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Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Curious Time

It’s 20 years today since I arrived in Canberra. That’s by far the longest I’ve ever spent in one place. I left Greymouth when I was 19 and for the next 30 years roamed about the place: Auckland for a few years, Nelson, Sydney for a memorable spell, London, Cork, Dublin until it got too hot, Madrid, Bridgetown, Fremantle for two longish spells, Brisbane (my favourite city), Hervey Bay, Townsville. I can’t say coming to Canberra was by chance, but it wasn’t by design either. Just one of those things. Like a life sentence, but without the opportunity for escape (or parole).
Canberra’s not such a bad place. When I started at The Canberra Times in 1997 it was one of the better newspapers I’d worked on. In the next 15 years it turned into one of the worst: it was a big boy’s toy that little boys started to play with. Inevitably, they broke it. But I made a few good friends there.
Canberra has some great institutions: The War Memorial, the National Library, the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Old Parliament House. And yet comfortably the worst National Museum of any country anywhere. Te Papa puts it to shame.
When I came to Canberra, my rugby playing soon ground to a halt. I found no trace of the true spirit of the game here. I started collecting cats and typewriters, helped look out for two wonderful young sons, wrote columns and sports and music history and met some truly interesting women. There’s certainly been some fun times. Typewriter collecting opened up a beautiful new world I'd never dreamt existed, full of fantastic people, many of whom I've actually got to know in person.
I celebrated my 50th alone, my 60th in good company and hope, if I can survive just one more year, to spend my 70th with the most gorgeous grand-daughter imaginable. Seeing Ely Messenger grow up is something for which it’s definitely worth hanging about. But in the past eight years, I’ve lost a brother, a sister-in-law, two brothers-in-law and countless good friends, and have developed a deep sense of my own mortality. This is no country for old men like me.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Free Air Typewriter*

*All one has to do is post a video of air typing online and a free air typewriter will be on its way. See image of typewriter above. No shipping cost involved (the package is small and light). Failing that, air typewriters will be made available for sale on eBay.

angaroos invented air guitar more than five million years ago, in the Pliocene epoch. It’s so passé for them now they play air guitar in their sleep. For humans, kangaroo-aping air guitar competitions started in Sweden in the 1980s, leading to world championships with the ideology that “wars would end and all the bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar”. The same applies to air typewriter.

ir typewriter was introduced sometime between March 25 and May 22, 1963, at the Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, when Jerry Lewis was playing the part of Norman Phiffier in the movie Who’s Minding the Store?

Without a single thought for Jerry Lewis or air guitar, Richard Amery, Terry Cooksley and I left our typewriters behind yesterday and adjourned to The Mawson Club for a lunch break. The typewriter talk fest went on unabated, of course, and the next thing I realised Richard and I were demonstrating typing stories with our air typewriters. Terry captured it with an iPhone.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

To Dora, on Valentine's Day

Written by Sydney typewriter technician
Warren Ingrey

I had a typewriter to repair
which I bought the other day
An Olivetti Dora
From down Barcelona way

Now this little typewriter
Well, it was quite a wreck
With years of gathered dust and grime
She was showing much neglect

I stripped down all the outer plates
Platen feed rollers as well
And placed her in my wash-out tray
And scrubbed like bloody hell

And then I hung her out to dry
And left her in the sun
She looked just a new one
When the drying was all done

I put her back together
And made her look her best
And Dora, she was well behaved
She passed the typing test

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Peggy Hull, Pioneer War Correspondent

