Author Archive

  • The Romance of Letterpress: A printer’s journey across America, 1913.

    Walter Cryer II, back in Sydney in about 1919 after returning from his trip to America. He married his fiancé, Ruby.

    This is the story of the discovery of a diary my grandfather had written back in 1913-14, as he travelled across America as a newly-minted letterpress printer, having grown up in Sydney. He was 21.

    It’s hard to imagine him, every night as he travelled across America, staying overnight in a bedsitter or guesthouse, busily recording his day’s activities – he could never have imagined that his words would echo down the corridors of time, over 100 years later.

    We gain some insights into him, into the state of the printing industry at that time, and glimpses into what society looked like at that time – moments before the world was plunged into darkness of WWI.

    Bear in mind, he was a lowly tradesman, working on the factory floor so his words or observations are not as sophisticated or well-informed as they may have been if they were the writings of a manager or an historian.

    They are, however, a first hand account by someone who was there, on the spot.

    Bear in mind also this was a pivotal era, as up to this time society was literally a horse-and-buggy one, but it was unique in that horses shared the roads with cars, and square-rigged sailing vessels shared the seas with steam-powered ships.

    In only a few years, as the world emerged from the other side of the war, it would be capable of building sophisticated machinery. And yes, it may be regrettable that the technology used post-war to build high-speed printing presses was based on lessons learnt in how to build machine-guns and tanks, but that’s the funny old world we live in.

    Discovering the diary

    Let me backtrack: it was an amazing discovery to find this diary containing nearly 200 pages all neatly written in pencil. Bearing in mind he probably left school at age 15-16, to join his father’s printery, his handwriting and spelling are almost perfect. I counted three spelling mistakes and two grammatical errors and one of those is debatable! What does that tell you about the standards of teaching, 100 years later?

    There was another twist. About four years ago, when I busily started typing out the written word, I was intrigued to occasionally stumble across a reference to ‘p/c’’ – as in ‘I sent/received a p/c.’ I assumed this meant parcel but eventually worked out that it meant postcard. Bearing in mind that these described events are over 100 years ago, it is inconceivable that the ‘p/c’s’ could have miraculously re-appeared. But they did, by an absolute fluke. One of my cousins had inherited the postcards – all 150-odd that sent during his 10-month trip – and we can thank her for scanning them.

    We should also be thankful for the fact that Walter had a fiancé who encouraged him to send all those postcards. Luckily he married her, so they got passed down to her descendants, who didn’t throw them out!

    Postcard #51 – The more vot you see of Chicago

    I never got to meet my grandfather – he died the year before I was born. This has prompted me to reflect on what sort of man he was. He was a very good man by all accounts, widely respected throughout the printing fraternity, a Mason, a Methodist and a member of the Lindfield church choir – he ticked all the boxes. But I had long since given up any hope of ‘communicating’ with him, unless it is with the help of a Ouija-board.

    James Cryer (right) presents The Romance of Letterpress – Youthful Impressions:
    A printer’s journey across America, 1913 at the Penrith Museum of Printing

    Difficulties in interpreting something written 100 years ago

    And so it was an amazing experience that I should stumble upon this diary when going through my late father’s study. Upon picking it up and turning to the first page, which referred to him embarking on a ship leaving Sydney, in November, 1913, I knew immediately it was him!

    However, there are some challenges in grappling with something written in another era. As mentioned, his hand-writing was perfect  – better than our own kids – but he would occasionally use a word or term that completely floored me. Suppose you’d attempted this task 20 years ago of typing out the diary how would you unravel the following:

    1) D&RG?

    2) Jack Rabbit?

    3) Dobying?

    You’d spend all day at the local library and draw a blank. These days, a 10-year old could probably Google/Wikipedia and find answers in a matter of seconds.

    It’d be like us driving over the harbour bridge and assuming it got demolished soon after and saying,’I drove across the SHB …’. One hundred years later, SHB could be a complete mystery.

    OK, in case you’re wondering: 1) Denver & Rio Grande Railway – long since gone. 2) Then the world’s highest roller-coaster ride, in Chicago – long since gone. 3) Doing one’s own laundry, actually ‘dhobying’  – originally a naval term, long since gone.

    Grandparents, their role in society

    This discovery has made me think about the role of grandparents, who over the centuries have been either useful or not so useful. After the last war, my parents, for example, didn’t want to be reminded of a bygone era of depressions, wars, old-fashioned clothing, etc. So our parents didn’t tell us much about their parents probably thinking we wouldn’t be interested.

    And so I grew up knowing nothing about my own father’s father, as if he’d never existed. How things have changed: no longer are grandparents ignored – they’re now indispensable, cheap babysitters!

    Postcard #5 – Circular Quay.

    The reason for the trip

    Moving right along … the reason for the trip? Back then, it was almost like a ritual. The boss would send his first-born son (no daughters!) off to England or America to learn the trade. Walter’s father, also called Walter, had established the family business of Gibbs, Cryer Pty Ltd, a small printery in Druitt St, Sydney, in 1903. He would have said something like: ‘Now, son, off you go, you’re a good Methodist so you’re not meant to have a good time – you’re there to work and to call on as many printing companies and suppliers as you can and gain as much information about what’s going on in printing on the other side of the world.’

    And that’s exactly what he did. Along the way, he contacted many printing companies, as well as manufacturers of printing presses, suppliers of inks, paper, etc.  We can assume his father was proud of him. He certainly seemed to have a good time, despite his Methodist background. Just how much having a fiancé back in Sydney kept him on the straight and narrow we’ll never know. There are the occasional references to a mysterious ‘L’, as in ‘I took ‘L’ to the park’ or ‘I took ‘L’ home’. (More on that intriguing ‘L’ later.)

    Postcard #7 – RMS Aorangi.

    Off to America

    And so, after my grandfather jumped on a ship and shovelled coal across the Pacific, he disembarked in San Francisco on the very last day of 1913 into the teeth of a howling blizzard. Having left a balmy Sydney summer, welcome to the Northern Hemisphere!

    Postcard #9 – California Invites The World.

    To add to his woes he couldn’t get a job. America was going through one of its mini-depressions, largely caused by its very precarious banking system, where every man and his dog could set up a bank on the nearest street-corner and promptly go bust.

    So he jumped on a train and went to Utah, where he got a job as a letterpress printer in Salt Lake City. That didn’t last long. He took another train trip to the Midwest where he got another job, which also didn’t last long.

    A clashing of cultures

    Postcard #27 – Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

    Postcard #27 B.

    It was during this stint that he had an argument with the boss. This would normally not be a good look until you realise the context: a collision of cultures. Australia had just passed, in 1909, the world’s most enlightened workplace laws granting such things as overtime, penalty rates, the whole schemozzle.  Fast-forward to America, which had, and may still have, the toughest, most brutal work regime, virtually unregulated and based on the notion of ‘rugged individualism.’ And so working six days in a row, or working on a Saturday, made not the slightest difference – it was all at the same low rate.

    Because of this quite brutal, dog-eat-dog atmosphere, the unions were just starting to exert some influence. The innocuously-named ‘traveller’s card’ was an attempt to force bosses to only employ tradesman. This is a stain on America’s industrial relations record, as even in the 1920s various States would try to introduce such fair work laws, only to have them chucked out by the US Supreme Court on the grounds they infringed civil liberties.

    Print: becoming a part of everyday life

    Postcard #91 – Uncle Sam.

    At that time, printed products were starting to intrude more and more into peoples’ lives – even such mundane things as railway timetables, menus, business cards/stationery. But America was starting to show its flair for marketing, even then. There began to spring up things called novelty shops, which sold what we would call personalised or branded-printing, coffee-mugs, baseball-caps and the like.

    One of the classic examples was women’s powder-compacts that banks would use as give-aways. The stylish woman of 1913 would stop in downtown Chicago to put her lippy on using a compact with First National City Bank plastered all over it. I suspect the women soon realised they were being duped but Hollywood to the rescue! They invented Jean Harlow and flogged her image to newly-emerging salaried women who saw no problem in brandishing a picture of the latest Hollywood starlet. Yes, the printing industry was the beneficiary, but not without challenges: try printing subtle skin-tones onto metal or ceramic.

    This is just one example of how printing was making its presence felt. But also how clients were demanding the impossible and the printing industry had to rise to the occasion.

    The role of postcards and the advent of ‘three-colour printing’

    Postcard #50 – If you vont come to Chicago vy von’t you, vot?.

    Arguably, the most dramatic example of this, was the humble postcard. Surprisingly, postcards experienced what they called a golden era way back before WW I – between 1905-12 – when literally millions of postcards were whirling around the globe, like a swarm of locusts. People didn’t even have to travel, you could send one to your pen-friend in Scotland or Canada, saying ‘How are you?’ and they’d send one back say ‘Very well, how are YOU?’  Are you seeing comparisons with modern social media?.

    The problem was demand far outstripped the industry’s capacity to supply, due to the slowness of the printing process.The cost of printing even a humble postcard put them in the luxury category. But where there’s a will there’s a way and somebody worked out that you could speed-up the process if you eliminated one colour , taking CMYK back to three colours. But which three? Basically it was the three primary colours – minus black – which if tweaked slightly, could achieve a masterful reproduction of most scenes.  Jet black doesn’t appear too much in nature.

    Another example of how one industry, in this case travel by the burgeoning middle classes, was able to push the print industry to new heights. Plenty of printing companies back then made lots of money producing the humble postcard. In making postcards better and more affordable, it probably also helped promote more tourism.

    Consider another problem: these days to achieve four-colour reproductions, we apply rigid standards; colour is calibrated, inks are made to consistent standards, paper is made to various standards of opacity, porosity, reflectance. Imagine back then, you’re a printing company charged with reproducing a printed image of a scene to closely match the original. There were no colour standards, no ink standards and no paper standards – a printing company had to be its own laboratory, testing by trial and error all the ingredients – and don’t forget colour-matching was very much in the eye of the beholder, as interior-lighting was also all over the place. It was basically up to each tradesman to colour-match the outcome and there was a one in 20 chance he could be colour-blind!

    But in spite of all these impediments, or perhaps because of them, we persevered and the humble postcard became the rock upon which print got a massive technological kick-start. Hard to imagine now.

     

    Chicago – the location of the world’s biggest everything

    Postcard #60 – Lake Michigan, Chicago.

    Anyway, after meeting with mixed success in trying to find employment in the Midwest, someone said to Walter: ‘Go to Chicago!’ which he did, and immediately found secure employment. Well, for four months, anyway.

    It happened to be with Chicago’s largest printer, which made it also the world’s largest printer, RR Donnelly. Walter was running a new high-speed rotary-letterpress machine,which meant it printed using rotating cylinders, rather than the slower, flatbed presses. This device would have been like driving a Ferrari, expensive, fast, sophisticated, prestigious .

