A printer by trade

Half a century at The Gisborne Herald.

Half a century at The Gisborne Herald.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’: The Gisborne Herald stalwart employee Graeme Miller, a permanent face on the staff since 1963, stands next to an obsolete inter-type composing machine. The Gisborne Herald operated about 10 such machines in the era of ‘‘hot metal” printing. Mr Miller operated such a machine from the start of his Herald career until about 1974. Picture by Paul Rickard

Graeme Miller has worked at The Gisborne Herald in various roles for more than half a century. He began straight from school in January 1963 — the same month the Beatles first hit the top of the charts in Britain with Please Please Me. He started as an apprentice in the printing sector and has gone on to the circulation department and other responsibilities. He talks to Wynsley Wrigley about the technology (and many other) changes he has witnessed since 1963.

The hot metal printing press, the six o’clock swill and Keith Holyoake as prime minister.

That was the world on January 7, 1963, when school leaver Graeme Miller joined The Gisborne Herald as an apprentice in the now defunct trade of machine topographer.

Mr Miller, now the longest serving Herald staff member, even had a veteran of World War 1 as a work colleague, Jacko Jackson.

He was recruited in September, 1962 but did not meet his foreman Arthur Pearse until that January day when he started work.

Things were done differently in those days, says Mr Miller.
“The management picked the staff.’’

Mr Miller has worked with countless staff at The Gisborne Herald over the past 56 years, and the societal changes and rapid technology changes have been immense.

“There have been some big learning curves,” he says.

“We have gone from the days of hot metal to the days when you could virtually become a collar-and-tie worker and be clean as a whistle.

“We’ve progressed on to cold-type composition featuring computerisation.

“It has been a time of tremendous change, but we got through it and I think we did extremely well.

“We’ve gone from staff going to other newspapers for a look, to people coming to us to see what we have done.”

Mr Miller believes The Herald was the first New Zealand paper to move to desktop publishing.

“The way we did it was great. We did not go mad — we gradually changed over.”

Mr Miller remembers “the early days” when staff had to take blood and urine tests every six months because of the risk of lead poisoning. Printers also had to drink milk regularly.

The floors, which were tongue and grooved, had to be watered with watering cans prior to sweeping because of the lead dust.

“In my time only one person had a slight touch of lead poisoning. I think it was Bill Lighton.
“We believe that was because he used to put his corn cob pipe on his little desk by his machine.
“Fortunately it was only minor.”

Within his first two years at The Gisborne Herald, Mr Miller was working 16-hour days in two roles — in his original role as a printer, and at night at the teleprinter receiving national and international news ‘‘over the wire”.

Mr Miller says later technology changes in the printing industry created an era where The Gisborne Herald would seek female staff.

‘‘That would never have happened in the hot metal days.

“We had to word the adverts to say you had to be good at typing, have computer skills and art skills.”

The first two female apprentices were Mary Fitzharris and Debbie Bates.

Advances in technology have seen job opportunities disappear in the printing industry.

“From an industry where we used to take on two apprentices a year, it virtually dried up.”

Mr Miller recalls his boss back in those early days, Mr Pearse, as a hard taskmaster.

“What I liked about him was the fact that if you did something wrong he would give you a rev-up, but once the rev-up was finished that was the end of it.

“He was a very good tradesman and I was lucky enough in those days to not only have Arthur Pearse but several other characters such as Trevor Rabbits (known not surprisingly as Bunny), Denis McKay, John Speakman, Bill Lighton, Wilf Dudson, Mac Toye and Bob Wilson, all expert linotype operators.

“They were old-school who passed on their knowledge to you.

“There were 10 lino machines and with rostering there would have been about 12 operators.

“Dave Jolly, a devoted supporter of the Burnley soccer team, and Ian Butler were the two tradesmen who took on the youngsters.”

An apprenticeship was 10,000 hours or five years, with correspondence courses and trips to printing school in Auckland on three occasions for three weeks.

“The first year I went to Auckland I felt, as a provincial newspaper employee, that I would be way behind the ball game.