American war correspondent Peggy Hull (Henrietta Eleanor Goodnough-Hull-Kinley-Deuell, 1889-1967) at her Corona 3 portable typewriter for a Newspaper Enterprise Association publicity shot taken in New York in 1925.
There is a crater on Venus named for Peggy Hull. It seems only fitting. As a pioneering female journalist, Hull was simply out of this world. In 1918 she became the US War Department's first accredited female war correspondent and she went on to become the first woman to serve on four battlefronts. The 5ft-tall brown-eyed girl reporter from Kansas described her facial appearance in passport applications as featuring a "retroussé" (turned up) nose. In almost 58 years of first-rate reporting, sending stories from Siberia to Shanghai and many flashpoints in between, Peggy Hull proved that she possessed one of the most brilliant noses for news of any newspaperperson, of either sex, in the entire 20th Century.
Peggy Hull was aware from the very start of her amazing career as a war correspondent, in 1916, that she was smashing through the glass ceiling for female journalists. "Yes," she wrote in the El Paso Herald in late August 1916, "it's a regular Richard Harding Davis assignment. But with the Russian girls of '16 fighting in the army alongside their brothers and fathers and with women voters braving the Ghetto of Chicago, a girl these days has as much right to attempt the daring as has a man." At that time she was planning to fly into Mexico to confront Revolution leader and head of state José Venustiano Carranza Garza. (Davis, who had died four months earlier, aged 51, was an American journalist and writer known for being the first American war correspondent to cover the Spanish-American War, the Second Boer War and the First World War.)
At the time, it was newsworthy that Hull wore a wristwatch. "The element of time is so essential in our work," she told a fellow reporter in Texas, "that difference of a few minutes might mean a 'beat' [scoop] ... Pockets are de trop [unneeded] these days, you know." The El Paso reporter added that Hull believed in suffrage but was not a suffragette. Flowers and pink ribbons "and things" still had their appeal to her, Hull told him.
Peggy was born Henrietta Eleanor Goodnough on a farm near Bennington, Kansas, on December 30, 1889, and grew up in Marysville. She had nothing to do with her father, Edwy Goodnough of Salina (1862-1947), from an early age, and was raised by her mother Minnie Eliza Finn (1866-1929) and Minnie's second husband, Henry William Hoerath (1868-1941). The Hoeraths were married in Marysville in 1896, when Peggy was six.
Minnie Hoerath in 1922
In 1906 Peggy began her newspaper career 75 miles south of Marysville, as a 16-year-old typesetter for the Junction City Sentinel, having been turned down by editor Arthur Downey Colby as superfluous to needs as a reporter. However, after only two weeks at the case, Colby moved her to the editorial department. She had shown Colby her worth when a fire broke out in town and no one else was available to cover the story. In late 1909 Peggy moved to the Denver Republican, where she quickly established a wide reputation for her feature writing and in particular her human interest stories from the juvenile court of social reformer Judge Benjamin Barr Lindsey (1869-1943). It was while in Denver that Peggy met social and political reporter, the recently-widowed Indian-born lush George Charles Hull (1878-1953), a former soldier almost 12 years her senior. Peggy moved further back east to become society editor for the Salina Union in 1910, and on October 27 that year she married Hull in Christ Cathedral, Salina. The Hulls returned to Denver, then moved to Hawaii, where George worked as a reporter for the Honolulu Star and city editor of the Evening Bulletin and Peggy was a feature writer and women's page editor for the Pacific Commercial Advertiser and a reporter for the Bulletin. Four years into the marriage, on the day in 1914 when her tipsy husband tried to climb a flagpole naked, Peggy left him. They were divorced in 1916, by which time Peggy had moved to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she wrote advertising copy. In her subsequent passport applications, Peggy said George Hull's whereabouts were unknown to her, and she believed he was dead (possibly wishful thinking). But she kept his surname for her byline throughout the rest of her illustrious career. George Hull was very much still alive - indeed, he outlived all of Peggy's three husbands - and had gone to California, where from 1918-32 he became a noted film scriptwriter. 
In March 1916, the Ohio National Guard was mobilised and sent to El Paso, Texas, to join General John Pershing's expedition in Mexico to capture Francisco "Pancho" Villa. Peggy Hull requested permission to travel with the Guard, but was turned down. She moved to Texas, where she worked first for the El Paso Herald, then the El Paso Morning Times. She was allowed to accompany the troops on a gruelling two-week training march from El Paso to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Villa was not captured, but the expedition helped prepare American troops for entry into World War I. 
With the United States entering into World War I in April 1917, Peggy Hull paid her own way to France with a promise from the El Paso Times to use her articles. She came down with an attack of appendicitis, but gained assistance from the Paris office of The Chicago Daily Tribune and reached Valdahon in the fast east of France. There she shared barracks with women working for the YMCA canteen and wrote articles for US consumption. In late December she was in Chicago, "booted and spurred" according to the Tribune, giving Christmas shoppers an "eyeful". Hull's mother Minnie had taken ill, and Peggy had returned to care for her. (Minnie recovered to travel to Japan, China and Hong Kong while visiting her daughter in 1922, but died in 1929)
Peggy remained restless, however, and in August 1918 set her journalistic sights on the American military expedition to Siberia to guard the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which was delivering supplies to the White Army. With the help of General Peyton C. March, chief of staff of the army, whom she knew from both her El Paso and Valdahon days, Peggy was accredited to cover the expedition. This time, she gained much more substantial backing for her venture, from editor-in-chief Samuel Thomas Hughes (1866-1948) of the Cleveland-based Newspaper Enterprise Association:
Hull boarded a Russian steamer and landed in Vladivostok in November to begin a nine-month, 1000-mile inspection tour of the Siberian Railroad. She reported on the suffering of the masses of refugees trying to escape both the Red and White armies. As well, she was also able to provide American readers with graphic details of the execution of the Russian Imperial Romanov family (Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei), an event which had occurred in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918. Hull left Siberia in July 1919 and returned to the US.
In late December 1919 she received an offer of work in Shanghai from the short-lived Gazette's Trinidadian-born editor C.H. Lee.
On a stopover in Singapore, Hull met sea captain, Isle of Man-born John Taylor Kinley (left, 1888-), who would became her second husband. They married in Hong Kong on February 22, 1922, separated in 1925 and, after a campaign by Hull to change the law with regard to her citizen status, were divorced in Shanghai in 1932. In the meantime, in November 1930, Hull was supported by the managing editor of the New York Daily NewsHarvey Vail Deuell (right, 1890-1939), who was to become her third husband, when she applied to regain her American citizenship, lost under the Expatriation Act of 1907 when she'd become a British subject by marrying Kinley. At midnight on January 28, 1932, while Hull was back in Shanghai securing her divorce, Japanese aircraft bombed the Chinese city in the first major carrier action in East Asia. Peggy Hull was in exactly the right spot at the right time to report it, and had a story in the Chicago Tribune the very next day!
Hull and Deuell wed in 1933, but this third marriage was also to be brief. Deuell, a $64,000-a-year leading executive in the US newspaper industry, died from a heart attack while driving his car past the Teaneck Country Club in New Jersey, on his way to work, on October 29, 1939. Deuell was just 48. World War II had been declared less than seven weeks earlier and Hull had become a founding member of the Overseas Press Club. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Peggy Hull once again looked to gain accreditation as a war correspondent. In November 1943, through the North American Newspaper Alliance and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Hull, going on 54, received permission from Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson Jr, a commander general in the Central Pacific, to cover the war in his area. She reported from Hawaii, Guam, Tarawa in Kiripati and Saipan in the Northern Marianas until August 1945 and was awarded a Navy CommendationA GI wrote her in 1944, "You will never realise what those yarns of yours ... did to this gang ... You made them know they weren't forgotten." In 1953 Hull retired to Carmel Valley, California, where she died of breast cancer, aged 77, on June 19, 1967.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Lady with the Brightwriter Typewriter