    And what was he printing? The world’s largest print job. At that time, Chicago had the world’s largest mail-order company, Sears-Roebuck, which had built a fortune entirely as a mail-order business. Probably hundreds of thousands of huge directories, the size of two house-bricks, were sent out to millions of families across America’s Midwest. They would spend their entire winter huddled round the fireside, from Texas to Montana, eagerly ordering everything from corsets to tractor-parts from these huge, fully illustrated directories.

    At that time Chicago was experiencing a kind of growth spurt, both industrially and culturally. It was the centre of America’s vast agricultural empire, which made it the biggest railhead, with the world’s biggest abattoir. There was the newly-emerging ‘prairie school of architecture’ from whence came Walter Burley Griffin, who won the prize to design Canberra, back in 1913. Companies were flocking to Chicago, along with as immigrants from Europe, and consequently, as printing is a derivative industry, it became the world’s major print hub.

    Postcard #57 – Lake Shore Drive. Chicago, Ill.

    The ‘Inland Printer’ Magazine

    An interesting sidelight is the name of the world’s largest printing trade-magazine. Started in the 1880s, it featured a different painting on the cover of each edition, to stress that printing was still considered more of a craft than a science and that, notwithstanding our tramp printers,  a good printer required a degree of artistic abilities to be considered a true craftsman. But the name of this magazine? The Inland Printer. Inland? Yes, that was a nod to the fact that it was not a New York publication. This was Chicago asserting itself as bold and confident, a place that actually made stuff, unlike New York which was just a financial centre and nothing more. Ah, more blokey rivalry! The magazine continued under that name until about the 1970s.

     

    Working conditions in 1913 – life in the pressroom

     All the presses he ran required several helpers, we call them offsiders. They included feeders, who literally fed sheets of paper into the gaping jaws of the press. Feeders were invariably women. Why? I know this question may prompt facetious responses but the truth is that women were/are more dexterous, skilful and conscientious, not to mention more reliable than their male counterparts. Admittedly, standing all day tossing sheets of paper at a machine takes a special kind of dedication. Blokes just couldn’t cut it!

     

    is an excerpt from my draft manuscript, titled “The Romance of Letterpress.”)

    Postcard #82 – Brooklyn Bridge.

     

    Postcard #71 – Seeing Niagara Falls by Rubber Neck Wagon.

    And finally: who was the mysterious Elle ?– a mystery unravelled

    But getting back to Walter and his travels, let me solve the typographical mystery of the occasional reference to ‘L’ in his journal entries. This would normally not arose much curiosity.  He was a happily-engaged man, far, far from home, yet every so often, he’d say “Took “L” to the park” or “Took “L” home” this being in Chicago. And then some time later “Took “L” to Coney Island.” I’m thinking, wow! Not only did he have a girlfriend in Chicago, but she’s now followed him to New York! What do I tell the grandkids?

    Fortunately or not, depending whose side you’re on, the mysterious ‘L’ turned out to be the brand new elevated-railways popping up in both New York and Chicago. America’s answer to London’s Underground, these exciting new modes of mass-transit were lovingly referred to as the “L”.

    Too much information – maybe I should draw a veil over the mysterious ‘L’.

    To allay any lingering concerns, he returned to Sydney in 1914. He more or less took over the family business, married Ruby, his fiancé, had three kids (including my old man, also called Walter). He had a long and successful business career, renaming the company W.J. Cryer & Company Ltd in 1925. He was a respected member of the Master Printers Association. His son, Wal, in his turn joined the business before to fight in WWII. Walter continued to run the business until his son returned.
     He died in 1946.

    ‘Walter’ James Cryer
    June, 2018

    ~~~

    This is a transcript of a talk given at the Penrith Museum of Print in June 2018, as part of its program designed to reach out to the wider community as well as those interested in print heritage.

    Tribute should be paid to the Penrith Museum of Printing, for allowing me – and hopefully others – to speak on topics of interest pertaining to preserving the print heritage.

    Visit their website for further events.

  • A refresh for the print awards

    James Cryer has a long history with printing.

    I have attended a lot of print awards – maybe too many. I’m probably like anyone who boasts about how many events they’ve attended. It may say more about the person than the event. Yes, I’m getting old and cranky.

    Last night I attended the latest iteration of the NSW PICA’s and which heralded the re-birth of this state’s awards after an absence of several years. PICA is a ghastly word which I hope will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history.
    The venue was an absolutely inspired choice! Whoever thought of it is guilty of creative thinking of the first order. A beautiful old colonial building was the backdrop, located in the very cradle civilisation: Parramatta. And the building? was our very own Old Government House, built back in 1799. What a fitting venue: one could almost hear echoes of Australia’s first printing press being fired up by convicted felon, George Howe, as he cranked out the first editions of The Sydney Gazette in 1803. Given the bunch of undesirables gathered in this intimate setting, some people may say ”nothing’s changed”.
    So full marks to the setting.
    The organisers also addressed that other bane of print awards, the interminably long presentations, which seem go on for hours. Not last night where they were short and sweet and all over in 20 minutes.
    Now this brings us to the pointy end. These events have become the bane of our lives. The print awards, in all their various manifestations, are the events we love to hate. Like some of our partners, we can’t live with ’em and we can’t live without ’em. We’ve never got the formula just right.
    I think last night’s NSW awards are a start in the right direction. (I refuse to call them PICAs, as there is very little ”craft” left in our industry so why pretend there is? And a piker is someone who gives up easily – so why name an awards program after a loser?)
     
    So without further ado, let me toss a few thoughts into the mix.
    •  The actual categories are in dire need of a facelift. A lot of them are rewarding us for getting up in the morning. Leaflets? Flyers? Brochures? You are kidding. Are we really giving away gold medals for doing our job? If we can’t print a decent leaflet by now we should give the game away. Rewarding ‘good leaflet printing’ is an insult to our true capabilities.
    •  There should be greater emphasis on creativity or innovation or collaboration with multiple stakeholders, or customer satisfaction. Not just boring old print quality!
    • Offset and digital should be separated. It’s crazy tossing them into the same category. They’re not better or worse but they are different. It’s as silly as trying to compare a jet aircraft to a propeller-driven one. Each process, including inkjet, has its own unique properties and should be given the chance to compete like-with-like, not all hurled into one bucket.
    • All the web-offset categories seem to have disappeared. I hope our newest PIAA board member from Spotpress Sydney, producers of catalogs and magazines is happy with that?
    •  There should be more recognition of a company’s size. I’d get rid of gold,silver, bronze, and replace them with small, medium, large. That way you’re competing against similar-sized companies across all categories and encouraging  more entrants.
    •  I’d  stop one entry competing in more than two categories. It was embarrassing to see certain entries getting multiple gongs, not because they weren’t worthy, but we should be spreading the magic dust as widely as possible to encourage more entries. This was the one negative of the event, that so many awards were concentrated in the hands of so few winners. This is not to condemn them, it’s not their fault. But the sad impression is that there were very few entrants in the first place.
    On a positive note! Congratulations to the PIAA team for starting with a fresh, new look. We haven’t got the formula right just yet, but it’s a start. More attention needs to be given to creating the right categories – for they are the ingredients of the cake.
    The whole notion of a national print awards program has a great future, if only we can throw off the legacy of the last 25-odd years where the winner was decided by a judge peering through a magnifying glass. Unfortunately, that has become a symbol of our short sightedness in failing to see the bigger picture. It’s innovation, not quality, which is the elusive pot of gold that should be rewarded.
     
     
  • Help ASOOF preserve print’s heritage

    James Cryer with the Chandler & Price press at Direct Paper.

    Between midday and 2pm last Tuesday, when most members of the printing industry were enjoying a long lunch or having a siesta – or doing whatever one does between these hours, a sturdy bunch of fieldworkers was diligently slaving away, assembling data, all for the ‘good of the cause’ – i.e., preserving the print heritage for future generations.

    Drinks-waiter and print historian James Cryer was there, to report on proceedings.

    ~~~

    Last week saw another meeting of the Australian Society of Old Friends, that group of mature-age citizens of the printing industry who are seeking to give back something to the industry which has served them so well.

    Dedicated Print21 readers may recall that at a recent gathering (at Roseville Golf Club, back in July last year), amidst a furious flurry of Post-It Notes, this group embarked on an ambitious program to try and record for posterity all those printing companies who existed until recently, but who have passed out of existence – for one reason or another, over the past few decades.

    They may have gone bust, closed voluntarily, merged or have been taken-over. But for whatever reason, they’ve disappeared from our collective memory and the colourful canvas that is our industry.

    This is an important project as it seeks to resurrect and pay tribute to all those printing companies who employed hundreds if not thousands of flesh-and-blood staff – mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, sons and daughters, who all have stories to tell and memories to rekindle – all of which, sadly, are in danger of being lost. Unless we do something about it, which this initiative seeks to do.

    Members of the Society of Old Friends (seen here hard at work, and many of whom would be known to readers) are committed to recording and remembering those who went before – and so last week the Old Friends met at the Graphic Arts club in Mascot, to put meat on the bones so to speak – by adding names of the owners and staff to those companies who have passed away recently, or over the past few decades.

    For the benefit of readers, how many of these familiar faces gathered round the table can you identify? (Astute observers will note the vintage linotype machine in the background).

    Hard at work: the stress can clearly be seen on the faces of these dedicated diehards as they struggle to remember what they had for breakfast, but are being asked to recall names of companies and colleagues going back decades. They need your help!

    From right to left: Peter Hooke, Des Haines, Doug Churchill, Neil Mulveney, Phillip Anderson, Scott Telfer (Pres), Steve Kydd, Stephanus Peters, Peter Munro, John Burrell, John Stimson, Jim Richardson, David Konnecke, Tony Ashton and the drinks-waiter.

    But be warned, being an ASOOF member is no piece of cake. It’s a serious business and a lot of hard work as you can see from the above photo.

    Anyone interested in joining the Australian Society of Old Friends (ASOOF) or in simply contributing information regarding printing companies who have sadly passed away in recent years, please contact either myself (0408 291 508) or Scott Telfer (0413 382 528).

     

  • Australians who flew for Bomber Command honoured in UK

    James Cryer (r) with wireless operator Tony Adams, 94, at the opening of the International Bomber Command memorial.

    Britain has acknowledged the role Australian personnel played in Bomber Command during the last war. On a windswept hill in Lincolnshire, there now stands a memorial and research centre that houses a massive database containing the personal stories of the brave airmen and women, who fought for the defence of freedom. 

    A contingent of 17 Australian veterans who served in Bomber Command were flown over by the Australian Government for the opening ceremony. Printing industry identity, James Cryer, was invited to attend to honour his father, Sydney printer, Walter ‘Wal’ Cryer, who piloted Lancasters during the war.

