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Saturday 19 January 2013

Goulburn Typewriter Bounty

Goulburn is a regional town of 22,000 souls in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, 56 miles north-east of Canberra (just over an hour's drive, en route to Sydney). 
It is one of two Australian towns claiming to be the nation's first inland city (the other is Bathurst). Goulburn was established in 1833, which means it's pretty old in terms of Australia's European settlement. Today its main claim to fame is "Rambo", the 50 foot-high, 60 foot-long Big Merino, the world's largest concrete sheep (how many more concrete sheep are there in the world, one wonders?). 
Rambo represents the prosperity this region once relished, courtesy of the sheep's back. Spanish Merinos were brought to NSW from South Africa in 1797 and quickly adapted, producing a particularly soft, white fleece. Trade with Britain was boosted by the demand for high quality wool during the Napoleonic Wars. I won't explain why, I'll let you work that out.
The other night on Who Wants To be a Millionaire?, a young Australian woman with a responsible job was asked about the 1986 (that's Nineteen 86) Treat of Canterbury, signed by Britain and France. Was it to do with the Falklands War, the War of the Roses, the Napoleonic Wars or the Channel Tunnel? Definitely the Falklands War, she answered. The War of the Roses was a movie and the Napoleonic Wars came a few years before that. No mention of the Channel Tunnel.
Not so long ago a primary schoolboy would have answered that correctly - if he didn't know it he would have worked it out for himself.
Times have changed. Goulburn has seen its better days and no longer rolls in the wealth of its wool, and the Australian education system is in turmoil, gone to hell in a hand basket. And, in each case, it shows. 
Young people get their information from the Internet and if one keys in "War of the Roses" on Google, 10 of the first 12 links will be about a team-based third-person action game or a 1989 movie starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.
We've lost the ability to use our brains and to be able to deduce things for ourselves. We're content to watch Hercule Poirot do all that sort of thing for us. Why did Agatha Christie write this stuff? So we could have the pleasure of working out who the murderer was as far before the denouement as possible? But who reads books anymore? And who's Agatha Christie anyway? 
So how do I know all this? What was I doing watching Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and Poirot in the first place?
Well, it was so hot in Canberra at the end of the week that all I could think to do was find the coolest spot in the house, pull all the blinds down to keep out the sun and the scorching wind, and mindlessly watch late afternoon TV, at least until it started to cool down a little in the late evening. Blow the tennis, tennis is far too boring these days.
So desperate was I to break the TV-viewing monotony of this heatwave I even put in a small bid on a Portuguese-made ABC 3000 portable typewriter, in an auction on Australian eBay. The pick-up-only item had a pretty low starting price and was in Goulburn. I reasoned that if, by chance, I won it, I would wait until the weather started to return to normal, so I could finally break free of this sauna of a house, stretch the legs, get some country air into the lungs and enjoy a pleasant drive to Goulburn and back - all of three hours away from the hot and sweaty humdrum.
I did win it. I immediately sent the following message:
"Hi Joe. I am in Canberra, so I'd like to drive up to Goulburn to pick up the typewriter and pay you in cash. If that is OK with you, let me know which day and what time suits you best. Regards, Robert M."
Answer: "Any day except tues & thurs mornings at ..." No Hi, no please, no thanks, no name, no beg pardons, no nothing. Oh, there was one capital letter - I should be grateful for small mercies, I suppose.
About this time I read Scott Kernaghan's incredible post about his encounters with a sub-human Victorian eBay seller. Oh, oh, I thought, I'm in for the same sort of thing. But like Scott, I persisted, hoping for a warmer response:
"Thank you Joe. What about tomorrow morning, Saturday? I believe it's going to be a bit cooler tomorrow. Say 11.30am? Would that be OK? Robert Messenger"
Answer: "Tomorrow is fine". Again, no Hi, no please, no thanks, no beg pardons.
As things turned out, today turned out to be a LOT cooler. The temperature had dropped from 104 on Friday and 97 on Thursday to 75, and the humidity was down to a bearable 53 per cent. A nice day for a longish drive, mostly through countryside.
Yet, as I set off for Goulburn, I was still full of trepidation of a Scott-like encounter. In due course I arrived outside the seller's house. A man was downstairs, bent over the back of his car, polishing it. I approached him. Before I could get a word out, there was a mumble, something about "the wife upstairs". He didn't look up, he didn't stop polishing, he didn't even grimace. The "wife upstairs" turned out to be a smiling, talkative, warm-blooded human being.
I left happy with the transaction. A close inspection revealed the typewriter had been bought on Rezende Street downtown in the old Salisbury (now Harare, in case you get asked on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?) in the old Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe, ditto).
Rezende Street, Harare
From my previous visit to Goulburn, some years ago, I recalled there were three or four antique and op shops in the town. I decided to make the most of my drive and spend a little time looking around. I found a Vinnies, but it was closed. Next door, though, was Tony's Antiques.
"Any typewriters?"
"Just the one".
It was a Remington Quiet-Riter portable, in tatty but working condition, going cheap, so I bought it. Thinking two typewriters was not a bad result for the day, I headed out of town.
On the way back to the Hume Highway, I spotted another small antiques shop. I stopped, went in, looked around (which took all of two minutes) and, just about to walk out again, asked:
"Any typewriters?"
"I think we have one somewhere. But it's only one of those 70s models, not worth much ... Oh, and I think we might have an old one somewhere out the back."
First the orange Brother emerged, masquerading as an Australian-branded Lemair, in good working condition, going cheap, so I bought it. I am about to post something on Lemairs, from various countries of origin (including Portugal), so I figured one more at this price won't hurt.
Then the "old one" was brought to the counter. The case made my heart flutter. When it was opened, my heart started pounding. It was a Royal Junior, in excellent working condition. "Made in the British Empire" (that is, Canada, back when Salisbury was still Salisbury and Rhodesia was Rhodesia). So I bought that too. Without one single moment's hesitation.
I've had my eye out for one of these Royal Juniors for a very long time. I've tried to buy one in the past, without success. One came up on Australian eBay a little while ago, but with so many other purchases that week I had to let it go - the price was way too high, in my humble opinion. But this one I wasn't passing up. Too good to resist.
As I drove back to Canberra, I looked at the four typewriters in the car, smiled and said "Thank you, Goulburn". 
I thought of how envious I have been of the little typewriter shopping trips that Florian and Adwoa make in Switzerland on a seemingly regular basis (and how much cooler it is in Switzerland anyway). I thought about how I'd managed to avoid a Scott-like run-in with a sub-human seller.  Of how lucky I was that the second antiques shop man had remembered he had "the old typewriter out the back". Of how much fun I was going to have turning the dreary, dirty, rust-speckled Remington portable into something truly spectacular. Purple? Let me ponder on that a while ...
Then I thought of the last Remington Quiet-Riter I'd restored. Of how, mindlessly, I'd created a new decal to put on after the repaint job, calling it a "Quiet-Writer". And how I hadn't realised this until my eagle-eyed friend Richard Polt had spotted it, remarking, "Once a journalist, always a journalist."
This time, I thought, I'm going to call it a "Polt-Righter". That made me chuckle out loud.


