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Victoria: 'Herald' moves to a tower block at Southgate, following more than 70 years at Flinders Street

AGNES WARREN: Today is the last program before we head into our summer season, so it's out with the old and in with the new. After more than seven decades, the Herald & Weekly Times which is now part of News Limited, is moving from its headquarters in Flinders Street Melbourne, to south of the river and a tower block on Southgate.

KIM HAYES: In the Herald, we had up to 500 compositors working day and night, and it was hustle and bustle with the Sun and the Herald, two daily papers. In those days, the Herald newspaper used to sell around the 500,000 and the Sun 600,000. So you're putting out a million copies a day of two daily newspapers.

KEITH FREESTONE: We all considered the Editorial people, from up here in the Comp. Room, we considered the Editorial people as 'the enemy', and they considered us the enemy, and Advertising, they were the enemy to Editorial and enemy to us - this was a great big convoluted circle that everybody hated each other. But we all did our jobs together, but all the time the Comp. Room would save Editorial from their mistakes, the Advertising from their mistakes, even the Press Room - we'd save their bacon, a lot of the time. But when the Comp. Room made a mistake, there was no-one to save us.

RICK SWINARD: This building really with all the technology really complements that fabulous $340-million printing plant out at Westgate Park. So HWT, we think, is better positioned than any other newspaper in Australia for the sort of demands of publishing communication in the emerging century.

AGNES WARREN: The Herald & Weekly Times was Australia's largest publishing house until the takeover by News Limited in 1987. In the twenties, under Sir Keith Murdoch, Flinders Street developed papers with an Australian identity, like the tabloid Sun News Pictorial, which pioneered the use of photographs. Sir Keith's son, Rupert, walked into his father's office in 1979 and announced that he intended to buy the Herald & Weekly Times.

RUPERT MURDOCH: I'm not contemplating any changes; I hope we can turn around the fortunes of The Herald itself. The main asset of The Herald & Weekly Times is the Melbourne Herald, and it's a declining asset in that their circulation is down about 20 per cent and that clearly needs some work. I think it's got to have its authority restored to it. It's allowed the Melbourne Age to get away with the bigger quality act in Melbourne and whereas the Herald used to be the great quality paper of Melbourne.

AGNES WARREN: It took him eight years to achieve his aim. Three years later in 1990, Rupert Murdoch merged the 150-year old Herald and the Sun, the new paper the Herald Sun became Australia's first 24-hour newspaper. Three people who've witnessed many of the changes at Flinders Street are Bea Warren - she worked as Secretary to the Herald Chief of Staff for 40 years; John Fitzgerald - he joined in 1951 and edited the paper in the 1970s; and Kim Lockwood, who has 21 years under his belt. This weekend the Herald & Weekly Times is moving to a tower block south of the Yarra. John Fitzgerald says the move is like splitting up a family.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Oh, I think it's a sad day really, but I mean it's the march of progress and there's not much you can do about it, Agnes. It's a wonderful history that the building's got. It represents the finest in world journalism, not just Australian journalism, because the people who've been through the place have gone on around the world and made names for themselves all over the world. And when Sir Keith Murdoch started it, the old office used to be where the Forum Theatre is now, and they moved up Flinders Street to this spanking new building in the twenties, and from day one it was a real goer. And of course it was a family sort of place too, because they didn't produce just the Herald there, I mean they produced the Sun News Pictorial, and Listener-In, Aircraft, Home Beautiful, the Weekly Times and there were about 2,500 people working in there and printing the papers in there, and everybody knew everybody. It was a 2,500 family, so when you consider it's no longer being used for that, it's very sad for all of us who really cut our teeth in there.

AGNES WARREN: Bea Warren, what sort of a place was it for you to work for 40 years?

BEA WARREN: Oh well, as I say, I would have paid them to work there because it was the most exciting job any girl could have, any secretary. And I was more than a secretary, I always used to call myself privately the Office Manager, because I would look after all the mechanical things like leave and stuff, which I thought was what I was there to do and leave the Chief free to gather news. I had six telephones, so I also took news through those and developed, I think, a bit of a skill for sorting out the dross from the good stuff and getting rid of the 'maddies' was one of my important jobs. We had a lot of 'maddies' ringing up.

JOHN FITZGERALD: It was a great training ground, there's no doubt about that, and you rubbed shoulders with the best of the best; and Sir Keith called the shots - that's Rupert's father - he called the shots, and when you were appointed as a cadet as I was, I came up from Warrnambool to this imposing edifice there, because there was no television of course, and this is where you got the news - the first time you saw the news break was in the newspapers - and it was a different era.