    ——

    The tingling sensation in my ears was telling me the air temperature on a bleak hill just outside of Lincoln was around two degrees C. This was nothing compared to the numbing cold experienced by the tail-gunner in a Lancaster hurtling through the dead of night somewhere over Germany – when the outside temperature would hit minus 20 degrees C. Locked in a flying tomb for up to nine hours and scanning the deep void for enemy aircraft, even your own urine would freeze solid and the chocolate biscuits so kindly provided by the young WAAF orderly would turn to blocks of concrete.

    But at least I didn’t have Germans firing ack-ack guns at me when I took my place on this windswept hill overlooking Lincoln, along with several thousand others, to help celebrate Bomber Command’s role during the last war.

    Bomber Command has occupied a somewhat ambivalent position in Britain’s psyche over the past 60-odd years, as it has drifted in and out of favour, depending on which way the winds of political correctness were blowing. By its nature, it conducted its operations in a clandestine manner – taking-off in the dead of night, out of sight/out of mind of ordinary Brits. By contrast, Spitfire pilots conducted their operations in full view of an adoring public, in broad daylight – and almost overhead if you lived in Kent! Never the less, the ‘bomber boys’ managed to win 19 Victoria Crosses for their efforts.

    But none of this seemed to count, as accusations of indiscriminate bombing, of killing civilians and of taking resources away from other wartime priorities were easy to make and difficult to refute. The then leader of Bomber Command, ‘Bomber’ Harris probably didn’t help, with his single-minded, obsessive preoccupation with obliterating non-military, as well as military targets. He master-minded the attack on Cologne in March ’42 involving 1,042 aircraft as a show of strength and to demonstrate to the likes of Churchill, and other sceptics, that Bomber Command could deliver a deadly blow from the heavens above.

    This raid may be seen as a metaphor, or template, for the role of Bomber Command generally: the raid was a great success, but, delivered at enormous cost (in this case, 41 aircraft). By war’s end, however, the overall cost was that almost half of all aircrew would be either: killed in action, injured or taken prisoner, and the average age at time of death would be a staggering 23 years of age! This pattern – dramatic success versus a horrific mortality rate – was to dog Bomber Command for the rest of the war. Sadly its ‘successes’ were always going to be tinged with the spectre of civilian casualties. Whether they were innocent civilians or actually part of the German war effort would be one of those imponderables which always left Bomber Command vulnerable to attack.

    The Spire, part of the newly-opened Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. Able to be seen for miles around, like a welcoming beacon at a wartime aerodrome, it is 31m in height – the same length as a Lancaster’s wingspan.

    Us humans can’t, or don’t want to, differentiate between over-zealous or bad decisions made by military leaders, and the men who have to bravely ‘do their duty’. And we should remember, the 1940s was still very much the era of the white picket-fence and of unswerving duty to King and country: servicemen did not query or challenge orders, they just did what they had to do.

    Dresden didn’t help the PR story either, even though its detractors easily forget that the German attack on civilian Coventry was probably the catalyst for that ghastly game of tit-for-tat.

    But that was the whole point behind the creation of this international centre, high on a hill overlooking Lincoln. Not to create yet another static museum – in fact it has very few ‘exhibits’. Set on 10 acres, it is essentially a research centre and a digital archive, bringing together stories of airmen from the 62 countries who participated in Bomber Command during the war – and to record in one place forever, the names of nearly 58,000 … those who never returned. There are several peace gardens reflecting the native flora from all five continents – but at heart, its role is in bringing about reconciliation: ironically, not only with the enemy, but with the British public, who for over 60 years have wanted some form of acceptance of Bomber Command’s role, but who have been thwarted by timorous British politicians who have kowtowed to the bleeding-heart minority.

    This, sadly, is a familiar refrain, as Australia’s own Minister for Veterans’ Affairs had to be shamed into providing government funds to send our 17 remaining Bomber Command veterans to this very symbolic ceremony. It seems to be a failing of democracy these days, just how out of touch our politicians are with their electors.

    But I also noted there was not one member of the Royal Family in attendance. Were they all so busy attending cocktail parties that none of them, not even a distant cousin or relative, could show up? I took it as a snub that not one member of the royal household could attend an event which goes so deeply to the heart of the British nation.

    The newly-opened Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

    But as the Centre itself states: Reconciliation implies that those who were once divided by conflict are prepared to put the past behind them and co-exist … It is also about acknowledging that not everything done by the winners of the war was just or right. Reconciliation is not about triumphalism … it is about our common humanity [and hopefully will encourage debate] about the bombing war which, all these decades on, is capable of arousing strong emotion.

    That, I think, is a pretty frank and fair admission that we, as humans, don’t always do everything right, and that such brutal honesty is a pretty good starting point for reconciliation. I think Australia’s very own Vietnam vets, who were coerced into going in the first place and who got short shrift from a government upon their return, could relate to these sentiments.

    Ironically, as a side note: during the ceremony, no mention was made of ‘Bomber’ Harris who is still considered a divisive figure – the  Centre’s main building is named the Chadwick Centre after the designer of the iconic Lancaster bomber – reminding us that some things are still a bit too raw.

    Over 10,000 Aussies participated in Bomber Command’s war effort and they were all volunteers. I was here, on this windswept hill, to represent my late father, Wal Cryer, DFC, a bomber pilot himself – before returning to run the family printing business in Sydney – and to accompany a sprightly nonagenarian, Tony Adams, who was my father’s wireless operator (WOP) on their many sorties over Germany. They, and the rest of their crew, were among the lucky ones.

    And lady luck was at her best, or worst, during those sorties. Tony recalls an incident flying at tree-top level over France while attempting to drop badly needed supplies to the French underground resistance movement. With only visual navigation to guide them on this moonlit night, they were rapidly approaching the drop-zone deep in the forest when his radio cut out. Frantically whacking it (in a technical manner, of course) it refused to cooperate until a few minutes – probably seconds – later, it spluttered back into life only to tell them: “Return to base! Return to base!” The Germans had intercepted the hide-out and instead of a welcoming committee of grateful French citizens there would have been a hail of bullets from the Oerlikon sub-machine guns lurking in the forest clearing.

    Why had that radio suddenly burst back into life? Was it destiny? Was fate? Was it kismet? – or just a faulty valve having fun? Who knows, but these are the sort of imponderables that war leaves trailing in its wake.

    My father (who hardly ever spoke about the war) used to remark that during these flights over France, they flew at such frighteningly low levels that the vibrations from their Rolls-Royce Merlin engines would probably smash all the windows and crockery of the very citizens they were trying to help!

    ……

    The Centre itself is a giant experiment, as it’s possibly the first in the world to adopt the ‘reconciliation and research’ approach as opposed to just being another war museum. It is to its eternal credit that it and hundreds of volunteers have persevered for over nine years – often against daunting odds and a lack of political support – and have demonstrated a vision not shared by politicians.

    But even though Lincoln’s bitter cold tried to do what the Germans couldn’t, Tony was here, larger than life – a sprightly 94-year old enjoying his new career as a media tart, having been interviewed by multiple outlets including the BBC evening news and Australia’s Channel 7. The following day he was going to give a talk to the ladies auxiliary at Methwold, a tiny village in Norfolk, where he and my father’s crew were stationed during the war. I said to Tony, if he plays his cards right, he could even get a mention in Print21

    There are now only a few hundred vets still alive and kicking around the world, but the Centre is keen to collect stories from anyone who has any association with Bomber Command during those dark days.

    I know we Aussies love to bag the Brits (and they richly deserve it), but to their their great credit they have done an outstanding job – with little thanks to the government – in creating this on-going testament to the ordinary, everyday men and women who put their lives on the line for us.

    If you have a relative who contributed to Bomber Command – who you know of someone who did, get onto the website, they’d love to hear from you.

    Visit www.internationalbcc.co.uk – or even better, visit Lincoln and see it for yourself.

    Tony Adams featured in a BBC report about the International Bomber Command memorial:

  • Huge rent bill threatens Museum of Printing

    Melbourne Museum of Printing (photo: Dmitry Chernysh)

    The Melbourne Museum of Printing, arguably the largest and most important repository of printing equipment in the country, is under threat. Last weekend, the Age blew the lid sky-high on an issue which has been festering for years – and which may have no easy answer. The positive response by members of the public reminds us that it DOES affect the printing industry – whether we like it or not.

    James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment.

    Far, far away in a distant galaxy located in Melbourne’s West Footscray there exists, rightly or wrongly, and perhaps even inexplicably – the greatest collection of printing equipment (old and new), type-chases, boxes of metal-type and a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of print industry memorabilia.

    This bizarre fact was brought to the nation’s attention this past Easter weekend, when Melbourne’s The Age newspaper devoted a large story (two-and-a-half pages and pictures) to the sad fate now befalling this collection. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the landlord is owed a considerable amount of rent, and wishes – putting it bluntly – to chuck the entire contents on the tip.

    I only became aware of the problem a month ago when I was asked to explore what options there were for its salvation.

    Could it continue, but in a smaller scale? If so, would it retain its role as a teaching institution (it used to hold workshops on letterpress printing)? Should there be a ruthless cull and retain only the old equipment in a static display? But where?

    Would a Melbourne-based college (e.g., Holmesglen?) wish to wrap it into their facilities?
    Would an historic-themed site such as Sovereign Hill wish to incorporate into their heritage offer?
    Would a Victorian museum consider absorbing it – after all, it is a unique collection of historical equipment?
    Would an interstate museum consider taking it over – after all, it is, at heart a “national” treasure?

    I must say, when I first heard about it – last month – I was overwhelmed by two emotions: guilt and admiration. Admiration for what the owner, Michael Isaachsen has managed to achieve – with apparently, very little help from anyone – be it governments who have stood by and not thrown in a cent – or our own industry, who, for whatever reason, has not more warmly embraced this project.

    My admiration is tinged with a sense of guilt, however, that I – a fourth-gen member of the industry, who prides himself on ”knowing” about such things – had not the slightest clue about the size and scale of this collection. (To those uninitiated, visit www.mmop.org.au) – and be blown away by the impressive, multi-faceted range of equipment, memorabilia, not to mention training courses that were on offer).

    Putting aside for one moment whether or not Michael is a bit … let’s say … “single-minded” about his collection, we must not forget that an institution (I’m calling it that for good reason) such as this, represents the heart and soul of our industry. It is the ticking grandfather clock in the hallway, which reminds us of where we came from and who we are.

    Melbourne Museum of Printing.

    It is an art gallery; it’s a working museum; it’s a training college (for everyone from housewives to graphic design students to lovers of letterpress); it’s a workshop, where tinkerers of times past can come and luxuriate in the wonders of yesteryear.

    It’s a hallowed hall, housing sacred relics from a bygone era. It cannot be allowed to perish!

    One hears of all sorts of bogus ”causes” getting 100s of millions of $$$s of government funding. We may recall the tertiary training-college scam of last year when lazy watchdogs handed out millions of $$$s to fake colleges – no questions asked!

