The clock struck midnight and Bentley looked towards the door of the Hope and Anchor on Hobart’s Macquarie Street. Midnight – or thereabouts – on a Saturday always brought a magical moment, with Bentley sat in front of a roaring log fire, a cold beer in hand, looking towards the door, waiting for the first edition of the Chronicle to arrive.
How many times, in how many pubs, had Bentley sat with a cold pint anticipating that first edition, still warm and paper-thin crisp and smelling sweetly of newsprint and ink?
A day and night’s endeavour, reporters and sub-editors and all those in between, crafting a journal of a day in the life of a city with blood, sweat and beers. Waiting for that first edition Bentley would always stop talking and sit in silence, his eyes on the door, letting the excited chatter of pub and shop talk wash over him.
In this quiet moment he searched for metaphors to describe the wonder of this fragile product. It was crafted and manufactured from an indefinable raw material that was called “news”, but with tools he could give a name to, words and grammar. Cliches and metaphors ran rampant in this private moment. The blacksmith journalist banging away at the anvil of life, shaping news into a day’s chronicle of hopes and dreams, and disappointment and pain. The journalist as steam engine driver harnessing not the elements of water and fire, but words to take the passenger from the day just passed, to the one approaching. The newspaper seen as a butterfly emerging at midnight from its pupa, fluttering briefly on splendid wings of wonder and awe, before falling crumpled into the gutter.
The more Bentley drank between the first edition deadline – when he usually finished his shift – and the arrival of the newspaper itself, the more extreme the metaphors but people in the pub who listened to Bentley’s tales of newspapers and newspaper practice past, and what newspapers meant to him, always got the point.
Bentley and his colleagues usually drank at their usual watering hole, Mahoney’s over the road from the Chronicle building, but on Saturdays they moved down the road to the Hope and Anchor. The saunter down the street broke the golden rule of journalist drinking practice of never if possible venturing more than 100 metres from the office for a drink, but there was good reason to break with tradition for just one night a week. Saturday night at Mahoney’s was karaoke night, and the music and strained singing made conversation impossible.
The Hope and Anchor proved a pleasant alternative one night a week, especially with its log fire and its historic ambience. It was the oldest continually licensed premises in Australia and the standing joke was that its meat pies dated from its opening.
The ‘‘Hope and Wanker’’, as it was affectionately known in acknowledgement of all the boasting and bravado fuelled by drink and bylines, could have been a journalists’ pub or bar from anywhere in the English-speaking world, and the ritual of waiting for the newspaper would have been the same across the globe. Bentley now tended to speak in the past tense when describing waiting for the newspaper because not only were newspapers vanishing by the day, but those that survived were increasingly being printed in high-tech complexes out in the suburbs. The old rotary presses had gone, with them ringing bells signalling these giant machines were ready to roll into action. Gone, too, were the army of ink-stained workers huddled around the presses and in the press gallery’s wings, the later waiting to bundle and fold and heave stacks of papers into waiting trucks. In the gleaming plants in the suburbs the whole printing process was automated and Bentley would say with pride he had never ventured to one of these new places; they were antiseptic clean and never smelled of the sweat of honest toil, or carried the dusty aroma of torn, discarded yellowing newsprint and splattered and dry ink.
The move to the suburbs might improve efficiency, and ultimately profits, for proprietors but they dealt a severe blow to the tradition of waiting for the paper. Newspapers did not now arrive in newsrooms before the journalists had left, or be delivered to the nearest pub.
Bentley was grateful he had never known the experience of a night without the newspaper in hand, and was happy that, with the end of his career approaching, he never would.
The Chronicle, with one page in the past, had maintained its old Hoe presses, even if the outdated technology made complete colour production impossible. Bentley liked this and thought that somehow giant colour pictures took away the drama of the printed page, diluted its message. If it was possible to read Bentley, you’d know he was printed in black and white.
Bentley, sometimes, could get very emotional about newspapers, especially if they were late arriving and the beers to toast the birth, to wet the baby’s head, piled up and left a line of empty glasses on the table.
It was at these times, if the paper was delayed, Bentley would wake from his silence and start to tell his waiting-for-the-paper stories, and listen for others to tell theirs.
Every journalist Bentley had ever known had a waiting-for-the paper story. That first byline, that first scoop, being scooped, prize fuck-ups or an infamous spelling mistake in which the readers of the first edition were treated to a “fuck” or a “cunt” which had escaped all eyes during the editing and printing process. The sub-editor rejoicing in an outrageous pun that had escaped the eye of the editor, the theatre reviewer checking to make sure a vital paragraph carrying his message had not been cut, or the name of the cast deleted. And the actors and actresses themselves, coming to journalists’ pubs, after a first-night performance. They were known to gather at the Hope and Anchor from the nearby Theatre Royal to read that first review, a tradition Bentley had witnessed in another part of the world –Times Square in New York where the acting profession gathered in a local restaurant, Sadi’s, to snap up the first editions of the New York Times being printed across the street.
Bentley had felt at that time like a groupie, a “Stage Door Johnnie”; gathered not to dwell in the reflected glory of actor or actress, or film or pop star, but to see and smell those first editions of the New York Times, being carried across the street and, like those eagerly awaiting the reviews, to share in a newspaper’s birth and the joy it brought to not just journalists, but everyone touched by it.
Waiting-for-the-paper stories, Bentley loved them all. Most of all he enjoyed stories of place and time. Of misty nights in Fleet Street, snow falls in Times Square, howling winds in Chicago, sultry nights in Cairo, a warm sea breeze off the ocean-front in Cairns.
Bentley had smelled the jacaranda blossoms in Rhodesia, as he went to the offices of the Rhodesia Herald in Salisbury or Chronicle in Bulawayo for their first editions in his days as a foreign correspondent covering African wars and now, in a bar in Hobart halfway around the world, a colleague was telling of other steamy, humid nights; this time in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
The colleague had been a young sub-editor on the Post Courier where the delivery of the newspaper, not to the pub but to the editor at his home, had a journalistic duty enshrined on the roster with the official title: “Waiting the paper”.
One late-night sub-editor was required to linger after everyone else had gone, waiting behind until he heard the gentle rumble of the printing presses. As the rumble grew to a shudder and a roar, the sub-editor knew it was time to navigate a narrow, twisting stairwell to the bowels of the building where the rotary presses were reaching full speed. The fudged, blurred early copies were kicked aside as the press, now in full stride, produced perfect copies, the print razor-sharp, the paper still crisp before the humidity of the night had softened it.
Just one copy was scooped up and the “waiting the paper” sub-editor made his way to the office car, and placed it gently, reverently, on the front passenger seat. Then began a slow, careful journey with the precious cargo out of steamy Port Moresby, the city street lights blunted by the humid mist, away from the Coral Sea and into the gentle foothills starting to spread inland.
The city and its smells were left behind and now bougainvillea and hibiscus blooms scented the air, and owls called out. High into the hills the sub-editor would drive, the breeze from the open windows ruffling the pages of the newspaper.
The city lights now a distant twinkle, the car pulled up outside the editor’s house, and there was the editor to take it. He carried it through the front doors and into a wide, spacious room – dominated by a large wooden table – with french windows at one end, opened and looking out across the city.
The editor opened the pages and spread it out in front of him on the wooden table, carefully turning the first few pages before offering the sub-editor a beer. The editor poured a Scotch for himself, the ice clinking into the glass, and then studied the newspaper further without saying a word. He lit a cigarette, scanned it some more, and then looked up to speak.
Waiting for the paper, a day in the life of Port Moresby was now complete.