‘‘What I found when I went there, as far as the linotype was concerned, was that I was as good if not better than they were.

“That was because apprentices from the New Zealand Herald, Waikato Times and Taranaki Daily News did not get on to a linotype until they had completed close to three years.

"In The Gisborne Herald you virtually went straight on to it.”

In 1973 he was offered two positions, linotype mechanic or assistant foreman, and chose the latter.

Little did he realise that within eight months he would go from being one of the boys to the boss.

“Soon after that they changed my job description from newspaper foreman to production manager.
“I think they did that because in the States they would not know what a foreman was.’’

There have been several trips to Australia and around New Zealand to learn about the then latest technology.

Mr Miller recalls an early 1990s trip to the United States with colleague Rod Clague — at about the time that The Herald transferred to offset printing technology — to attend a seminar in New Orleans.

“That just blew us away what we saw.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener for us fellows from Gizzy.’’

A five-day rotating roster gave staff one rostered day off each week.

“If we were called back that day it was paid at eight hours double time, plus a roster allowance and a penalty rate for Saturdays.

“You had to work five out of every six Saturdays.”

The Saturday finishing time made it impossible to play weekend sport.

“Staff played a lot of sport in those days,’’ says Mr Miller.

“There was Sunday rugby, soccer, cricket, basketball, volleyball, you name it we played it.

“The Gisborne Herald had a mercantile cricket team playing on Wednesday nights for many years.

“We played rugby against the stock agents, the railways, and the power board — none of which could field a team now, but they all had big staffs back then.’’

When he took over as foreman/production manager he inherited a staff of about 26. By the time he changed his direction at The Herald, that had dwindled to eight.

He was approached by management and agreed to move downstairs along with two of his staff, to operate the classified section.

Fourteen months later he was offered the position of circulation manager, which he held for a decade.

Today Mr Miller works reduced hours as a member of the circulation department.

In February, he will cut his hours from four days a week to three . . . and has no retirement plans yet.

Graeme Miller has worked at The Gisborne Herald in various roles for more than half a century. He began straight from school in January 1963 — the same month the Beatles first hit the top of the charts in Britain with Please Please Me. He started as an apprentice in the printing sector and has gone on to the circulation department and other responsibilities. He talks to Wynsley Wrigley about the technology (and many other) changes he has witnessed since 1963.

The hot metal printing press, the six o’clock swill and Keith Holyoake as prime minister.

That was the world on January 7, 1963, when school leaver Graeme Miller joined The Gisborne Herald as an apprentice in the now defunct trade of machine topographer.

Mr Miller, now the longest serving Herald staff member, even had a veteran of World War 1 as a work colleague, Jacko Jackson.

He was recruited in September, 1962 but did not meet his foreman Arthur Pearse until that January day when he started work.

Things were done differently in those days, says Mr Miller.
“The management picked the staff.’’

Mr Miller has worked with countless staff at The Gisborne Herald over the past 56 years, and the societal changes and rapid technology changes have been immense.

“There have been some big learning curves,” he says.

“We have gone from the days of hot metal to the days when you could virtually become a collar-and-tie worker and be clean as a whistle.

“We’ve progressed on to cold-type composition featuring computerisation.

“It has been a time of tremendous change, but we got through it and I think we did extremely well.

“We’ve gone from staff going to other newspapers for a look, to people coming to us to see what we have done.”

Mr Miller believes The Herald was the first New Zealand paper to move to desktop publishing.

“The way we did it was great. We did not go mad — we gradually changed over.”

Mr Miller remembers “the early days” when staff had to take blood and urine tests every six months because of the risk of lead poisoning. Printers also had to drink milk regularly.

The floors, which were tongue and grooved, had to be watered with watering cans prior to sweeping because of the lead dust.

“In my time only one person had a slight touch of lead poisoning. I think it was Bill Lighton.
“We believe that was because he used to put his corn cob pipe on his little desk by his machine.
“Fortunately it was only minor.”

