22 Nov


“Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth”, 1842
JMW Turner (1775-1842)

I got a plum job once: an office with a view of Sydney Harbour bridge from close by the north end of it. Milson’s Point is quiet, yet central, like North Melbourne used to be. The editor was a smart dude. Decades of survival. He placed a discreet ad in the Herald, cut down on the sycophant factor. Three details: Graphic Arts, trade market, a permanent part-time position (3 day week). Fax this number.

A solid job at some place with a captive market that only requires three days a week was something quite popular in the blessed heat of the then invincible economy. My three shaky years as a (quite good) film journo wasn’t going to make it much farther than the recycling bin. I had to find out who had the keys and get ’em to like me enough to give me a ride. That required an hour or so of tedious cross-referencing of anything connected with ‘graphics’, ‘art’ and associated industries. Aha! Printing. It was the premier trade magazine for the printing industry. Sounds glamorous doesn’t it. 🙂

It wasn’t glamorous. It was a solid job that allowed three days a week for private work. I wanted to be a proper writer and a bland technical enterprise would, so I thought, not tax me too much. Besides it was a chance to prove myself a solid citizen in the eyes of that dwindling chunk of Media involved with the word and those that read it. Having found the mag, (glossy, solid design, loads of ads) at the local printers I went thru the editorials. The same editor for three years. A man in his 50s. But his editorials were hip, up to date. He knew what digital technology implied for the way business was done, particularly the printing business. I read about 12 months worth. I went back to his beginnings, read the latest 6 months; scanned for bytes of interest across the span.

He wrote well, interesting. More interesting (sigh) then many of the hacks at Fartfax and ‘News’ Ltd who were all falling over themselves to regurgitate the hipsters at Wired. This guy had known the game well before computers made it so much easier to be stupid. He knew what would change and what wouldn’t and how many grains of salt to take with the inevitable gurus. But also he understood that change had come and what had changed.

I can’t remember what I wrote to him but it was the reason I got an interview. “This impressed me,” he said, holding up my three para covering letter. But I had competition, he said. One of Gough’s old speechwriters even. Jeez. So there I was. And we had a chat. He let me know that this was ‘commercial journalism’; that is the theoretical line dividing advertising and ‘journalism’ didn’t exist. Nice to be told up front.

He also told me up front that my CV shouldn’t get me a place in the door. He didn’t care too much about my design period. The funky prose pizzaz of my hipster film geek schtik proved I could write hipster film geek stuff, so what. But he was impressed by the shit job I’d had for a year in the public sector (advertising management) because it was a TAFE which featured the country’s leading printing school! (Ye never can tell.) And yeah I remembered it well. It was the only thing in the place that worked, I cracked. He laughed.

I changed the subject to something he’d written, short dialogue followed. We both had the same understanding about what had happened, was happening and would continue to happen: a globally connected world, open borders, lots of room to move but like a jungle: be quick it’s harsh. But, we both agreed, that’s cool. Well I thought it was cool. He was probably thinking of leaving the jungle and moving to the beach or the hills.

He changed the subject to ‘this is a really dull gig.’ That is: you’re not going to get bored on me? Three weeks and quit? Nice to be told that too. I wanted the free time and the solid clockpuncher’s cred. I agreed to stay a whole year! $37K! Not bad, loads of sub-editing tho’, and stories about exciting things you can do with corporate signage and laser instrument processing.

The magazine’s market share was Asia-Pacific in scope. Each country had its own. Head office had moved to Singapore. They decided to centralize and consolidate and dissolved all regional bureaus. Australian Printer no longer had offices in Australia. Well offices, yeah but the whole thing was put together in Singapore and farmed out with different titles, local columnists, a regional PR Nerd throwing crumbs to the freelance hacks.

It goes that way: goodbye the nice view. If you’re gonna be enthusiastic about jungle life don’t complain when tigers jump out the underbrush. Shame. But I was never meant to punch clocks and I guess that was Fortuna’s script. What happened next I didn’t count on but it gave me something a lot more important than a respectable list of solid jobs.

What I learned getting the job was I didn’t need ‘a solid job’. That ‘solid jobs’ where not something that wanted me. I was not born to crew the big shot’s boat, spend my life in alignment with other apes according to someone else’s efficiency plan. Is a’right, but not me. Gotta do it my way. The way it is.

I prefer oceans to jungles. My boat is small and kinda moody, always in need of repair but then so’s the Millennium Falcon. My boat isn’t the Millennium Falcon. It’s a slow boat. But it serves in storms and when the weather’s good I’ve got the deck to myself.

“The Dort Packet-boat from Rotterdam Becalmed”, 1818


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