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Panpa Bulletin : September 2010
www.panpa.org.au Whales, possums and the day the Queen dropped in for lunch THE first job of the day at the Albany Advertiser was to sweep the leaves and possum droppings from the tops of the typewriters. The room, without a ceiling, ex- tended upwards to the roof. There was nothing to keep the heat in or, when the wind blew, the leaves out. Possums lived nextdoor in the peppermint trees by St John's Angli- can Church in York Street, Albany. The typewriters, once the plastic covers had been removed, gleamed. Pure mechanical beasts. No electric- ity needed. You could smash out letters on these machines using brute force, each word punched into thick, porous newsprint. Anything was possible with such a tool. The editor, a Canadian, ex-Hong Kong, ex-Kentucky Fried Chicken manager in Perth, prowled. "We don't pay you to phone peo- ple who aren't there," he liked to say to those who couldn't find a key figure for a quote. I got the job in September 1975 on the strength that the newspaper, published twice weekly, planned to go daily and I was an inexpensive way to create more stories. The plans got as far as four days a week and then back to two. Entrepreneur Robert Holmes a Court had recently bought the Alba- ny Woollen Mills and discovered that it owned the Albany Advertiser and the commercial radio station 6VA. One of my jobs was to wait out- side the board room to report on any decisions made. Before deadline I would nervously knock on the door until Mr Homes a Court appeared only to say: "Noth- ing for you today, Chris." So much for calling people who weren't there. The then Albany Advertiser ac- countant, Dennis White, a twenty- something-year-old straight out of university, was once tasked by the general manager to pick Mr Holmes a Court up from the local airport. He arrived in his ex-student's car, the passenger door secured with a piece of rope. Mr Holmes a Court said nothing but the general manager chatted to the accountant the next day. "Un- fortunately we can't give you a pay rise at this time but what about a company car?" The good deed was passed on. The accountant arranged for me, being paid almost A$50 a week, to stay in a house owned by the news- paper, rent free. The council had been trying to condemn the building for years but the newspaper had dodged the notices. The Queen visited in 1976 for the town's 150th (Albany was the first European settlement in Western Australia) and the organisers insisted it was impossible to cover her arrival at the airport late morning and her arrival at lunch, her next stop. Roads would be closed and traffic diverted. They shouldn't have said that. The job took two cars and three people. The photographer waited on the tarmac, snapped the Queen and the crowd, and ran for the bound- ary fence. I caught the camera as he threw it over and ran to the second car, which took off with the film ahead of the Queen and the road blocks. Back in the second vehicle, an aging utility with a reconditioned engine, I dropped the clutch, the car spitting gravel as the photographer jumped in the passenger seat. The police block was at a major junction with a large roundabout which meant we couldn't go all the way round to a back road, which would take us to the Queen's lunch venue. As we hit the road block I turned right, instead of left. The photog- rapher, hanging out the passenger window, snapped an image of the stunned police sergeant watching a tatty utility speed round the rounda- bout the wrong way. By the time the Queen finished lunch and was going down the main street, we had that day's newspaper on sale with photographs of both her airport and lunch arrival. The most enduring story was the local whaling station, the last in Australia and the last in the English- speaking world. It took some organising and convincing a suspicious whaling company management but I went whaling in 1977 and again in 1978. The final whale, a female sperm whale, was harpooned on Novem- ber 20, 1978. I left for Sydney a week later. Today the Albany Advertiser, fueled by a population swelled by sea- changers, still publishes twice a week. Thursday editions are 48 pages plus a 40-page real estate lift out and a car supplement of 20 pages. End of an era ... Chris Pash covered the last whaling station to operate in Australia Chris Pash Dow Jones, Asia Pacific BACK IN MY DAY Tell us about your first newspaper. Email email@example.com and we'll make it happen. 14 | SEPTEMBER 2010 | The PANPA Bulletin