    One would like to think the MMOP would stand at the front of any queue in terms of ”worthiness”, if any such application was made.

    Even putting aside that it represents an irreplaceable showcase of our industry, it is also a training college, and I would have thought that all governments (Federal and State) having made such a hash of TAFEs, would bend over backwards to help any institution (such as the MMOP) which offers a training component.

    It is worthwhile to briefly back-track: what is all the more remarkable is that Michael, the founder/proprietor is NOT from the printing industry. His main occupation was in management roles within the Post Office. Somehow, imbued with a love of letterpress in particular and print in general, he scrimped, scrounged and fossicked around and eventually amassed a sizeable collection of printing equipment – plus Linotypes and other ancillary bits-and-pieces – to the point where he has created a veritable ”museum of printing” right under our noses!!!

    MMoP owner Michael Isaachsen shows a visitor a “stop-cylinder” style press, developed around 1870.

    I am still struggling to understand how someone – not even from our industry! – could accumulate such an impressive collection of our equipment; machines that faithfully served in our factories, operated by our trained journeymen. Why can’t we now embrace his endeavours enthusiastically, as an extension of our industry?

    Are we so heartless or indifferent to these assets, the very engines that drove our industry, and upon which we built our businesses and derived our personal wealth?

    Are we still so cold-hearted that we can turn our backs on a cry for help, from someone who has done so much, for so long, with so little thanks … to preserve OUR industry?

    Sadly, I don’t know what the answer is. There may be no answer. Apparently, the landlord has padlocked the gates and is threatening blue murder and the local tip is looming large as the likely destination of much of the hardware if something is not done rather urgently.

    Maybe a friendly ”deputation” from the printing industry would reassure him that we are prepared to consider some possible action plans.

    This is a ”call to arms” to those who are passionate about preserving the print heritage. And while at one level it’s a “Melbourne” problem it is also a national treasure that must not be allowed to be destroyed.

    May I make a final point, with all the diplomacy for which I’m renown: not only is it “not just” a Melbourne problem, but now, thanks to The Age blowing the lid sky-high, it’s not only a “print industry” problem – it’s now a “community problem”. And citizens are expressing their hope that something can be done.

    I’m not asking the PIAA Board to “kick in” in financial terms, but they must stick their head above the ramparts and declare some moral leadership in this. Boards are increasingly being asked to consider their role within a broader social context, including that of being a good “corporate citizen”.

    The printing industry has done very well over many years. It’s now time to return the favour and commit to providing some guidance and support in trying to save this jewel in the crown.

    It may not be salvageable – but we can’t stand by and watch. This is a unique opportunity for the printing industry to come out of the shadows and show that it has a conscience – and that any good Board considers the overall well-being of the industry, not just the cash-flow of its members.

    If nothing else it could call for a brainstorming session – or call for an expert group to propose options. Maybe even meeting the landlord would help to diffuse the issue. I throw it open to the brain’s trust on how we can help salvage, or at least mitigate the disaster, which appears to be facing this unique collection of OUR memories.

    I have been in contact with an Emeritus Professor from Melbourne University’s School of Business, who has agreed to assist in the process of exploring options. I think if enough people express interest we can address the problem collectively rather than in a piecemeal manner. If you are interested let me know and I can put you in touch with this gentleman.

  • Old Friends meet for end-of-year celebration

    James Cryer takes us into the inner sanctum of a clandestine group of shadowy figures, and shines a light on one of our industry’s best-kept secrets, revealing for the first time some of their strange rituals and beliefs.

    Originally formed in England over 100 years ago, the Society was established with the noble purpose of providing a mechanism or means of tradespeople – of various professions – keeping in touch, after they had retired.

    Reminding us that we are tribal or herd-creatures at heart, we all crave the need for company and social interaction, between people of similar backgrounds or viewpoints.

    And so the Australian branch (or ”daughter organisation”), which began many years ago, derived its membership mainly from the commercial offset sector, which of course, was the mainstay of our industry for many years.

    Many notables – proprietors, managing directors, tradespeople, lecturers from the Sydney School of Printing – people from many and varied quarters – have all enjoyed the cameraderie, four or five times a year, which such an association brings. 

    In fact, 100 years later, it still fulfills a unique need, which is to provide a means by which people who share a passion for print – and who may have spent a lifetime in it (or it just seems that way) – can keep in touch.

    And so it was that about forty souls met on the balcony of the RSYS overlooking Sydney’s beautiful harbour to reminisce about the past and to toast the future… of print.

    To help celebrate the occasion, in what is now an ”instant tradition”, Andrew Macaulay, CEO of the PIAA (and his better-half, Bud) was invited to say a few words about some of the exciting new initiatives and programs the association is undertaking. We were intrigued to hear that, earlier that day, he had even chewed the ear of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull over lunch in Canberra.  And just to even-up the score, he had met with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, the week before.

    This is all part of a long-term strategy to place the printing industry closer to the levers of power in Canberra. He mentioned that the two top priorities for our industry, which the association is addressing, are energy pricing and training. He also made the point that, with the demise of the automotive industry, the printing industry is now the largest employer in the manufacturing sector.

    All in all, the talk was extremely well received and help cast a light on some of the important, behind the scenes work your association is engaging in.

    President Scott Telfer thanked Andrew and confirmed what a great honour it was to have the CEO here, and to have him speak so candidly and passionately on matters which affect our industry.

    If anyone would like to join the Society, you are most welcome to contact either myself, or Scott Telfer, see contact details, below.

    Anyone is welcome to join! Sorry, there is one condition, which I forgot to mention: you must be under ninety!

    If you are interested in joining the Australian Society of Old Friends, please contact either – 

    Scott Telfer – – – – 0413 382 528 or

    James Cryer – – – 0408 291 508

  • Printers collaborate with NSW State Library

    Curator Anni Turnbull shows James Cryer a specimen from the State Library rare book collection.

    The one-liner, ‘Have you heard what happens when a printer meets a librarian?’ may sound like a bad pub joke, but this meeting proved that similarities can exceed the differences, when two groups from different but like-minded backgrounds come together.

    Accompanied by fellow print-tragic, Stephanus Peters (print consultant and active member of the Penrith Museum of Printing), we were on a mission to explore ways in which institutions, such as Sydney’s historic State Library, can work, in various ways, with the printing industry.

    We all know from our school days that libraries are scary places. Memories come flooding back of that nasty Miss Throgmorton, who took delight in fining you threepence, just because you were a bit late in returning that book you’d borrowed six months earlier.

    I’m sure we all carry horror stories like that, and so it was a pleasure to meet two librarians (curators, if you want to get technical), who were charming, helpful, informative – and who both share a passionate interest in books. In fact, it was this latter quality which brought us all together.

    I am, of course, referring to Anni Turnbull and Sarah Morley, both curators at Sydney’s State Library. And what on earth were we doing there?

    Well may you ask, as there has been virtually no formal interaction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ – which is strange when you consider that the gentle art of printing lies at the heart of both our respective professions.

    After all, a cheeky headline-writer could easily encapsulate our common ground in relation to our respective love of books, as ‘We print ’em – you store ’em!’ – while clumsy, it does summarise our shared interest in preserving, promoting (and dare I say, printing) books!

    NSW State Library

    But what prompted my sudden interest in the role of libraries was my attendance last month, at a seminar on William Morris, held at … the same State Library! In case you didn’t know (I hadn’t heard of him either) William Morris was a prolific author, poet, illustrator, back in the 1890s – but more importantly he founded the idea of the ”limited edition” press, by hand-printing and publishing numerous lavishly-engraved, embellished and illuminated works – all of which are collector’s items these days.

    What followed after the seminar was a discussion on contemporary limited-edition book-publishing, in which the importance of collaboration was stressed between the author, the illustrator, the photographer, the book designer, the book-binder, the editor and the publisher.

    Who’s missing from this picture? Only the silly bugger who has to print the damn thing! During the Q&A session which followed, I made a few points about how the printing industry may have traditionally been ”the last cab off the rank” but these days we’re much more proactive in reaching out and working with the creatives (stakeholders) as part of the process. And the printing industry has never been in a better position in terms of offering a whole range of special processes and effects to budding authors and book designers – if only we’re given the opportunity.

    It seemed to hit a chord as I was subsequently approached by one of the curators, who also saw merit in some kind of collaboration between those who store, and those who print, books.

    And that is the true story, of how Stephanus and I came to meet with Anni and Sarah!

    State Library curator Sarah Morley displays a rare 15th C book with its unusual type layout.

    After viewing some of the incredibly rare books in their care, we got down to business, and these were some of the topics discussed: 

     – the idea of inviting the PIAA to hold a board meeting on-site at the Library and be taken on a tour of some of their archival collections – on that point, our new CEO, Andrew Macaulay (who was invited but couldn’t make it to today’s meeting), being a self-confessed bibliophile, would probably love the idea of strengthening ties between ‘those who store ’em and those who print ’em’;

    – visits by various print industry associations (eg, the LIA and the Old Friends) – actual numbers and dates to be decided;

     – encouraging the print industry to participate in State Library workshops (similar to the William Morris one) which may be aimed at improving book ”production values” by promoting a better understanding of what our industry can do for all those who want to produce ‘better books’ (ie, more ‘collaboration’!);

     – how the State Library may provide advice to our industry on how we may better store/preserve/protect/curate the various ad hoc book collections which we have, including the big-daddy of them all, the PIAA’s rare book collection which includes the extremely valuable Gutenberg bible reprint, plus an original of the Nuremburg chronicles – plus over 150 other valuable books; and

     – how the State Library may interact with the Penrith Museum of Printing – including using it as an outsourced workshop for those State Library members keen to learn more about the letterpress process – or who are simply interested in learning more about the history of print, in this country.

    In a world where traditional lines of demarcation are breaking down, it makes sense that various institutions that otherwise may not have interacted, reach out to work together.

    Stephanus and I believe we convinced Anni and Sarah that those of us in the printing industry are not just a bunch of bland, wishy-washy characters (well, we are) but lurking deep within there is a passion and a desire to preserve the heritage, not found in all industries.

    Only good can come from our industry reaching out to other sectors of the community – and reminding people that print is a part of everyday life!

    PS: Anni and Sarah also referred to a social history project they are conducting, involving interviews with people from different professional/trade vocations, which would be audio-visually recorded and archived. What better way to help preserve the heritage? Calling for volunteers!

     

  • Promoting print to the politicians

    Addressing the issues of print: Andrew Macaulay, CEO Printing Industries, Trent Zimmerman, Federal MP North Sydney and James Cryer, JDA.

    Andrew Macaulay, CEO, Printing Industries, meets with Trent Zimmerman, the Federal Member for North Sydney, as part of a his ongoing campaign to raise the industry’s public profile. James Cryer went along.

