One of my earliest childhood memories involves peering through basement windows into a large, bright room where men were busily working around a large machine that was making so much noise it made the window shake.
My mother was with me and she told me the most amazing thing about what was happening under the grand old building that stood on the corner of two of Tamworth’s main roads.
“They are printing the paper that will be in the paper shop in the morning,” she said. The machine went thump, thump, thump and everything seemed to be moving including men in dirty coats with black faces who busied themselves around the noisy mechanical creature that was somehow involved in making the newspaper. I wanted to stay longer to watch it but mum dragged me off as it had been a big day of travelling on the train from Sydney and she just wanted to get home. Although I can’t remember the train trip that, in those days, would have taken around eight hours, I can remember a brief few minutes looking through windows that seemed to have been placed especially for small children to look through as they started where the ground stopped.
Looking back newspapers have always been in the background of my life. My dad used the Sunday comics, and later interesting feature news stories, to help teach me to read.
I remember getting in trouble off my grandmother and mother when I discovered old newspapers were under the lino in nan’s house. Apparently pulling up the floor covering to read them wasn’t acceptable for some reason.
My early schooling involved telling news stories for the class, one of the few activities I looked forward to, and an excursion through the building that I had only glimpsed the basement years before cemented my interest in newspapers.
University study to take my media interest further wasn’t an option for me as I was encouraged to leave school as soon as I was legally old enough. I obtained my school certificate around the same time as I turned 15 and nine months and then went to technical college to learn how to type and do basic bookwork.
When I finished I applied for two jobs within days of each other. The first was for the position of secretary for the managing editor of the local paper and the other was as an insurance company receptionist.
The insurance company asked me to join them two weeks before the newspaper got back to me asking when I could start. It was hard to so no to the paper but I had made a commitment to the other employer and I planned not let them down after they took a chance on me.
As the junior at that office I brought up to six copies of the paper every morning for my co-workers and when I moved to Sydney and couldn’t get a copy of the paper I grew up with I was content reading the metropolitan broadsheets.
When I moved back to my hometown the paper was there and I have collected many cuttings that mention friends and family. Births, deaths, engagements, marriages and times when I or someone near and dear to me has been in the right place at the right time to be in a photo have been printed and stored in the newspapers achieves as well as my photo albums.
I never expected to work there after I knocked back the opportunity when I first started out but the paths life lead us on can circle around until we do what we have to do and I had the pleasure and honour of being a staff member for 12 years up until late July this year.
My time with the paper has been a ride of a lifetime as I have pushed through personal boundaries and done things I never in my wildest dreams thought I could do.
I’ve stepped out of a company car in towns where I knew no one and encouraged businesses to spend money so we could tell the region about what they have to offer, jumped on a helicopter and flew over town to get a bird’s eye view of over a hundred students forming the shape of Australia in the local park, cried with a man who wanted to make his wife happy for their 60th wedding anniversary even though she had died two months shy of the occasion and spoke to gentleman on the phone for a half an hour before he confessed he had just got out of the shower and needed to get dressed to answer a knock at the front door.
No day was ever the same.
A very valued experience was a chance meeting with a long time employee who has graced the building for years uncounted. The man in the brown coat is said to reside on the top floor but I glimpsed him on the stairwell out of the corner of my eye and have I felt his presence many times. I’ve chatted to him often to let him know I would not be in his way for long while looking for old papers or filing new ones. He only revealed himself to a few, raised the hairs on the back of many employees necks and even qualified for a special note in a visiting work and safety officers notes on the condition of the old building.
I came to think of him as the spirit of the paper. As I walked the halls, visited used and unused rooms and took photographs of each of the building levels just before finishing up I didn’t feel his presence which caused more than a few silent tears.
The last few months have not provided many good memories and altogether 12 editorial staff and two sale staff where handed redundancy packages a selected few are left to carry on the tradition into a brave new digital media world.
Sadly, the old building that housed the local printing institution for over a hundred years has also been made redundant and will be turned into whatever the new owner has planned for it.
The thumping printing press moved out long before I started there and over time has established its own income by printing more than just newspapers. I have also been privileged to witness a few print runs during my time with the paper. The men working the massive collection of equipment and rollers that make up the printing press don’t seem to get as dirty as those I saw through that long ago window and mandatory earplugs dull the noise of its operation but it is still amazing to watch when it is in action.
It lives in a big modern shed in an industrial area with no chance of any passersby experiencing a moment that will stay with them throughout their life. Surrounded by high-security fences with the print floor windows so high up on the building only a lift in cherry picker would allow a sneak peek into the final stage of the magical, daily miracle that is print news reporting.
Please enjoy some of the photos I took on my final tour of the old building.
The platform that use to service the delivery trucks that arrived in the early hours of the morning to collect the day’s papers.
Where printing presses once stood achieve storage shelves fill the open space. Renominates of the original purpose of the basement area remain with the steel support beams running across the roof area and in the in-ground ink on the walls, ceiling and floor
There hasn’t been a department of any kind in this room for at least 12 years
Before digital film had to be developed on site. The old dark room may be stripped to bare basics but it isn’t hard to tell what its purpose in life was.
The news room.
Looking down from the top floor
From the outside looking up the building shows its age with pieces of its history showing such as the loading bay on the top floor.
The plate room was once located here. It has since house the production department (long gone) and various other staff members before now sitting unused