So you came up from Warrnambool as a cadet to get a job, and you got in if you could get past Bea and then Sir Keith would have you to afternoon tea. So you sat down in his office and it was just full of world journalism because he'd been editor of Northcliffe Papers in London and he'd been correspondent at Gallipoli and so on, he'd been there and done it. And you thought 'Now one day, I want to sit the other side of the desk', if you were an ambitious little fellow like I was in those days, and you had afternoon tea, and if you held your cup correctly and you wore a hat when you went out on assignments, then you had a rather good chance of getting a job. It was very, very stylish indeed.

KIM LOCKWOOD: You had to make sure you didn't drink from the finger-bowl.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Yes, I know one or two people who would have done that, too. 'The soup was a bit weak today', you know.

UNIDENTIFIED: The Herald, the Telegraph, the Australian and the Financial Review out! Rupert Murdoch does it again! Another big takeover is on! The Herald, the Telegraph, the Australian and the Financial Review. Rupert Murdoch does it again! Another big takeover is on! All the latest on it!

AGNES WARREN: In 1987, Rupert Murdoch finally bought out the business his father spent a lifetime building. At the time, some said it was an attempt to recapture childhood memories.

BEA WARREN: Well, he was a pleasant young man, but he wasn't pushy. If you didn't know, you wouldn't have been conscious of his background, he never made anything of it really; he had quite a lot of humility, which amuses me now when I think of him how he is now.

JOHN FITZGERALD: He may well have had a lot of humility, but everybody knew who he was. I mean, you weren't very smart if you didn't know who Rupert was at the Herald & Weekly Times at that time.

AGNES WARREN: And what about Rupert Murdoch walking into the building in 1987 and taking over.

JOHN FITZGERALD: That's after my time; Kim was there that day, not me.

KIM LOCKWOOD: Yes, it was exciting. A frisson of fear almost went through the building immediately, and then of course we watched the great battle between Rupert and Holmes a'Court, and the bidding went up and up and up and up until it reached $15 a share and the Board caved in and said 'Rupert, it's yours'.

JOHN FITZGERALD: And all the employees had shares except me. I'd left. You talk about that building you know, when I was thinking about shifting out of that building. When we were young cadets, we didn't know many people in Melbourne, most of us came from the country or something like that you know. The Herald, while they did train people, they preferred trained cadets, and if you'd been working in the country and you'd done 13 reports a day on everything starting with the church sermon and finishing with the grade cricket, then you hit the ground running once ....

BEA WARREN: Oh, they loved country cadets, they were well trained, they did everything.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Yes, you hit the ground running once you got to Flinders Street. But we never wanted to go home because everybody was friendly there, and you'd go out to some boarding house and nobody knew anybody, so we used to spend 15 hours a day in the office. And of course on Saturdays you didn't have to wear a suit or a hat, on Saturday you could wear sports clothes - that was another Sir Keith edict. But we used to race around the central control area where the Reporters' Room, the Telephone Room and all the interstate .. and there was a corridor that went right around and we used to time ourselves and have races on a Saturday to fill in the time before we went out to cover the district cricket or whatever.

And I remember we were having a race one day and John Maher, who later became a famous news director and in fact was Editor of World in action for British Television in Tokyo and so on, was one of the cadets; and he came round the corner and he collected Sir Keith right in the stomach as he rounded the corner - on a pretty good time, too - but anyway, Sir Keith put it down to youthful exuberance.

But it was a very, very funny place. We used to start fairly early, so we'd go over and have a heartstarter about 11 ....

KIM LOCKWOOD: This is after Bea had made you breakfast in the office, remember? On that little toaster machine.

BEA WARREN: Yes, but I remember a very funny exchange: Sir John Williams was impeccable, he had the most beautiful linen and Saville Row suits, and rosy cheeks, always beautifully groomed. Well, there were three of the old drunks coming back from their elevenses one day - there was Tommy Spence, the Brisbane Telegraph rep. who was scruffy; Les Tuck who had grog blossoms all over him, and a club foot; and the third one was Eddy, the Finance Editor. The three old drunks. And they've come back from their elevenses, and Sir John steps out of his office looking perfect, and they turned around and said 'Geez the boss looks crook this morning, doesn't he?'

JOHN FITZGERALD: But in those days you could get a lot of background over a drink, and a newspaper pub was a very important place just where you formed a lot of ideas.

AGNES WARREN: Kim Lockwood has it changed do you think? Has the ethic of journalism changed these days?

KIM LOCKWOOD: Yes, it's changed a lot. The pub business has ceased. It sort of ran down about five, six, seven years ago for some reason, I don't know why. Young people now just don't go to the pub. When I first came down from Darwin after Tracy, you'd go to the Phoenix on a Friday night and you could not move in the Press Bar, you were standing literally crushed, shoulder-to-shoulder, and to get another beer you had to push and shove and force your way through the crowd and then back again. And the noise level, the smoke level, it was absolutely incredible. Now you could shoot a cannon through most of the nearby pubs on a Friday night. Now we're moving down to Southbank ....

