was sociological, a product of social and economic disadvantage rather than individual pathology.
Bill was vice-president (1978-80) of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. In 1980 he founded the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators. He retired in August 1983 and next year advised on law and order in Papua New Guinea.
The story of the Cliffords is an amazing one.
Is it any wonder why, as a typewriter collector, I so love Canberra?

*FOOTNOTE 1: The Cliffords' Imperial Good Companion Model T now belongs to young Canberra typewriter enthusiast Jasper Lindell.
*FOOTNOTE 2: Mention of the intransigence of the Catholic Church on certain matters brings me to this amusing document presented in 2006 in a paper called "Technology and the Church Through the Centuries", by Carlton F.Harvey of the Sciphre Institute, at the 25th annual conference of the Association of Nazarene Sociologists and Researchers Heritage Centre in Kansas City: 

*FOOTNOTE 3: This column can’t be found online. Very few of my columns went on to The Canberra Times website. With its new emphasis on online “platforms”, The Canberra Times has no interest in locally generated columns, about local people and local situations - or anything with any depth to it, for that matter. It’s been a very long time since The Canberra Times bothered to promote its own in-house writers, or show them any respect, or appreciation for their experience and knowledge. Fairfax doesn’t want to know about professionalism in journalism, real journalism, it just wants to make empty promises about quality journalism. The reality is that the future for The Canberra Times will centre around flibbertigibbets prattling on about frilly panties, naked celebrities and topless protesters. I won’t be reading such frivolous claptrap. I’m much better off out of there.
Since I was cheeky enough to use a pre-2006 photo of Richard Polt on my post about ETCetera editors the other day, in fairness I suppose I should also run a pre-2006 image of myself.


Bill M said...

Very informative article Robert. The Times will be lamenting about the demise of newspapers before long. What you've stated is what happened and is happening with many newspapers around the world and then they all wonder why readership has drastically declined.

Bill M said...

I sent my comment before commenting on the piece about the church resisting the typewriter. What was not stated is that a persons penmanship may be so poor that whatever was written could be illegible and the advantage of a typewriter is that the written article will be legible. I wonder if there was similar resistance to the PC.

teeritz said...

Even though you spent decades working there, Robert, yes, you are better off out of there.
Sounds like it's no longer the kind of 'journalism' that an actual journalist would want to be associated with.

L Casey said...

Why am I not surprised to hear that the Catholic church tried to resist the typewriter. "Progress? RUN AWAY!"
I love that you posted your own pre-2006 photo. It's only fair.
I am sure the powers that be will soon realize what a large mistake they have made in making you 'redundant'. Your articles, as I have read them on here, are well written, amazingly researched, and just into every nook and cranny you can perceive as related to the topic.
I applaud you, Robert, and hope all is well.

Richard P said...

A fascinating next-to-last column, well done.

As for the future of the Canberra Times, it will probably succeed in turning itself into a pathetic imitation of the most superficial aspect of popular Internet sites, will be recognized as such, and will soon fade into oblivion.

I hope that a few major newspapers -- The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the London Times -- will continue to make a go of it by charging for access to their stories, which is only fair.

Scott K said...

Further evidence of the CT's loss.

The Journalism standards at Fairfax certainly aren't what they used to be. Back in Melbourne, I read 'The Age' almost religiously every morning. Now? Well... the only thing that Fairfax has in QLD is the 'Brisbane times', which seems to be filled with wall-to-wall poorly written syndicated junk. Heck, even the Murdock press locally have been more accurate.

Rob, you clearly can walk out those doors with your head held high, knowing that in your time there quality was what they were after, and when Quality became too expensive, the pushed you out the door.

It won't be long till we end up seeing the likes of Andrew Bolt on the pages of fairfax media. That is - Poor quality, brain numbing, attention seeking - trash.