Jasper Lindell said...

That's a very, very successful day. If only my little trips like that ended up like yours! I have hopes for the Australian typewriter trade once again.

Adwoa said...

That is a very nice haul, Robert! That Royal Junior, for instance, is quite an exciting find - I haven't seen one of those around these parts, so you see - you're having more luck than we are here; no need to be envious! Look forward to reading all about it in the near future.

Ray said...

What an inspiring story about a trip to our northern neighbours. You have convinced me to take my time on my trip halfway across the continent this week and to check out antique stores in country towns along the way.

Scott K said...

Well, excellent finds there! Well done Rob! And (sigh) just a twinge of eBay jealousy.

Anonymous said...

What a fruitful excursion and a nice haul! I too read about the typewriter shopping trips of typospherians with a bit of envy. But there's a great deal of enjoyment as well to share in typewriter sightings around the world :) So thanks for sharing your interesting day. (The massive concrete sheep gave me a chuckle too!)
Cheers, Caroline

shordzi said...

I find this concrete sheep quite charming.

Ted said...

ahh, the joys of hunting typers in the wild. Sounds like you had great fun on your excursion and brought home some fine trophies (:

notagain said...

Good story! Nice Portable, too. i will say that the capitalization and punctuation deficits may have to do with responding on a phone but in your story the guy was pretty taciturn after all. And I went and tested - "Wars" - plural - of the Roses returns the right info.

Miguel Chávez said...

It might not be the most collectible of typewriters, but that 1970s plastic typer in bright mustard color is very attractive!

The farthest I've gone to pick up a typewriter has been the other side of town... though I've had machines shipped from the U.S.

Julie Goucher said...

A great post. We were in Golburn last year - end of Oct on our way from Wagga via Young & Goulburn to Sydney before heading back to England. We stopped at the cafe near the statue & it reminded me immediately of the Moffat Ram from Moffat in South West Scotland, not too far from my parents in law.

Enjoy your typewriters!

Richard P said...

What a lucky day after an unpromising start!

Scott K said...

Well, excellent finds there! Well done Rob! And (sigh) just a twinge of eBay jealousy.