    This week I had the privilege of being present at a meeting between Andrew Macaulay, CEO Printing Industries, and Trent Zimmerman, Federal MP and Member for North Sydney. It was part of a plan to encourage Trent to get out and visit some printing companies in his electorate and to sit down with the owners to gain a better understanding of any concerns and issues impacting on them.

    There are no shortage of issues affecting the industry and Andrew was quick to draw attention to them during the meeting. Among the issues he raised were:

    • the energy security/energy pricing issue, the impact of which is starting to bite as printing companies experience higher and more volatile energy cost pressures.
    • the skills-based immigration program which seems out of kilter with the needs and demands of our industry, in two ways:
    • we are not allowing many highly-educated people in, who would assimilate rapidly and bring not only assets but management skills; and
    • the recent changes to the 457 visa’s list of acceptable skills has meant we have too many of some and not enough of others.
    • the destruction of TAFE colleges by the States, combined with the ramping up of universities by the Feds as the favoured tertiary education provider. This has created a perfect storm, by virtually starving the manufacturing sector, of which print is the largest sub-set, with the demise of the car industry, of new entrants. The skills shortage is now imposing a limit to growth on many printing companies who just can not find staff – be they factory-floor or client-facing roles. 

    Andrew explained, in no uncertain terms and I think to Trent’s genuine surprise, how the modern print industry of today is now a great employer, and an exciting career choice; ideas which are alien to many including politicians. These notions will no doubt be dramatically demonstrated when Trent is taken on a tour of various printeries around the lower North Shore –just make sure to hide those Vertical Miehles.

    The meeting was part of a drive we’ve undertaken to ensure that our industry adopt a higher public profile. By that I simply mean get out in the public arena, send ‘print ambassadors’ to talk to school kids and TAFE colleges about our exciting ‘new’ industry, invite political leaders to more print industry functions. Printers should be encouraged to hold a function at say the Art Gallery as Whirlwind/Lindsay Yates did last month and invite the mainstream media. My spies tell me our industry may even hold an exhibition of print in the hallowed halls of Parliament House in Canberra – what a fantastic idea!

    Anyway, it was a great meeting, if judged by the fact that, after the unrelenting propaganda campaign waged by Andrew and me, Trent appeared genuinely interested in our industry, impressed by its achievements in terms of efficiency, and I think, fair to say, much more sympathetic to the idea of print as a career choice, than ever before. 

    And maybe an industry worth saving – instead of trying to kill it off as Australia Post tried to do

    I’d like to think that Trent can see more clearly now, the consequences it will have on an otherwise thriving industry, if his government starves us of skilled staff and allows energy prices to shoot through the roof.

    And don’t forget there’s a printing company in virtually every electorate with employees who vote! So send any thoughts on what you’d like in your Christmas stocking to the PIAA, which is now playing a more active role than ever before in its history, in terms of reaching out directly to our political decision-makers.

     

  • The need for speed: LIA digital event

    I was delighted to attend this week’s LIA event, which dealt with the fascinating question of the role of digital printing within the marvellous tapestry that is our industry.

    James Cryer, JDA Print Recruitment

    Four vendors (HP-Curries, Kodak, Konica Minolta, Ricoh) eagerly presented their respective cases to an enthusiastic audience.

    The program title – ‘high speed’ – may have been deliberately provocative, as we know that the much-maligned process known as ‘offset’ can be anything up to 5 or 10 times more productive than digital in sheer tonnage produced (or probably 100 times if you include newspapers).

    So, calling digital ‘high-speed’ is a bit like referring to a ‘high-speed snail.’ I only mention this as several times during the meeting, the term ‘offset replacement’ was used – somewhat menacingly perhaps, like the term ‘hip replacement’ – as if it’s only a matter of when! 

    In any event, sheer speed is a slippery slope, as one press could have four-times the impression area of another and go at half the speed and still be twice as productive.

    So surely productivity should be the real test, not speed?

    But even the notion of productivity has hidden traps – again, a press could run at twice the speed of a competitor, but require more downtime, create more spoilage or even use more energy and still be less productive!

    So again, surely the real test (of productivity) should be when you tie the measurement back to ‘return on funds invested’? This gets interesting as, assuming a comparable digital press is one quarter the price of an offset one (ie, $500k as against $2m), I could then go out and buy four digital presses – and enjoy the same ”productivity” for the same price as one offset press. (And some might say enjoy greater flexibility along the way – but that’s another story).

    This whole notion of ‘speed’ reminds us of the limits we encounter when we try to make any machine go faster. An engine may be capable of making a car reach 500kph – but if the tyres overheat (or fall off) the point is lost.

    Sheet-fed offset presses are now bumping up against one of these constraints, as 18,000iph seems to be the speed at which sheets of paper scream in agony as their leading-edges approach the speed of sound.

    Heidelberg creatively tried to circumvent this with the brilliant CutStar Speedmaster, which involved a retro-fitted, roll-feed mechanism. I’m not sure how much (if at all) it exceeded the ‘speed limit’ but it was a clever engineering solution.

    The point remains that sheet-fed offset is limited to 18,000iph – now, if that’s not like capturing the rabbit in the headlights for the digital brigade, I don’t know what is!

    But, digital presses face a similar problem with any sheet-fed delivery system – you bump up against physical or mechanical constraints. The solution: convert to reel-feed, which many of them do – especially in the large-volume, transactional space. However, reel-feed is hostile to the very principles underlying the whole digital concept: that of short-run, quick turnaround!

    And so, we find ourselves chasing our tail if we relentlessly pursue the notion of simply trying to increase speed. Digital has many other benefits to offer – but speed ain’t one of them.

    So what are some of the benefits?

    I was mightily impressed by the night’s line-up, in that something unique was on display, but nobody noticed.

    All four digital devices – even though they all were aimed at roughly the same market, were almost completely different in terms of their construction, concept and underlying philosophy. This is quite different, say, from the car market where all the popular brands mimic each other so that within each class, they’re all virtual clones of each other. Bottom-line: no real choice!

    Right now, we are spoiled for choice in the digital press market – each vendor has come up with a completely different way of ‘killing the cat’. This is to be commended, and possibly is quite unique in the way most markets operate -where you can get all the car makers clustering round a basic idea but just adding their own door-handles or bumper-bars.

    The downside can be an added layer of complexity, however, when it comes to choosing, not the best/worst press – but the most appropriate press to suit your business model. 

    This is where I thought last night’s meeting could have delved more into the relative capabilities/merits of each press. If I were a judge, I’d give them ALL a gold medal for creative/innovative brilliance: each press has addressed a particular ”problem” and solved it.  But I came away feeling that the vendors, while singing the praises of their own devices, could have provided more information on which particular problem or sector each one had specifically tried to address – and what the relative merits were – of this device over that one.

    This extreme level of product differentiation is a reminder of how far we’ve progressed from the ”good old times” – when the choice of press was usually out of two or three – and the winner was the one who paid for your trip to Drupa!

    I commend the LIA for holding these forums – but let us dig a little deeper into some of these kind of comparative issues. Now, where’s that spreadsheet?

  • Handcrafted books bring history to life

    Sue Anderson, creator of unique one-off or limited-edition books.

    In the ragged landscape that passes for the printing industry, there are many torn fragments that would not normally catch our attention but which contain their own dramatic story.

    James Cryer of JDA Print Recruitment

    One such esoteric fragment is ”nature printing”, which I was privileged to observe in London recently – which first appeared in the early 1800s and enabled the accurate reproduction of leaves and other botanical specimens – without destroying the leaf! (The answer lay in the use of electrolysis to create a copper replica of the leaf – but that’s another story.)

    Fast forward to last week, when I visited the Contemporary Art Fair at Sydney’s iconic Carriageworks. 

    Let me introduce two charming ladies, Sue Anderson and Gwen Harrison, who are doing marvellous things with books. But these are not the “normal” books you and I think of. These are books that may be nearly (or sometimes over) a metre square, and with a print run of only a dozen – or less!

    These are books where every aspect and element has been laboriously handcrafted: all display type has been handset, using wooden blocks; the text, again, has been meticulously handset by Sue using compositor’s typesticks, and all the binding has, again, been lovingly crafted – in one case using covers made of kangaroo-skin to house a collection of Gwen’s etchings.

    These are works of art in their own right and rank alongside paintings, sculptures and etchings. But they are books! And there is a name for this genre: artists’ books. Note the careful placement of the apostrophe. They are not books owned by artists: they are books produced as works of art.

    And who are these ”artists”? Well, Sue and Gwen are a sprightly duo, seen here holding one of their works of art – a book whose page-size when opened flat easily exceeds one metre in length by half-a-metre in depth. Try printing that on a digital press!

    Their modus operandi is typical artist: no thought of commercial gain – if they sell some copies that’s great, but basically, they’re driven by the love of letterpress printing. But somebody loves their work, as their creations have been bought by the British Library, Stanford University in the US and several other American institutions, as well as several galleries and libraries around Australia.

    They get their inspiration from certain dark Australian historical themes and have produced “works of art” on such diverse topics as Parramatta’s notorious Female Factory, the little-known convict prison on Cockatoo Island (known as Biloela) in Sydney Harbour and Sydney’s historic “Quarantine Station”, which played such an important role in Australia’s early immigration intake.

    Sue Anderson (left) and Gwen Harrison holding their large, hand-made book.

    To produce these works, Sue and Gwen may spend months researching and assembling ideas and images, and then many more months laboriously creating the text (Sue) and the hand-drawn images (Gwen) before the trial-and-error process of printing the whole thing – by hand – begins. Part of the complexity is combining copper-plate etchings with type – bearing in mind that each and every colour requires a separate run – and it’s all done on a Potter letterpress machine that’s nearly 90 years old!

    Sometimes, there’s the easy way and the hard way, and Sue and Gwen seem hell-bent on choosing the latter. But this is the unfettered spirit that drives the true artist. Or is it the craftsperson? Sue and Gwen live in that twilight zone where the lines are blurred. All we should care about is that they are using the letterpress process to produce works of art – and as such, should be welcomed by us as being an integral part of the printing industry!

    Who said printing is dead?

    For more information on Sue and Gwen’s creations, visit neverfixedmark.com.

    Or visit their workshop at the artist’s precinct on Middle Head, Sydney Harbour National Park.

     

     

  • Preserving the past…for the future*

    ASOOF members mingle with the Museum’s volunteers.

    Earlier this week, a dozen dubious-looking characters assembled outside what looked like a replica of one of Glenn Murcat’s award-winning corrugated-iron sheds, out in the back-blocks of Penrith. 

    No, this was not some shady group of undesirables meeting for nefarious purposes. This was the illustrious Australian Society of Old Friends (ASOOF) meeting, which was being held at the famous Penrith Museum of Printing.

    Newly-rejoicing over its recent $70K’s worth of refurbishment, kindly donated by industry supporters, the Museum – proudly run by a dedicated band of volunteers, was keen to thrown open its doors on this beautiful, sunny spring day.

