Peter Lewis who carried on running the Guardian after his father Bernie's death in 2011.
Peter Lewis who carried on running the Guardian after his father Bernie's death in 2011.

From brown paper to linotype, looking back at the Guardian

Peter Lewis, former Guardian owner

 

IN THE words of an Engelbert Humperdinck song, 'Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow's out of sight, it's so sad to be alone ….'.

And so it is that we say goodbye to three local newspapers, gone as if taken in an instant by a tragic accident.

It is an ever-changing world no matter what course we follow and most is for the good of mankind, and so it is with newspapers that we hope for something better; for tomorrow's out of sight.

So how did this writer become so passionate about newspapers?

In early December 1960 I flew home from a Brisbane boarding school. My parents lived at Cannon Valley and owned The Proserpine Guardian at that time, having purchased the business in July that year with another partner, and so I had to wait until after work to be taken home.

In the meantime, I was given some printed invoice books to collate. Apparently, I did a good job as I was asked to come back tomorrow and continue with the job. That job continued for another 55 years.

 

Peter and Cynthia Lewis with an old linotype machine.
Peter and Cynthia Lewis with an old linotype machine.

 

I started an apprenticeship as a hand and machine compositor in the January completing the trade five years later. While the trade was about setting type by hand and linotype, building advertisements and assembling pages for print, you learnt how to run a printing press, use a guillotine, fold, staple and finish all sorts of printed matter.

In 1969 I married Cynthia, a migrant from Malta, and had a wonderful family of three children, and in 1972 Cynthia and I purchased half the business, buying out my mother and father's partners, Stan and Maureen Busuttin.

In those 12 years technology did not change much. Indeed, it was still recognisable as the process of Gutenberg when he used movable type to print a bible in 1450.

But things were about to change - offset printing was starting, computers were arriving in the industry, even though desktop computers were still a short time away.

The Guardian changed over to offset and what was known as 'cold type', as opposed to the hot metal, after the 1975 election of the Fraser government which gave tax incentives for new investment.

The Guardian's first computer had a memory of 39 characters only. Strips of film contained the typeface and lenses determined the type size.

A tape punch and reader came next. This was a big change. When a press release telex came through, just turn on the telex tape and put it through the reader later and the type was set. Type was in the form of a bromide paper and literally cut with a craft knife and pasted onto a page layout.

Peter and Cynthia Lewis.
Peter and Cynthia Lewis.

Keeping up with technology was now a regular and somewhat expensive and necessary thing.

The arrival of desktop computers and specialised printers' programmes gave a much better and wider scope. Image setters came into being, replacing the necessity of hand composing, litho cameras and the necessity to make photo mechanical transfers (PMT's) of pictures.

I should mention at this point that the Bowen Independent and The Guardian were now considered up there with technology, but The Times in London was still using hand set wooden type for their headlines. When Murdoch built his empire at Wapping in East London nobody even recognised the equipment as being for the newspaper industry.

I know 'yesterday's dead and gone' but from history we must learn, 'and tomorrow's out of sight' but we must look to the future that we don't make mistakes of the past.

Engelbert continues 'it's so sad to be alone, help me make it through the night'.


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