I've used this image before, three years ago, with others - of Twiggy, Pearl Bailey and Duke Ellington* - from the 1969 Henry Wolf series advertising the Olivetti "Brightwriter", the Studio 45 semi-portable typewriter. It was only yesterday, however, that I came to realise New York high society columnist Suzy Knickerbocker was in real life El Paso-born Aileen Mehle (1918-2016). She was approaching 51 when this Wolf photo was taken. Mehle was actually born Aileen Elder, but throughout most of her life used the surname of her first husband, Cincinnati-born Roger William Mehle (1915-1996), later a US Navy rear admiral. They married in June 1939, when she was 21, and were divorced in 1946. My awareness of her true identity came through finding the Wolf typewriter image in a lengthy feature on Mehle by Bob Colacello in the latest edition of Vanity Fair, "How Suzy Ruled Society Gossip for Five Decades".
Aileen Mehle working at her Park Avenue home
with assistant, Cathy MacLean, in New York in 1966.
Starting at the Miami Daily News and finishing at Women’s Wear Daily in 2005, Mehle was active in journalism for more than 50 years. At the height of her career, her daily column ran in some 90 newspapers across the US and Canada and reached an estimated 30 million readers, according to a 1973 profile in Vogue. Life magazine said she was “easily the brightest and most widely read society columnist in the country”.
As a Texas teenager
Mehle attended Austin High School and while still a teenager moved with her family to California. She went to Long Beach Junior College and Santa Barbara State College (now the University of California, Santa Barbara). At the Hearst-owned New York Mirror, Mehle adopted the pseudonym Suzy from the daughter of her second husband, Mark Kenneth Frank Jr.
In 1963 Hearst closed the Mirror and installed Mehle at the Journal-American, where she added Knickerbocker to her byline. Three years later, the Journal-American was combined with the New York Herald Tribune and the World-Telegram & Sun to form the World Journal Tribune, which lasted until May 1967. At that point the only Big Apple newspapers left were the three still publishing today: The New York Times, the Daily News and the New York Post. Aileen landed at the News, then the largest in circulation of the three, where she would remain for the next 17 years, until 1985. Mehle then jumped from the News to the New York Post. In 1991, at age 73, she made the final move of her career, to Fairchild Publications, and in 2005 gave up her column for good. Mehle died, aged 98, last November 11. 
*Twiggy is Lesley Lawson (née Hornby).