    And what a display! Without doubt, this is the finest collection of working letterpress printing presses in the country and probably the Southern Hemisphere.

    With no thanks to governments – who can find a lazy billion to relocate the Powerhouse – the Museum has struggled on, with little or no government assistance but with lots of TLC from a tight-knit group of loyal supporters and the half-dozen gentlemen who, like retired train-drivers, just can’t stay away from their lifelong love affair with their chosen trade.

    What these men have done is nothing less than remarkable. Working sometimes with only the aid of an oily rag – literally to lubricate the presses! – these men have breathed life back into great hunks of iron which otherwise would have disappeared forever from our collective consciousness. That would have been a tragedy, given the very foundations of our industry were built upon the letterpress process.

    The idea of the Museum came about when a local, Allan Connell, former employee of ‘’The Nepean News’’ looked through the window of the closed-down building and saw the old Wharfedale press from the 1880s (see video) and an old Linotype machine from the same era. By chance – as sometimes happens – he tracked down what must have been a very rare breed, indeed – a Linotype mechanic, in the form of the late Neville James, who performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and literally restored them back to life.

    Since then, the Museum has grown in size and stature and today it ranks as the absolute jewel-in-the-crown, in terms of being Australia’s premier ”home” of working letterpress machines.

    We should never forget that print was virtually the only medium of mass communication and these giant Iron Horses pumped out everything from brochures to books and of course – newspapers. In fact, many country towns had not just their own printery, but a newspaper! And the local buildings probably shook to their very foundations as Wharfedales and Meihles around the country pumped out the local newspaper, which you had a whole week to read before the next edition ”hot off the press” came out.

    The Museum will be officially re-opening soon, and holds training courses for anyone who’s interested and hopes to raise badly-needed revenue from these programs.

    I’m sure there are printing companies in Sydney, and elsewhere, who may wish to become partners or sponsors in some way – the Museum would certainly welcome all the support – and publicity, they can get. Perhaps even the PIAA could lend some support, especially in navigating their way around obtaining government grants?

    But more than that, I believe the Penrith Museum of Printing is a slender but vital link to our past: a reminder of our once craft-based origins. In our modern, anodyne age of press-buttons, we like to pay lip service to that word, “craft.” Why not create some award or other recognition dedicated to letterpress printing? Just a thought.

    On behalf of the Australian Society of Old Friends, I salute the efforts of these volunteers for reviving and promoting the almost lost art of letterpress printing.

    Special thanks to Stephanus Peters of Pegras, and to Scott Telfer, president of ASOOF, for helping to organise the event.

    www.printingmuseum.org.au

    [James Cryer is secretary of the Australian Society of Old Friends (ASOOF)]

    * The motto of the Penrith Museum of Printing.

     

  • Post-It notes to the rescue of print heritage

    In a subliminal nod to the power of print (or maybe that should really be paper!) Post-It notes were flying thick and fast last Tuesday evening.

    James Cryer, founder of JDA Print Recruitment.

    In case you missed it, this was a meeting of the Australian chapter of the Society of Old Friends – the local branch of an organisation set up in England a century ago to foster and encourage fellowship among members of the printing industry.

    While membership has traditionally been by the ‘tap on the shoulder,’ the Sydney branch is now throwing open membership to anyone of good intent who is interested in contributing in some way to preserving our valuable heritage.

    And so it was, at the Roseville Golf Club that memories were tickled, brains were stormed and mental cobwebs banished (at least momentarily) as attendees were issued with a stack of Post-It notes. The mood turned tense as we heard the ‘click’ of locked doors and armed guards advised us that ”Nobody leaves the room until you’ve completed this assignment!”

    With that kind of motivation, how could we fail!

    The Society of Old Friends meeting

    The ‘assignment’, in this case, was for all members present to collectively recall all those printing companies that have been and gone over the last 40-odd years (ever since the seminal work “The Master Printers of Sydney” was published, back in 1972).

    And so it was that with pens twirling like spinning-tops and Post-It notes flying through the air like paper-planes (deftly aimed at several white-boards provided for the occasion), the collective brains trust of 19 doyens of our industry, were able to come up with nearly 250 names of printing companies that have ‘been and gone’ or arisen since 1972.

    Posting it at the Society of Old Friends meeting

    Under Scott Telfer’s careful gaze, Post-It notes were carefully removed and placed in alphabetical sequence for the next step, which is to toss this list onto a platform like Wikipedia and throw it open to our industry at large, so members can collectively add their snippets of information – including details about the proprietors, company locations, type of printing (offset, forms, cartons, etc.) and anything else of value to help build a meaningful database.

    It was a great night, proving yet again the power of print over electronic devices. Anyone who is interested to join the Sydney-based Society of Old Friends please contact me (0408 291 508) or Scott Telfer at Blue Star.

    May I also give a plug to the Penrith Print Museum (several members of which attended our function) which is currently undergoing a massive refurbishment, but which in a few months will be looking forward to reopening. If you’d like to become a member visit: www.printingmuseum.org.au or ask for Stephan Peters on 0416 374 477.

    James Cryer – ably assisted on the night by Scott Telfer and Peter O’Hanlon.

     

  • Preserve our print heritage: James Cryer

    (l-r) James Cryer and Scott Telfer, of the Society of Old Friends, hold a copy of an Australian Commonwealth Gazette, published in 1941.

    Most industries – especially the craft-based ones, like printing or engineering – are not very good at preserving and honouring their past. There may be good reasons for this: when a new technology is introduced (such as offset replacing letterpress or CTP replacing film) who in their right mind, in the headlong rush to embrace new technology, would deliberately want to hang on to reminders of a discredited way of doing things. And so, lorry-loads of letterpress, truckloads of type and pallet-loads of presses have all been thrown onto the scrap-heap of history.

    It’s only decades later that we sometimes come to regret the hasty disposal of what was once the means by which we earned our living. But now, in today’s modern, anodyne era, where mass-production obliterates any notion of ‘hand-made’, we’re starting to revisit some of the old processes and technologies, and even if we can’t re-invigorate them (as is happening with letterpress) we can at least admire and recognise them: hence the rebirthing of various print museums at Penrith, Armidale, Gulgong, and in Melbourne and elsewhere.

    Many will recall the brutal reminder of the fragility of such material, when two years ago, the PIAA under its then ill-advised leadership, threw out much valuable and irreplaceable archival records.

    I believe, as an industry, we are starting to realise the importance of ‘preserving the past’ – not to dwell on it obsessively, but simply to record and recognise those who went before, and who built the industry to what it is today.

    I’m pleased to advise that there is to be a meeting, dedicated to just that: remembering and recalling, in this case, past (or recently departed) printing companies.

    The last time we, as an industry, actually recorded the names of printing companies, was back in 1975 when the then Master Printers Association commissioned an academic, Professor Hunt, to write a history of our industry, up to that point. In it, he recorded several lists including both people and member-companies which formed a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of our industry.

    But sadly, there has not been another attempt to reconstruct the crime, so to speak, and so the names and memories of many companies, since then, are in danger of being lost. Be they good or bad, that is not the point: the last 20- or even five-years have seen some of the most radical structural re-adjustments in our story so far. We’ve had closures, we’ve had mergers, we’ve had onslaughts from private equity, we’ve had the GFC – we’ve had the digital revolution … we’ve just about had everything thrown at us except the kitchen sink.

    Through it all, somehow, we’ve adapted, evolved, survived. Isn’t it only proper that we should record for posterity those names – they may not have all been shining lights of virtue, but that’s not the point. A curator’s role is not to judge, it’s to preserve.

    To make it easy, Scott Telfer, president of the ASOOF, is inviting all those members of our industry who have an interest in preserving print heritage to come along – and bring your long-term memory with you! We aim to reconstruct a list of those printing companies who may have disappeared off the face of the Earth, for whatever reason. Hopefully, this list will form the basis of a more comprehensive record of other printing companies as they come to light, as we’re not expecting to think of every single company in just one sitting.

    Scott and I have also been busy digging further back into the mists of time and have come up with a remarkable discovery: a list of printing companies – from ALL states, c1941. This chance discovery is a goldmine, in that it was published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette in November, 1941, and represents a laundry-list of every printing company that was joined ‘in the matter of an industrial dispute’ at that time. It consists of 12 pages of closely-packed type, and contains over 1,500 names and addresses of printing companies, in each state – at that time.

    It is amazing how many names are still familiar; just to name a few – Altshul (Vic), Artcraft (NSW), Besley & Pike (Qld), Wm Brooks (NSW), Craftsman Press (Vic), Frank Daniels (Vic),   Hyde Park Press (SA), McKellar Press (Vic), Troedels (Vic), Waite & Bull (NSW), Websdale Shoosmith (NSW).

    Anyway, we hope to scan it and make it available, again, to all those who are interested in such matters and who may have some additional information (hopefully a bit of scandal?) they can add to help complete the story of our industry.

    Come along, and we look forward to seeing as many of you as possible – and bring your thinking caps!

    * Note: The ASOOF is not a shadowy organisation of tax-dodgers. Well, it is, but it’s also a group of like-minded ”print industry tragics” who meet several times a year and enjoy sharing their recollections and reminiscences about their experiences in the industry. Let us know if you’d like to become a member.

    Date and Venue: 31st May, Roseville Golf Club, NSW

    Email: Scott Telfer – swtelfer@bigpond.com

  • Time for ‘radical’ new print training model

    James Cryer jumps on the educational band-wagon and waves the flag for the printing industry to create its own course – designed to attract school-leavers (and others) by pointing out all the marvellous career opportunities which now exist in print. To this end, he is supported by the PIAA, via the initiative of the new CEO, Andrew Macaulay, who is already reaching out to state and federal education ministers, seeking their support for such an initiative.

    ~~~~~

     We’ve all watched with a mixture of horror, despair and sadness as our primary means of delivering technical skills and training to our industry, i.e., the TAFE system, has slowly been strangled to death by successive state governments while the feds quietly looked the other way.

    This will be one of those seminal moments, when we look back at history, and ask the question: why? Without going into boring detail, these things are usually the result of various factors all occurring together: government short-sightedness and incompetence creating a void which is then filled by dodgy operators using unscrupulous means to rip off unsuspecting, often young and unsophisticated students, aided and abetted by a lax compliance regime.

    'The time is ripe': James Cryer, JDA Recruitment

    I’d go so far as to say that various NSW and Victorian state governments (of both persuasions) would be guilty of criminal negligence if they were individuals, such is the depth of destruction perpetrated upon our former (and not perfect) TAFE system.

    For the last few years I’ve looked on with increasing despair, like watching a train-wreck, as more and more examples of millions (maybe billions?) of dollars were paid by our governments to dodgy operators, who were able to deliver virtually non-existent courses to often vulnerable ESL students, with virtually no over-sight or compliance requirements. This, sadly, is symptomatic of Australia’s very weak ”watchdog” culture.

