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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Born on the Fourth of July: The Hunt for E.J.Brady's Typewriter

For five months now I have been on the hunt for the typewriter once owned by the great Australian writer and poet Edwin James Brady. Imagine my delight when, early yesterday morning in Mallacoota in East Gippsland, Victoria, I managed to track down Brady's only surviving child, his youngest daughter, Edna June Brady. Yes, her father did use a typewriter, Edna told me, although it was her artist mother Flo who did most of the typing. And yes, as far as she knew the typewriter was still in existence, in the possession of a woman, a history researcher who also lived in Mallacoota.
Before I left to continue my search, Edna went to her bookshelves and handed me a copy of her book Mallacoota: A Love Affair in Poetry and Prose.  In it I came across this photo taken in 1951 of Edna, aged five, with her parents. Edna was born in Bega on the Fourth of July 1946, when her father was a month shy of 77 and her mother, Florence Jane (née Bourke) 41. Edna was an only child of this marriage, but Edwin had six children from a previous relationship, one of whom, a daughter called Norma Moya Brady (later Mrs 'Tuppy' Luckins), earned a living as a typiste.
The relevance of Edna being born on the Fourth of July, and being called Edna June, was explained by renowned columnist Gilbert Mant in the Sydney Sun in September-October 1946:
Edwin Brady had first become of interest to me back in June this year when, learning I was about to visit Mallacoota for the first time, a friend told me the story about how the great Henry Lawson had gone to Mallacoota to meet Brady in 1910. The photo of this momentous occasion, below, was taken by fellow journalist and historian Thomas Davies Mutch (1885-1958), who accompanied Lawson from Sydney to Mallacoota. Mutch's photo later became the basis of a mural at the fishing boat ramp on the foreshore at Mallacoota, an artwork which includes Brady's young son Hugh, who was aged seven at the time of the Lawson meeting.
Edwin Brady
Above, the headstone on Brady's grave in the Mallacoota cemetery and below, a marker at the spot on the headland at Mallacoota where Lawson and Brady met:
Below is the view today from the marker, and the writers' camp, and a 1951 painting by Flo Brady of the view from the Brady home across to the Mallacoota bar, which Lawson had so famously written about:
As for Brady's typewriter ... well, sad to say it has gone missing. I did make contact with the woman Edna entrusted it to, but she had given it to a nephew and there is now no trace of it. I shudder to think where it might have finished up! It's certainly not the one used below for an image to promote the annual E.J. Brady writing competition. Still, it would be wonderful to be able to find Brady's actual typewriter, especially since he gave the great New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield her first break, he befriended the Australian writer Katharine Susannah Prichard (she also visited Brady in Mallacoota) and he inspired the great Australian writer Miles Franklin.
The reason being, we know where the typewriters used by Mansfield, Prichard and Franklin are - Mansfield's Corona is in a museum in Wellington, New Zealand, Prichard's Remington, restored by me, is at a writers' centre in Western Australia, and Franklin's Corona is with me:

Saturday, 11 November 2017

My Cousin Fred Messenger, the Californian Remington Typewriter Agent

San Bernardino County Sun, August 9, 1947
About the time Doug Nichol's much-acclaimed documentary California Typewriter was premiering, in August this year, I was astonished to be told that my late cousin, Fred Messenger, had been a California typewriter agent. Fred, who died 70 years ago, was Remington Rand's man in Los Angeles at a time when the typewriter company was in the grip of an extremely bitter industrial dispute.
The Santa Rosa Post Democrat, July 17, 1947
The discovery of my close relationship with Californian typewriters helped ease the pain, by then becoming increasingly acute, that in Doug's change of direction and editing of his film, I had landed up on the cutting room floor. I was there when Doug started his typewriter movie project, at Herman Price's gathering at the Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum in West Virginia in October 2013. I was interviewed by Doug at the museum, and was there when Doug interviewed Richard Polt in his typewriter-laden office at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Later, Richard and I were filmed together at WordPlay (see my image of Doug filming Richard below):
I feel sure that if he knew Californian typewriters were in my blood, Doug might have kept in me in his doco. But, hey, I don't have the audience drawing power of Tom Hanks or the late Sam Shepard. Nor do I have the charm of a Richard Polt or Martin Howard. But I did have a cousin who was right there in the thick of the trade when the typewriter business in California was at its peak.
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1947
I wasn't able to tell Doug that because I only found out myself last August. My cousin Noeleen Mulholland, a brilliant genealogist, messaged me saying, "According to my family tree you and Frederick are second cousins - once removed. So you aren't the only Messenger with a connection to typewriters."
Frederick was born in Port Washington, Long Island, New York, on January 2, 1908, the son of Albert Ayers Messenger and Elizabeth Morris (Bessie) Marston. Messenger Lane in Port Washington is named in Albert's honour, as he was one of the early property owners in Sands Point.
Frederick grew up in North Hempstead, Nassau County, where he started work as a bank clerk. Albert Ayers Messenger was born in New York on February 4, 1859, the son of Harry Messenger, a half-brother of my great-grandfather, William MessengerAlbert and my grandfather Robert Messenger were first cousins.
Frederick's nephew Albert Clay (Al) Messenger (1927-2003) had two great-grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, one with the Army of Northern Virginia. Al had a passion for auto racing and established "Corner of Racing Memories" in his basement. He annually attended the Indy 500 and was honoured with a special award by the Race Car Fan Club of America for his attendance and contribution to auto racing. He was also a life member of the US Auto Racing, the Old Timers Racing Club of Lattimore Valley, Pennsylvania, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.   
 Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1947
Hastening Fred's premature death? San Bernardino County Sun, July 24, 1947

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Hanoi Typewriters: or How I Popped in on Ho Chi Minh's Baby Typing

At the top of a long list of things to do in Vietnam a few weeks ago was to track down H Chí Minh's Hermes Baby portable typewriter in the H Chí Minh Museum in Hanoi. That didn't take very long. And although it's ridiculously obscured in a pyramid-shaped glass display cabinet, I was still able to get a pretty good look at it. What I wasn't expecting to find was a wax figure of Uncle Ho typing on another Hermes Baby, at a desk set up just a few yards away on the same floor of the museum. This second, later model Baby has a Vietnamese keyboard, unlike the Baby that Ho actually used, which has a French keyboard. The museum has many original documents typed by Ho, and I was told by an Australian anthropologist that the accents and descenders were usually added by hand on top of or below the typed characters.
Note the care the curators have taken so that Ho's wax fingers are positioned exactly as they are in the photo below:
The Olympia Traveller we found in the Indigo store said "No touch" but the temptation just to brush off some of the surface crap was enormous. And I don't think there'd be too many takers, whatever the price. Still, it was interesting to compare the keyboard layout with Ho's later Baby.
The manufacturer's logo on the back of this seriously dilapidated model in a restaurant was vaguely familiar, but I'm still trying to work out what the brand is.
Later, on the other side of the city, in the French Quarter, we visited the Grand Hotel Metropole, where this typewriter image was at the top of a display about famous writers - Graham Greene (The Quiet American was set in Vietnam, of course) and Somerset Maugham in particular - who had stayed at and written in and about the old hotel. 
Then it was on to the Vietnamese Women's Museum, where I knew I'd find the Voss typewriter used by "The Rose of the Barbwire Forest", Bà Ngô Bá Thành, who was such a vigorous campaigner for women's rights during the Vietnam War that Nguyễn Văn Thiệu's regime had her kidnapped.
Ngô Bá Thành (centre)
We couldn't find the Olivetti Studio 42 in the traditional Vietnamese home in the Old Quarter (it had been moved), but the typewriter hunts in Hanoi were so much fun it was worth getting drenched to the skin from being caught in a sudden Monsoon thunderstorm.
And there was always plenty of coloured paper for me to type on:

Friday, 27 October 2017

Fats: You Gave Me Such a Thrill

One of my old friends, now late of this world, once told me his mother always wanted him to be a journalist, but he ended up a piano player in a New Orleans brothel anyway. Well, in the old red-light district of New Orleans at least, if not exactly in what Jeff Noble preferred to call a "knocking shop". And not before Jeff had had a very long and quite distinguished career in newspapers, one upon which he embarked as a young man in a hurry and at the cost of a chance to sprint for Australia at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Like me nine years later, Jeff had taken up an early December end-of-college year cadetship in journalism, thus denying himself the chance to compete against the legendary Bobby Joe Morrow, the Texan flyer who was dubbed "The Fastest Nice Christian Boy in the World". It might have been an interesting clash: Jeff could never have been called "nice" and wasn't especially Christian either. 
   But while his track days may have been ended, Jeff still cherished the idea of attaining the badge of honour about the journalist and the brothel piano player, of being a Jelly Roll Morton rather than a Quentin Reynolds. He reached the point in life where he could afford to spend his annual leave in Louisiana, making Rue Bourbon his Mecca and haunting the seedier streets of "The Big Easy" and, over time, befriending the people who would secure for him the job of his dreams.
   He eventually got to settle in the north-west of the French Quarter, beautifully positioned in Gretna, twixt Basin and Dauphine streets. From there he sent me a postcard, saying how thrilled he was that Leonard Cohen had described “The moon stood still on Blueberry Hill” as the one immortal line from song. “You just see that full moon suspended. You just want to gaze at it. It stops the mind spinning,” Cohen had said, in a sound opinion he was to repeat more than 20 years later. Jeff added, "It's a line I wish I'd written myself." It was actually written when Jeff was aged just one, by Larry Stock and Al Lewis.

