The tiny town of Dorrigo on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales is home to Australia’s last letterpress newspaper.
The paper, which has been running since 1906, is now owned and operated by husband and wife team Michael and Jade English. Together, they print 1,000 copies of the paper for the town of just over 1,000 people each week.
Mr English has been working on the paper for nine years, but his father ran it for 50 years before him, so he grew up watching the process.”During my primary school years I used to come here before school and watch,” he said. “It’s been a part of my life ever since I was born, and I don’t know anything different.
“Michael started working on the paper alongside his father after the mill he worked at was closed and he was made redundant. “Six weeks after I was here dad got ill and had to retire, so I was chucked in the deep end.
A previous employee named Alan Smith came back to help Mr English learn the process, which Mr English said was more complicated than many people realise.”Once we get a story in, we’ll work out whether it’s relevant for Dorrigo, then we’ll typeset it on the Intertype,” he said.
“Once it’s set, Jade will proof read it, we make any changes then. Once that’s done we get to print it.”
“Sometimes things do get missed, we’re only human,” Mr English said. “Things have improved in the last two months since I got reading glasses.”We set the type in hot metal on the Intertype machine, which will then be laid into the bed of the press and run off”.
He said the staff write very few of their own stories, because their time is taken up with the mechanical part of the process. The intertype machine is almost 60 years old, and the printing press was made over 70 years ago. “That’s the biggest thing, making sure everything’s tip-top,” Mr English said.
The process is not only arduous, it can also be dangerous, with risk of lead poisoning and burns. “You need to know how to operate the machine, you’ve got to concentrate on what you’re setting, and you have to keep in mind what the machine’s doing,” he said.
“When the elevator jams up it could pump lead everywhere. Dad had some pretty bad burns.”
Photo: The type for the newspaper is laid into the bed of the press before printing. (ABC Coffs Coast: Liz Keen)