    Many of these scammers have made small fortunes and have probably absconded, some are now being rounded up ‘after the event’ and one can only hope that justice will prevail – although I suspect we can kiss goodbye to 95% of the money which has virtually been tipped down the drain, courtesy of our non-accountable public service attitude.

    Why am I telling you this? And why am I working myself into a frazzle?

    They say from the depths of despair emerges the light at the end of the tunnel … or something like that.

    A new print course rising from the ashes …

    The time is ripe for our industry – and by that I mean offset, digital, packaging, signage – and all the other strands that go to make up the marvellous tapestry of ”print” – to work together to create our own, tailor-made, custom-built curriculum.

    Before you start complaining that we already have several apprentice-based schemes – I’m not talking about that.

    Let us back-track: the last few years have also seen a quiet revolution, where the demand for ”factory-floor” staff has diminished, and the demand for other ”white-collar” roles (for want of a better word) has increased … no, skyrocketed!

    I hardly ever get asked for an ”apprentice”. I do get asked for customer service reps, account managers, sales reps and a whole raft of client-facing roles – plus people with procurement, logistics, software or IT skills.

    Spot the apprentice? Doesn’t happen. So why are we training them? – let Heidelberg do that. (That’s actually a compliment to Heidelberg: Qantas and Virgin do a far better job than any government institution in training all their engineers!)

    And any aspiring digital operator (or finisher) doesn’t regard themselves as an apprentice anyway, a term that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

    The point is (now pull your chairs in closer …) young people today, do not want to acquire a specific skill (like bricklaying or printing) they want to be inspired by what opportunities lie within an entire INDUSTRY! This idea lies at the very core of the kind of course which we could, now, very easily roll out.

    At this juncture, I must point out that I didn’t originate this idea. I’ve started to see it happening across other industries: the marina industry now offers a course (yes, it includes how to throw ropes) but also paints a picture of maritime law, marine navigation, logistics, marine engineering, etc. Why? Because they couldn’t attract school-leavers who want a career – not a trade! (Sound familiar?) Who knows, young what’s-his/her-name may start out throwing ropes over bollards and end up managing a string of marinas – or designing wave-piercing catamarans.

    It’s all about careers, not skills …

    Industries are (or can be) quite exciting ”things” if only we’d present the long-term opportunities – and not just the narrow, basic ”skills”. And print is now one of (if not the most) exciting industry to be in: it’s clean, creative, and more roles are computer-based, often in modern air-conditioned offices, dealing with well-known brands and assisting with their corporate communications – it doesn’t get any better than this. (It does, actually, see below) …

    Now here’s the kicker: this course may be regarded as a broad-based ”Introduction to the Printing Industry”, and as such will provide an array of appetite-whetting subjects. But first it must ”paint a picture” of what our industry consists of – and it’s more than books, newspapers and magazines. It’s vehicle-wrapping, it’s augmented-reality, it’s participating in exciting marketing campaigns, it’s displays, banners and posters, it’s 11-colour wine labels, it’s packaging, POS and promotional products, it’s DM – have I forgotten anyone? Yes – print managers! Love ’em or not, they’re an integral part of our industry and are a major force in encouraging more women into ”print”.

    This is the point: we have such an exciting story to tell – but we’re not letting the cat out of the bag! We’re too busy worrying about training apprentices!

    So what to do? Very little. We’ve already got the various TAFE structures and colleges to act as delivery- or channel-managers. This is vital: it is important that TAFE is not side-lined as it harbours so much wisdom and expertise in the field of ”curriculum-delivery”. But they are not experts on what various industries require in terms of ”content”. It’s also important that there is an on-line version to reach out to remote or disadvantaged students, who may not be able to attend a bricks-and-mortar classroom for whatever reason (like having a day job!).

    In one sense, TAFE is merely a conduit, they’re agnostic to the actual content (within reason!) – hence it’s up to us to determine the actual subject matter (the curriculum) which I just happen to have done. I’d be happy to share my starter-kit version with anyone that’s interested – at no extra charge!

    The answer is right before our eyes …

    Now, are you ready: just when you’re reaching for the smelling-salts it gets even more radical!

    I’ve even worked out a way of scattering 100s of ”mini-TAFEs” all over Australia. No, we don’t have to build lots of tin sheds. Sophisticated microcosms of our industry already exist all over the place and they’re equipped with the latest pre-press and digital devices. You haven’t noticed? They’re called Snaps and Kwik-Kopys and Signwave and Sign-A-Rama and collectively they represent a fantastic resource which could be utilised across the nation.

    There would be strict protocols around allowing which students to attend, and under what kind of supervision but again – it’s done in the fast-food industry – and it’s called “Maccas”, who deliberately act as an entry-level induction or training college for the rest of the food, beverage, catering and hospitality sectors.

    And what’s in it for them – the digital centres? No, not free hamburgers, something less fatty and more enriching: lots of talented young people flowing through their doors, all potential ”new recruits”! Digital centres across the nation are screaming for applicants and can’t find any. Why? They’re at uni doing fine arts or post-modernist theories of existentialism when they’d probably prefer helping a large corporation design and print its next DM or branding campaign.

    The other benefit is they wouldn’t have to call me begging for staff that I can’t find! But seriously, there is a time for everything (so they say) and now is the time for us to unite as an industry (commercial, packaging and signage) and act cooperatively to create an accessible-online course highlighting the marvellous career opportunities that await young school-leavers (and others) in print.

    – James Cryer
    JDA Print Recruitment

     

  • Who benefits from industry takeovers? James Cryer

    Many believe the consolidation of the printing industry is, by and large, a good thing. It strengthens printing companies and ensures their sustainable future. But not everyone agrees. James Cryer for one argues for diversity and against the current “takeover mania.”

    Is anybody experiencing that feeling of déjà vu, that we’ve seen it all before? Just like hula-hoops and yo-yos, industries go through cycles. Wasn’t it just a few, short years ago we saw the arrival of a bunch of venture-capitalists embarking on a frenzied take-over spree, which saw many of our iconic brands disappear into oblivion. Recall, then, how we lamented this loss as bad for our industry, bad for employees, and last but not least, bad for customers!

    If we went back a bit further, into the mists of time swirling around in the Year of Our Lord 2001, we may recall that it was none other than that fearsome scourge of monopolists, the ACCC, which forbade the mooted merger of PMP and IPMG on the grounds that it would, significantly reduce competition.

    Fast-forward to 2016 when the feeding frenzy has resumed, but everything’s all right! The only difference, that I can see, is that we’re not being eaten alive by an external predator, but from within!

    No matter what spin we put on it, all consolidation, merger activity, call it what you will, is bad for competition, and usually bad for the customer. Think banks, airlines, breweries, newspapers or what’s left of them, petrol companies, and retailers. The list is endless and in all cases, the monopolistic tendencies that resulted, have led to worse corporate behaviour, not better.

    Don’t get me wrong: if I were poised on the brink of gobbling up my competitors, I’d do it too! That’s the nature of competition and there’s no place for hand wringing or false morality here. Lions eat people and company bosses devour their competitors.

    But I don’t think we should sugar coat it as being good for our industry.

    Reducing the number of competitors pleases only one group of people: shareholders! And yet, reading the various press releases of unalloyed joy, and the uncritical adulation by our trade press, one could be forgiven for thinking these large and soon to be larger, companies were throwing $100 bills to us from the rooftops.

    We should be careful what we wish for. I know times are tough, but does that mean mergers are the answer? Australia’s industry is already notoriously over-concentrated, according to the Herfindahl Index, where it’s generally agreed anything over 60% (or 0.6) is bad from a healthy competition viewpoint. Looking at the results of these proposed mergers, we’re seeing a reduction from five players to two. I think that puts the concentration index off the Richter scale! (Hellooo ACCC …)

    Virtually all the chairmen of those entities involved, refer to the challenges of ‘over-capacity.’ Yet somewhere I read that the catalogue market [is] one of the few sectors in printing that is recording continuing growth. This is echoed by Kellie Northwood, who continues to sing the praises of print over electronic alternatives and sees a great future for printed commercial mail.

    So why the feeding frenzy? It may have something to do with low interest rates that make such acquisitions so palatable. It may have something to do with IVE Group (Blue Star) having become a public entity, is now driven by the appetite of its shareholders. But whatever the reason, we all know it’s much easier to grow by acquisition than organic growth and it gets rid of a few competitors at the same time.

    This trend towards consolidation, is a reminder that our industry is experiencing the cold winds of shareholder-driven, as opposed to owner/operator-driven priorities, where decisions are made not for the benefit of the internal stakeholders, such as owners, staff and suppliers, but for those external investors who have no particular affinity with our industry. To the extent that it is impossible to reconcile those two opposing dynamics, I see these mergers as net negative for our industry as a whole, but, sadly, part of an inevitable long-term trend.

    There is no room for morality in this brave new world. We’ve chosen the path of de-regulation: the law of the jungle, the survival of the fattest. We’ve unleashed the voracious beast and who knows where it will take us? But is this what we want: a regulatory regime that, notwithstanding the obvious result of reduced competition, merely looks the other way? This level of market domination would not be allowed in the US. Have we thought about what happens in an industry dominated by a few large players? What happens if the agendas of these large companies deviates, or is at odds, with the aims of the major industry body?

    In one sense, I don’t care if these mega-companies do well – good on them! But, as in all things, there will be hidden consequences. We should think long and hard, as an industry, is this what we want? For an industry to survive it needs diversity. On this issue there has been very little debate, and sadly, virtually no critical analysis from our own trade press. Are they too beholden to these large players via advertising and sponsorships to want to rock the boat?

    This spate of merger activity will change the print landscape dramatically and forever. We need more critical and informed debate; not just PR statements telling us its ‘good for everyone.’

     

  • Rewriting history with the PIAA annual report 2015 – James Cryer looks at the fine print

    James Cryer, JDA

    ‘He who controls the past controls the future.’ George Orwell’s Big Brother in the novel, 1984, knew a thing or two about rewriting history but he has plenty of followers. Whitewashing history is not confined to totalitarian states, the urge to paper over the cracks affects organisations larges and small. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilence then industry notable, James Cryer, is a true freedom fighter.

     

    Just as we try and close the lid on the dramas that unfolded during the previous disastrous regime at Printing Industries, a hand reaches out from under the coffin-lid to once more create mistruths and distortions about the actual events that unfolded. With the publication of PIAA’s 91st Annual Report for the year ended December, 2015, us punters are once more treated to a misrepresentation of what actually happened. 

    Although duty-bound to disclose events of significance, the report glosses over the dramatic goings-on of 2015 as if nothing of any consequence actually happened! When I began reading I thought it must have referred to the other ‘PIAA’ – the Pet Industry Association of Australia, as nothing in the Directors Report seemed to match up with the events of last year.

