“I started when provincial dailies from Townsville to Toowoomba were in the throes of ditching hot metal and letterpress and switching to computerised typesetting and web-offset printing,” he says.
A first book, ‘Sworn to No Master: A History of the Provincial Press in Queensland to 1930’ was published in 1984: “I had started writing it in Toowoomba when I was lecturing in journalism at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education and I finished it in Orange, NSW, while editing the ‘Central Western Daily’,” he recalls. “I returned to Queensland in 1992, wrote a PhD thesis on the demise of six Queensland provincial newspaper dynasties and then over five years, researched and wrote, ‘Country Conscience: A History of the New South Wales Provincial Press, 1841-1995’.”
Kirkpatrick says that in both ‘Country Conscience’ and the new book, the saddest chapter to write was the one about technology. Here’s a sample from the latter:
“The hot-metal era probably looks better through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia than it looked to those experiencing it. Grime, heat, sweat, tedium and sometimes tears were all part of a day in the life of a hot-metal tradesman. Sydney Algernon Blanchard (1899-1980) talks of the ‘sheer agony’ of printing the pages of the Murilla Express in the second decade of the century on ‘an old crude hand press ... it required a lot of human effort to operate with such poor results’.
“He said he spent many ‘long and weary nights under the lighting of acetylene gas’, bringing out the Express. ‘The press required plenty of brawn as well as an active body, and was very slow in output. The print was sometimes smeared...’ On the other hand the job-printing plant was reasonably good with some good type faces.
“At Ayr, Godfrey Clowes, of the Advocate, remembered the dirt and the skill of composing newspapers. ‘In the old days it was a dirty old job – all day and every day you would be covered in black ink from head to toe. It was hard yakka back then, melting down lead slabs in the hot sun, placing the type pieces in their positions and then rolling the papers off the press ready for the readers – only to melt all the lead down and start the whole process off again’.”
‘Purposely Parochial: 100 Years of the Country Press in Queensland’, (195pp including bibliography and index) is available from QCPA, PO Box 229, Kelvin Grove DC Qld 4059 or email email@example.com.
This is Kirkpatrick’s fourth sole-authored book. The one not mentioned above – ‘The Life & Times of Thadeus O’Kane’ (published by the North Queensland Newspaper Co in 2003) – is a biography of a truly great Australian country editor. gx
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