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Claude Sitton's Olivetti Lettera 22: Covering the Civil Rights Movement

"During his six years covering the South, he wore out four portable Olivetti typewriters." - The Washington Post, March 10, 2015.
Claude Sitton's Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter was on display in FBI exhibition called "G-Men and Journalistsat Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC a few years ago. Underneath it were the words, "1960s 'Laptop': This well-traveled Olivetti portable typewriter accompanied New York Times reporter Claude Sitton as he chronicled the civil rights era." Now (starting as of yesterday), The New York Times is featuring Sitton's photographs in a series based on a book titled Unseen: Unpublished Black History From the New York Times Archives, to be published by Black Dog & Leventhal in the northern fall.
The newspaper says, "the renowned New York Times correspondent shot photos and took meticulous notes, exposing the racial violence with his pen [sic] and with his lens. Mr Sitton is best known for his words. But the typewritten letters that he sent, along with his film, to John Dugan, a Times photo editor, reveal that he was also determined to capture history with his camera. He carried a Leica, according to one of his sons, and wrote about light and shadows and underexposed frames. He lamented the gloom inside a crowded black church and the time constraints he faced as he scrambled to report the news and illustrate it at the same time. 
Notes addressed to Dugan accompanied film Sitton sent from his tour through Greenwood, Mississippi, and other Southern cities.
"There is power in Sitton’s plain-spoken letters and in the black-and-white images he captured on Tri-X film in March of 1963. Shown together here for the first time - as part of a weekly series running throughout the month [of February] - they offer a first-hand glimpse of life on the front lines of the civil rights movement." 
Atlanta-born Claude Fox Sitton (1925-2015) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter and editor. He worked for The New York Times from 1957 to 1968, distinguishing himself by his coverage of the civil rights movement from 1958-64. He went on to become national news director of the Times in 1964 and then in 1968 editor of The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sitton started out with wire services, working for International News Service and United Press. He joined the United States Information Agency in 1955 as an information officer and press attaché at the American Embassy in Ghana. Sitton joined The New York Times as a copy editor in 1957. Nine months later, he was named Southern correspondent.
In the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of civil rights journalism, The Race Beat, authors Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff describe Sitton as the standard bearer for civil rights journalism. "Sitton's byline would be atop the stories that landed on the desks of three presidents," they wrote. "His phone number would be carried protectively in the wallets of the civil rights workers who saw him, and the power of his byline, as their best hope for survival."