    In fact, it’s as if the events of last year never occurred!

    Under the Fair Work Act, organisations are obliged to report if anything of ‘significance’ took place during the reporting period. On page 16, however, we read that the directors reported that There were no significant changes in the nature of the activities…during the year!

    My god! If flogging off a $3 million asset without members’ permission (and no clear plans what to do with the money) and firing most/all of the key managers, combined with the resignation of the president and several directors, does not qualify as ‘significant’ then I’ll revise my definition of being chopped up into little pieces and being fed through a mincing-machine as ‘merely a flesh wound.’

    I’m no accountant, but I can read and I can turn the pages and they should be the only qualifications needed to understand an organisation’s annual report. And so, let’s turn each page and discover how the then president and his band of merry men (and they were nearly all men), have gotten away with a virtual re-write of history.

    Page 3: Its opening salvo, the Executive Reports tells us, If 2015 could be summed up in two words, they would be ‘challenge’ and ‘transition. How about ‘chaos’ and ‘destruction’, which I think would more aptly describe the five months of mayhem.

    They go on to say they tackled the challenges ahead by having a clearly articulated strategy,‘ (this never occurred) and establishing an innovative structure (yes, by installing a team of spin-doctors and firing most of the key people).

    Page 4: Again we’re told about a mysterious three-year strategic business transformation plan, which existed only as a figment of their imagination.

    And the only reference to several months of near riots in the streets was that there was, disquiet in some sectors!!!!

    We’re also subjected to drivel such as, We help our members…by delivering membership services to lead and guide our members to be the best’. Aarggh!

    Page 5: This page takes the cake as the winner of the most weasel words used on a single page.Frankly, they are too numerous to count, but here are a few:

    We’re told the CEO focused his attention on, driving a transition in people, place, product and promotion.

    And that he focused his, attention on the development of products and services to help members build their businesses. What ‘products’? What ‘services’?

    We’re told, overall staff numbers were reduced” although Total Employees Expenses (Page 32) went up by $196K!

    We’re told a, modern, internal performance management process was introduced, but we’re not told anything about it. Again, I suspect it exists in fantasy land.

    We’re told a, capital management plan was instigated … . Anyone heard about it? All I know is that members keep asking what is happening with the money received from the sale of Auburn.

    We’re told the CEO installed a, contemporary governance strategy with a clear separation of responsibilities between Directors [and] the CEO. Sounds impressive.

    We’re told the CEO, improved the organisation’s value proposition – whatever that means. And finally…

    we’re told in breathless terms, they revamped the logo. Luckily, the new CEO had the sense to undo that disastrous foray into what was a very amateurish attempt at re-branding!

    There’s more utter drivel (upholding our values, new horizons ahead) but let’s spare ourselves the agony and move on.

    Page 9: Under ‘Setting the Foundations’ we’re told (presumably as part of the non-existent ‘transformational plan’) of, a number of changes to organisational arrangements, including … [the appointment of] new State Sales Managers. Luckily this was also dismantled by the new CEO who quickly perceived that running an industry organisation was different to running a Maccas or a football club.

    Page 16: Notwithstanding the sudden, unannounced and highly controversial sale of the organisation’s major asset, the Auburn HQ, and the consequent injection of $3.4 million into the organisation’s coffers, we’re advised that, There were no significant changes in the financial affairs of the Association.
    Perhaps instead of whinging, we should be grateful they even told us they’d flogged off the group’s major asset. The tragedy is, this site was very close to Auburn railway station and the NSW government has re-zoned areas close to stations as high-density. If we’d held onto Auburn, in a few years it may have been worth twice what we flogged it for.

    Page 19: We now turn to the financials where the P&L tries desperately to tell us the entity has made a profit of $386K.

    My back-o-the envelope calculations, however, suggest a loss of $666K!

    You, dear reader, make up your own mind …

    Total Revenue ………………………………………………………………. $2,343K

    LESS Total Expenses ……………………………………………………… $3,353K

    =         Operating LOSS (!!!!) ……………………………………………..$666K

     PLUS, Extraordinary item (one-off gain from sale of assets)…$1,052K

    and voila …

    ‘Profit’ for the year ………………………………………………………….. $386K

    We frantically search for an explanation of how a $666K loss can be transformed into a $386K profit, and so we look up Note 3F (Page 31) which simply informs us that the magic figure (of $1,052K) is the ‘Total Net Gain from Sales of Assets (Land and Buildings)’. Where did this figure come from? No clues are provided so we’re left to speculate on a million dollars possibly being plucked out of thin air, to prop up what otherwise appears to be an over half-a-million dollar operating loss!

    There is also a drop in ‘Grants’ – presumably government subsidies but we’re not told – when compared with last year of $385K, but visiting Note 3E (Page 31) casts no light on the matter. We must assume these are ‘Government grants’ (as defined in Note 1.6 (Page 25)) and as such, one would think they warrant further explanation. Were they grants to Future Print perhaps? Or to some other worthy cause? Was the money wisely spent? We’re just not told.

    Sticking with the P&L, there is another intriguing entry called ‘Employee Expenses’ at $2,393K, an increase of $196K over the previous year! This, in spite of the directors telling us (on Page 5) that, staff numbers were reduced. How do you reduce the headcount but increase payroll cost by 9%? Bad management? Paying a CEO an obscene amount of money? We’re not told.

    We may even be in breach of the 2009 Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, as the provisions require organisations to disclose the amounts paid to ‘Holders of Office.’ So we turn to Note 4A (Page 32) only to find a big, fat zero. I suspect the CEO’s salary is possibly discretely recorded a few lines further down, under ‘Other Employee Expenses’ at $334K, but again we’re just not told.

    Undeterred, we turn to Note 12B (Page 40) where we discover that under ‘Key Management Personnel Remuneration’ we paid out $950K in salary and benefits, an increase of $160K over last year. That was $160K of members’ fees poured down the toilet, in my opinion.

    Just why these salary-related figures are shown under Note 12B and not under Note 4A is not clear – possibly an attempt to bury them as far back in the ”Notes” as possible.

    Page 20: The Balance Sheet includes (under ‘Assets’), an entry under ‘Other Investments’ of $2,821K, a large amount by anyone’s standards. Reference to Note 5D (Page 34) reveals nothing about it, other than it is a ‘Deposit,’ presumably from the sale of Auburn? Was this ‘Deposit’ long-term, short-term, at what rate with whom? Again, members are kept in the dark.

    Now we come to the contentious sale of Auburn or we think we do. Under the heading ‘Land & Buildings’ is the figure of $5,735K but if we turn to Note 6A (Page 35) we start with a figure of $5,582K. Fair enough! But then that figure is subjected to a ‘Revaluation’ of $2,925K and a ‘reduction’ (they call it a ‘Disposal’) of $2,343K, leaving a net improvement over book value of $581K. We think!

    Just when we think we’ve got that sorted, visit Note 3F (Page 31) to discover that the ‘Net Gain from Sale of Assets’ was $1,052K! With no explicit reference to the sale of Auburn – it’s as if it never happened! It’s hard to tell what’s actually going on here. I thought the idea of an annual report was to disclose information in a helpful and informative manner.

    There’s another entry under ‘Liabilities,’ which also arouses curiosity. Shown under ‘Other Payables’ is Note 7B, so we turn to Page 36, only to find an amount of $521K described as ‘Other’! More funds tucked away in another dark corner? I think members deserve more.

    Page 22: This is the ‘Cash Flow Statement,’ which shows a fairly parlous state. Revenue from members’ fees is down $656K compared with last year. Cash outflows are up $310K, compared with the same period. The net result is that we sustained a negative cashflow over the previous year of $965K. So under the previous management, we were chewing through cash like a new tech start-up managed by an 18-year old geek working on borrowed funds, but he’s still bought the Maserati and condo in Hawaii as his first priorities! (This is confirmed by reference to Note 10A (Page 38)).

    Fortunately, however, by flogging off Auburn, we were able to paper-over the cracks and come up with an improvement of more than $700K over the past year.

    One would have thought there would have been some reference in the ‘Year in Review’ directors’ report about such dire financial circumstances and their remedy rather than all the waffle about upholding values and driving growth.

    The purpose of an annual report is to present a clear picture to members of the operations, events and financial management of their organisation, which they have, of necessity, left in the care of those in whom they have placed their trust. This is the sacred fiduciary responsibility that directors inherit when they don the mantle of becoming board members. Normally, most organisations enjoy long periods of tedium, when things just seem to chug along form one year to the next without too much disruption or tension.

    It’s only when things go haywire that such reporting mechanisms are subject to a stress test and as we have just seen, are left wanting in many areas.

    For example, the Directors Report seems far too concerned with covering its own backside than admitting what went wrong. For instance there is no mention of the Queensland insurrection or the threat of the extraordinary meeting.

    The narrative is littered with jargon and clichés in an attempt at damage control.

    No explicit mention was made of such momentous decisions as selling off the Auburn office or sacking many of the key staff.

    Ironically, many of the key policies, lauded as part of the so-called ‘strategic plan’ were quickly found wanting by our new CEO, Andrew Macaulay, who promptly consigned them to the dust-bin of history.

    And finally, the financial reports while technically legal, are ill-equipped to paint any sort of meaningful picture of the seriousness of the position we find ourselves in with steadily declining revenues. By cooking the books to make 2105 look good, the previous directors have quite selfishly made it as hard as possible for the new CEO, who seems to be making progress even against such inauspicious headwinds.

    The new board seems to be regaining the confidence of members and embarking on a program of proper governance. Let’s hope the about-to-be re-elected Board will continue to honour its role, of fearlessly and honestly communicating with members, and that members will take a keener interest in the affairs of their organisation!

     

     

     

  • JDA launches locum management service

    Attention all bosses, general managers, business owners and printing company proprietors!

    • Are you working too hard?
    • Spending too much time at the office?
    • Need to take a break?
    • Can’t afford to be away from the business for too long?

    Get a grip!

    Climb down off your pedestal and put your ego on the shelf.

    No one’s indispensible – not even you!

    In fact  your business may even function better while you’re away enjoying a well-earned break – cruising down the Rhine or trekking across the El Camino Real, or even just putting your feet up in the backyard.

    Why?

    Because JDA has a number of experienced managers, all with solid print backgrounds, across such disciplines as

    • production management,
    • sales management,
    • logistics and operations, or
    • general management – large or small.

    Seriously, you can meet and interview the person first to ensure suitability, compatibility and the ”right fit”.

    You can give them clear KPIs and other benchmarks to show them what success looks like.

    And you can either tailor the package based on KPIs – or simply offer an agreed-upon fixed salary.

    Either way, everything is negotiable

    Email or phone James Cryer (02 9904 6222) at JDA Print recruitment to discuss your management locum requirements..

    Why not ring your travel agent right now and book that trip?

    You may even find your business in better shape when you return, than when you left it.