   From left, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Paul Shaffer, Fats Domino and Ron Wood at the Storyville concert on June 5, 1986.
   Thursday, June 5, 1986, was my second son's first birthday in Brisbane, but I was visiting Jeff in New Orleans, and we went to the Storyville Jazz Hall at 1104 Decatur Street - right in the heart the old bordello district - and chanced upon an evening when someone fell ill and Fats Domino was joined on stage by my hero, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Charles, and by the Rolling Stones' Ron Wood on guitar. Seeing such giants of popular music in the flesh - I had first heard Domino, Lewis and Charles on scratchy 78rpm shellac resin discs in the mid to late 1950s - was as wonderful as it had been unexpected. 
   Antoine Dominique Domino Jr's death in Harvey, Louisiana, on Tuesday of this week, aged 89, brought fond memories of that fantastic "Fats & Friends" concert flooding back from 31 years ago. Indeed, I hadn't thought about it much in a decade, since December 2007, when I reflected on my own then 42 years in newspapers, still convinced I'd have to be dragged out of a newsroom in a wooden box. It never came to that, happily, but it did for some of the unforgettable characters with whom I'd worked, including Jeff Noble.   
   What I remember Jeff best for was the night he commandeered the piano in the restaurant at The Metropole on Wickham Terrace in Brisbane and belted out Louis Jordan’s Let the Good Times Roll for the right royal entertainment of four-minute miler Sir Roger Bannister, among many others. We all, it seemed, loved Louis Jordan. But no more so than Fat Domino, or any of the other great "rockin' piano" players.
    The first time I saw that badge about “My mother thinks I’m a journalist but actually I’m a piano player in a brothel”, it was beside another one someone had written, one which read, “My name is Robert Messenger and I’m wearing this badge because I'm suffering from a colossal identity crisis”. I can’t recall the occasion, but I just can’t shift the image of those badges from my mind.
   If I’d known then and all that … I’d have gotten out of the crazy, family-life-killing profession of newspaper writing and become a meat packer instead. The more so if I'd ever been able to grasp that I revered the printed word far more than I did my own family. I should have taken the hint, I suppose, when I was called a "prima donna" for complaining about a change a sub-editor had made to a story I'd written at The Irish Press on Burgh Quay in Dublin in 1974. Or upon being accused, seven years on, at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, of being too "precious" about my choice of adjectives.  
   It was 10 years ago last March that my friend John Coffey, who comes from the same town as me, was sacked by The Press in Christchurch for telling his sports editor, Coen Lammers, to leave "his f...... copy alone" because "he always f...s it up".  The New Zealand Employment Relations Authority found John's dismissal had been "fair". Coffey was one of New Zealand’s leading sports writers for 44 years. Such treatment would never have been meted out to Sir Neville Cardus, who in anger over a mild rebuke about wasting words, return cabled the (then Manchester) Guardian from the Marylebone Cricket Club's tour of Australia in 1937, “I’ll send punctuation, you insert f…… words.”. We didn’t all turn out to be Carduses, sadly.
   I’m not entirely sure what my mother wanted me to be. Like Cardus’s unwed Manchester mother – a "genteel prostitute" – I fancy she desired something other than a miner or a wharfie for a son. When my mother was pregnant with me, she had her tea leaves read and was told certain things about what I’d be, none of which came within the proverbial of what I became. Let’s just say I never became the genius she was confident I'd turn into.
   I think my parents probably thought journalism was an honourable profession. I know the fathers of certain female friends made the mistake of thinking I'd be a desirable "catch". “How far will he go?” one asked my then editor in what he thought was confidence, 40 odd years ago. “How much will he earn?” Little could the editor have known what a mess it would all turn out to be. Nonetheless, that rightfully concerned father, a publican with a piano in his bar and a red light out the back, did get himself a journalist for a son-in-law. A good one, too, the offspring of a miner and a proper homemaker. One who would became editor of the New Zealand Press Association and who had the good judgement to flatten the now (as of last week) Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, Winston Peters, in the press bar of the "Beehive", New Zealand's Parliament House in Wellington.
   By contrast, my life seemed in December 2007 to be more reminiscent of the experience of then Australian National Party deputy leader Nigel Scullion, whose wild night out in St Petersburg was predominantly peopled by Icelandic whalers and Canadian crab fishermen. Yet nowhere on my travels, happily, was I reduced to playing piano in a brothel. For one thing, like Bob Dylan when he was washing diner dishes by day and playing in Bobby Vee’s band The Shadows by night – as Elston Gunnn (yes, three “n”s) no less – I can’t play piano.
   But one time, covering cricket in Kalgoorlie, I organised an early evening tour of the gold mining city's notorious red-light district, Hay Street. This is a little less salubrious than Bourbon Street, yet I was joined by some notable Test cricketers, Barry Richards included. When I mooted the idea, I got so many recruits so quickly that a colleague yelled out, “Geez, Messenger, you’re better than Kerry Packer at this!” As we boarded our plane that night, it was noted some of my little band of rebels were missing. No doubt they were playing piano in one of Hay Street's many seedy brothels.
   Journalism, I must confess, had its moments. With enough years and enough travel, it was bound to. But I left the profession five years ago today, wishing I had something to show for it all. Now, with Fat Domino's death, and remembering Leonard Cohen's words about the line from Blueberry Hill, I have come to realise that my disillusionment with life back then was premature. Domino's song has since turned out to be far more prophetic than I could have possibly known:

When I found you
The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
And lingered until
My dream came true

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Typewriter Doodles

Yet another typewriter has featured in Google's doodles. Today's doodle marked what would have been the 106th birthday of British journalist Clare Hollingworth, who was the subject of an ozTypewriter blog post almost exactly a year ago, on October 11, 2016.
Hollingworth scooped the world with news of the outbreak of World War II. On August 31, 1939, the then 27-year-old Hollingworth had been working as a journalist for less than a week when London's Daily Telegraph sent her to Poland to report on worsening tensions in Europe. Terry Chapman takes up the story of what happened in the early hours of the morning of the very next day, September 1, in his book Outbreak: 1939: The World Goes to War:
Hollingworth, who went on to report on conflicts in Palestine, Algeria, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, China, Aden and Vietnam, said she would "happily go anywhere with just a toothbrush and a typewriter". But that typewriter was most usually a Hermes Baby portable, not a standard as shown in the Google doodle.
Hollingworth was born in Knighton outside Leicester, home of the Imperial typewriter, but she generally used the Hermes. 
Hollingworth died in Hong Kong on January 10 this year, aged 105.