The Unpalatable Truth About Trump, Turnbull and Phonegate

Above, Trump as Snoopy; below, Turnbull as a child with a Mercedes.
I admit to feeling touched the other day when this comment from an anonymous American was posted on my blog: "Speaking as an American, I want to personally apologize for the recent behavior of our _sshole President. I didn't vote for him, but I probably didn't do enough to stop him either. Frankly, few of us believed there were enough idiots among us to elect him. Anyway. He was rude to YOUR President [actually, Malcolm Turnbull is our Prime Minister, we're not yet a republic, unfortunately] and I apologize sincerely. We'll do away with him as soon as possible, I am certain."
However, for all that, I must 'fess up, as much as it hurts, and concede that in this particular instance, Donald Trump is right.
The massive storm in a tiny teacup over Trump’s phone call with Turnbull (in the modern tradition of "journalism", I'll call it "Phonegate") is more likely than not to turn in Turnbull's favour. The truth is, it is letting Australia "off the hook", as it were. It is turning an Australian disgrace into an American one. Instead of being outraged by Trump's remarks, Turnbull is probably laughing all the way to his electorate. Australians are for once feeling sympathetic toward Turnbull, specifically over Phonegate, and are pouring their scorn on to Trump and the US. It should be the other way around. 
Turnbull, and Australia in general, will probably emerge from Phonegate smelling of roses, even at the time when Turnbull’s distinct lack of leadership has had him very much on the nose in this country, and for some considerable time now. The refugee deal that has filled Trump with disdain is Australia’s deed done dirty – it’s Australia’s responsibility, not America’s, to sort it out. For once in his life, Trump is actually in the right.

At the end of his Op-Ed piece “United States to Australia: Get Lost” in The New York Times on Thursday, columnist Roger Cohen summed it up: “For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice …”
Those are the words Australians are electing not to read or hear, and Phonegate is only allowing them to divert their attention from the truth. This is Australia’s problem and Phonegate is letting this country turn it into America’s embarrassment. It’s Australia’s disgrace and Trump’s cheap shots at Turnbull must not be seen to change that fact.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Allāhu akbar! Ice cream cart at the ready for jihadi attack in the Battle of Broken Hill

