How long will commercial letterpress continue? Until it becomes too expensive to source spare parts or ink or, more likely, until the craft skills are no longer passed from generation to generation.
PART ONE: In the small township of Dorrigo (pop. 1100) high in the mountains of northern NSW commercial letterpress is, at present, alive and well. The Don Dorrigo Gazette is the last Australian newspaper (the Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate to give the full title) printed letterpress, and printed letterpress not as a hobby but as a business enterprise.
Now in its 104th year the newspaper is valued by the community it serves, for it acts as the heart of the community, a true community newspaper in every sense. One of the house-ads states: ‘Your Printer Is Part Of Your Community’. So much part of this community that 800 copies are printed each week, the eight-page edition hand-folded before being distributed both locally and afar and sold for a dollar; so much so that the rival newspaper of the big town of Bellingen (pop 2600) down the mountain is mostly shunned by the Dorrigo folk.
I first wrote about the Don Dorrigo Gazette two years ago (click here) and it has taken me that long to make the journey – about five hours from where we live in far north NSW, down the Pacific Highway, through the seaside town of Coffs Harbour before turning inland. So when we were serching around for a week’s break and my wife mentioned Dorrigo (there are wonderful rainforest walks and waterfalls to see) I didn’t hesitate.
I didn’t know what I would find, though I think in my mind I had expectations of a much larger building, perhaps with a frontage that serves as reception and ‘newsroom’. After all, in my earlier years working as a journalist all the local newspapers I worked on in England had some sort of entrance, be it modest or grand. Not so the Don Dorrigo Gazette. (Though reading through the centenary issue of the paper, published on 20 January 2010 I find that until the late 1980s there was indeed a frontage, the ‘factory’ being built on in the late 1970s.)
We had arranged to meet Michael English (left), owner, editor, advertising manager, typesetter, printer and jack-of-all-trades, on Tuesday. He told my wife on the phone that he would be in early, around 5am, to finish off that week’s edition. The night before I scanned through the previous week’s edition: the front page ‘splash’ being Ancient History Display Comes To Dorrigo while Museum Musings on the back page (page 8, single page size 29cm x 44cm) contained the information that: ‘Our museum houses the complete set of the Don Dorrigo Gazette from 1910 to the present as well as the old Wharfedale letterpress printing press used to print the newspaper until it was replaced with the current Heidelberg cylinder press’.
TO BE CONTINUED …