Within his first two years at The Gisborne Herald, Mr Miller was working 16-hour days in two roles — in his original role as a printer, and at night at the teleprinter receiving national and international news ‘‘over the wire”.

Mr Miller says later technology changes in the printing industry created an era where The Gisborne Herald would seek female staff.

‘‘That would never have happened in the hot metal days.

“We had to word the adverts to say you had to be good at typing, have computer skills and art skills.”

The first two female apprentices were Mary Fitzharris and Debbie Bates.

Advances in technology have seen job opportunities disappear in the printing industry.

“From an industry where we used to take on two apprentices a year, it virtually dried up.”

Mr Miller recalls his boss back in those early days, Mr Pearse, as a hard taskmaster.

“What I liked about him was the fact that if you did something wrong he would give you a rev-up, but once the rev-up was finished that was the end of it.

“He was a very good tradesman and I was lucky enough in those days to not only have Arthur Pearse but several other characters such as Trevor Rabbits (known not surprisingly as Bunny), Denis McKay, John Speakman, Bill Lighton, Wilf Dudson, Mac Toye and Bob Wilson, all expert linotype operators.

“They were old-school who passed on their knowledge to you.

“There were 10 lino machines and with rostering there would have been about 12 operators.

“Dave Jolly, a devoted supporter of the Burnley soccer team, and Ian Butler were the two tradesmen who took on the youngsters.”

An apprenticeship was 10,000 hours or five years, with correspondence courses and trips to printing school in Auckland on three occasions for three weeks.

“The first year I went to Auckland I felt, as a provincial newspaper employee, that I would be way behind the ball game.

‘‘What I found when I went there, as far as the linotype was concerned, was that I was as good if not better than they were.

“That was because apprentices from the New Zealand Herald, Waikato Times and Taranaki Daily News did not get on to a linotype until they had completed close to three years.

"In The Gisborne Herald you virtually went straight on to it.”

In 1973 he was offered two positions, linotype mechanic or assistant foreman, and chose the latter.

Little did he realise that within eight months he would go from being one of the boys to the boss.

“Soon after that they changed my job description from newspaper foreman to production manager.
“I think they did that because in the States they would not know what a foreman was.’’

There have been several trips to Australia and around New Zealand to learn about the then latest technology.

Mr Miller recalls an early 1990s trip to the United States with colleague Rod Clague — at about the time that The Herald transferred to offset printing technology — to attend a seminar in New Orleans.

“That just blew us away what we saw.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener for us fellows from Gizzy.’’

A five-day rotating roster gave staff one rostered day off each week.

“If we were called back that day it was paid at eight hours double time, plus a roster allowance and a penalty rate for Saturdays.

“You had to work five out of every six Saturdays.”

The Saturday finishing time made it impossible to play weekend sport.

“Staff played a lot of sport in those days,’’ says Mr Miller.

“There was Sunday rugby, soccer, cricket, basketball, volleyball, you name it we played it.

“The Gisborne Herald had a mercantile cricket team playing on Wednesday nights for many years.

“We played rugby against the stock agents, the railways, and the power board — none of which could field a team now, but they all had big staffs back then.’’

When he took over as foreman/production manager he inherited a staff of about 26. By the time he changed his direction at The Herald, that had dwindled to eight.

He was approached by management and agreed to move downstairs along with two of his staff, to operate the classified section.

Fourteen months later he was offered the position of circulation manager, which he held for a decade.

Today Mr Miller works reduced hours as a member of the circulation department.

In February, he will cut his hours from four days a week to three . . . and has no retirement plans yet.

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Karen Ellis, Melbourne - 5 months ago
Shared Mr Miller's story to Lovers of Linecasting Machines on Facebook at @https://www.facebook.com/groups/linolove/ I administrate this group and my husband Danny Ellis was the last linotype apprentice mechanic at The Age. After qualifying, he had the title of linotype mechanic but he only ever worked on intertypes.

John Hacche, Sydney - 4 months ago
Great article Graeme

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