ivian Leigh StevensCorona 3 portable typewriter felt red hot from the belting it got in the literary office of The Barrier Miner in Broken Hill, in far western New South Wales, on New Year’s Day in 1915. The little folding Corona didn’t get a chance to cool down for many days afterwards, as the then 22-year-old Stevens continued to write words which would reach not just the Miner’s’ presses, but newspapers across the world, eliciting screaming headlines nationwide: “Outlawry. Train Attacked by Turks”, “Broken Hill Outrage”, “The Mahommedan Murderers” and “The Barrier Battle”. By mid-February Stevens’ sensational stories had reached the United States, and had appeared in newspapers from Oakland to Ohio. But in Europe it was feared news of the terrorist attack at Broken Hill would inspire other radicalised Middle Easterners to take up arms and kill innocents abroad.
        Stevens, born at Hyde Park in Adelaide on May 29, 1892, would go on to serve in Europe himself, and signed up again in 1940. But it was his hugely detailed coverage of the “Battle of Broken Hill” in January 1915 which should have won him everlasting fame as a journalist. Instead, when he went on to become deputy editor of The Advertiser in Adelaide, and when he died there nine days short of his 77th birthday, his news-gathering achievements for the Miner had long been forgotten. What became of his well-worn Corona 3, bought by Stevens from Frank Botting South at Stott & Hoare in the Brookman’s Buildings, Grenfell Street, Adelaide, in 1914, we may never know.
Most of us are by now aware that the only enemy soldiers to step foot in Australia in wartime were four Japanese officers who landed at York Sound in the Kimberley region of Western Australia on January 19, 1944, to find out whether the Allies were building large bases there. But as we didn’t know about it at the time, it was not one of the only two occasions upon which Australian troops were mobilised to fight on their own soil. The Great Emu War in the Campion district of Western Australia in late 1932 was one of those two, but it wasn’t in wartime (more about it in a later post). The only time Australian soldiers were actually mobilised for action in wartime in this country was for the three-hour-long Battle of Broken Hill, the gunfight at Silver City. And the enemy? Two suicidal Afghan Muslims armed with Snider-Enfield and Martini-Henry rifles, a revolver, 30 rounds of ammunition, a homemade Turkish flag and bandoliers, and an ice cream cart. On the side of the cart: “Lakovsky’s Delicious ITALIAN ICE CREAM. A Food fit for Children and Invalids”. Its turbaned owner and his mate, two self-declared soldiers of Allah, had opened fire on a trainload of New Year’s Day picnickers. Stevens wrote that the defence force sent out after them was not intent on capturing the pair, but was “desperate in its determination to leave no work for the hangman”.
In truth, it wasn’t much of a mobilisation at that. The 53-strong militia and army unit which went hunting for the two Afghans was comprised mostly of members of the local rifle club and soldiers from the 82nd Infantry Battalion, and they were armed by senior cadet rifles from the Barrier Boys’ Brigade. In charge was Wilcannia-born Lieutenant Richard Nicholaus John Resch (1881-1960), a member of the family which made a certain brand of well-known beer. One uncle was Emile Resch, founder of Resch's Brewery, another was Edmund Resch, who more or less told a younger Richard when he signed up to serve in the Boer War that he was a traitor to his own [Germanic] people. Edmund was honorary consul for the Netherlands in NSW for many years. Ironically, as a direct result of the Battle of Broken Hill, the town’s German Club, which Emile Resch had founded, was burned down by resentful locals. Richard Resch took the hint and in 1916 changed his surname to his wife’s maiden name, Fletcher.
Richard Resch served in South Africa with the 1st Australian Horse and took part in the Relief of Kimberly and various campaigns in the Orange Free State in 1900, including operations at Paardeberg, Dreifontein, Poplar Grove, and Zand River. Later the unit moved into the Transvaal, seeing action at Zilikats Nek, Belfast and Middleburg. Resch moved to Broken Hill in 1908 to manage the brewery and in 1914 took over the business. He was commissioned a lieutenant with the senior cadets in 1911 and appointed area officer for Broken Hill, as well as adjutant for the 82nd Infantry.
"Broken Hill riflemen returning to town after wiping the Turk out."
At the outbreak of the Battle of Broken Hill, Resch was contacted by police at the local Army base. Together, the soldiers and 10 policemen went in search of the disaffected neighbours, former cameleers Badsha Mahomed Gül, 39, an Afridi ice-cream vendor, and Mullah Abdullah, 60, a Pathan who acted as an Islamic mullah and halal butcher. Opening fire indiscriminately on a picnic train, these two had killed two passengers, William Shaw, the foreman of the sanitation department, and 17-year-old Alma Priscilla Cowie.
Priscilla, killed in the desert
Six others - Mary Kavanagh, George Stokes, Thomas Campbell, Lucy Shaw, Alma Crocker and Rose Crabb - were wounded. Gül and Abdullah escaped towards the North Broken Hill cameleers camp, “Ghantown”, where they lived. On the way they murdered Alfred Millard, who'd been motorcycling beside the train, and when confronted near the Cable Hotel, the pair wounded a police constable called Robert Mills. Gül and Abdullah took shelter among a white quartz outcrop known as Cable Hill and a 90-minute gun battle ensued. James Craig, who was chopping wood in his backyard 600 yards away, was hit by a stray bullet and killed. Finally Resch’s army killed Abdullah with a shot through the temple and Gül was found with 16 bullet wounds but still breathing – he died shortly after in hospital. The two left notes explaining their grievances were connected to the hostilities between the Ottoman and British empires and they were responding to a call of holy war against “the mortal enemies of Islam”, issued by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V, caliph of all Muslims, on November 11, 1914. The bodies of Gül and Abdullah were disposed of by police in what remains a secret location.