JOHN FITZGERALD: They're all drinking Campari, and soda and all these silly drinks.

AGNES WARREN: What's happened, why has it changed so much do you think?

JOHN FITZGERALD: I really don't know, I have no idea what young people do on a Friday night any more.

AGNES WARREN: So how do we look back on all this now - has it changed completely, the business, do you think? Or will these stories just keep rolling on and people will be telling them in twenty years' time?

KIM LOCKWOOD: It's hard to tell. You see we've now gone from a building which was a horizontal layout and designed for the 1920s style of producing newspapers - in fact, it's 72 years and 10 months since we moved into the Flinders Street building - we've gone from that horizontal layout to a vertical layout. We're now at Southgate Tower East, and we're on 11 floors instead of three or four, at the most. Therefore, there's staff separation, much more departmental separation, so attitudes are going to change. We're still going to put out the best newspaper in Australia of course, but internally things are going to be a bit different. We're going to have views, which we've never had, which will brighten our lives a heck of a lot. We've got views right round, so that'll be good.

BEA WARREN: The only view I had from my office at the old Herald was the light well - I had to look into that.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Then they filled that in.

BEA WARREN: Yes, they did, they filled it in.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Anyway, this is part of the game, isn't it. I mean, there is no copy paper any more. I didn't think when they switched over to terminals that I'd ever be able to write copy any more after putting it in the typewriter and then if it wasn't right, taking it out, throwing it in the wastepaper bin and starting off with a new piece of paper. But you adapt.

KIM LOCKWOOD: We've now taken the next step of course. We've now moved to the point at which those fine craftsmen and women of the Composing Room are no longer with us. Everything is done electronically. The reporter writes a story on a terminal, the Sub- Editor edits it on the terminal, the layout person lays out the page on the terminal, presses a button and bingo! It's straight through to the camera- ready stage and on to the presses, with no compositors doing their cut and paste for their cold type make- up.

JOHN FITZGERALD: Well, of course that takes a lot of colour out of the business because ....

BEA WARREN: I was about to say that - the colour in the Reporters' Room was fantastic because you had people shouting for copy boys and people conferring about their stories, and they've got these damn terminals in ....

JOHN FITZGERALD: ... and just the noise of the typewriters - clacketty, clack, clack clack.

BEA WARREN: Exactly, and when they got the terminals, silence descended, you might say.

JOHN FITZGERALD: But if you had mates in the Composing Room, they could do wonders for you in getting material into the paper at the last minute, because we were working in hot metal, and there is the famous story which I've told many times of the night on the Sun when Trevor O'Brien, the Head Printer of the Sun News Pictorial at half-past twelve, suddenly was flattened by George Sharp, who was the Head Reader, and they all came rushing over and they said 'What did you do that for George?' And George had been a pugilist of some note in the days of Jimmy Sharman's Boxing Troupe, and he said, 'He reckons there was a 'c' in aquarium'. So he decked him. There's no other way. If anybody says there's a 'c' in aquarium it's not worth talking to him - flatten him!

BEA WARREN: The aftermath to that, he was called in to see Sir John Williams, George, and George was terrified that he was going to be in trouble. And Sir John gave him half a dozen bottles of beer and he said, 'I've always wanted somebody to job him'.

AGNES WARREN: Bea Warren, John Fitzgerald and Kim Lockwood. In its heyday there was 500 people working in the Composing Room, setting the type and making up pages that were sent on to the Platemakers and then to the huge presses. Computers have put the Comps., as they were called, out of business. Laurie McGinley, Bruce Miller, Keith Freestone, Kim Hayes, and Patrick Patterson, have clocked up 130 years between them at Flinders Street.

LAURIE MCGINLEY: We didn't have air conditioning and it was very hot, and our pages used to go under a press called a Winkler - the heat from those, you couldn't touch the metal formes when they came out, and on a hot day the sweat was pouring off you and you still had to work for the edition. And we had our own sort of modern drinking equipment - we had rubbish bins, and of a morning we'd get blocks of ice and toss them in the rubbish bins, and then somebody with dirty, inky hands - very health and safety conscious we were - would cut up bags of lemons, toss in a bit of water and that was our air conditioning for the day! And we thought we were pretty first-class! No, that's all it was, just water and just the lemons, just to cool you down - we didn't have any water coolers or anything like that in those days, did we Bruce?

BRUCE MILLER: Nothing. In fact, they had water sprinklers up on the roof that used to rotate just spraying water over the roof to try to cool the place down a little bit. And it was hard times. We started at 7 in the morning and the last paper would go to press about 20 to 6 at night. At that time there was six o'clock closing, and the fellows, being very hot, would like a drink. By the time they'd cleaned up and got out of the place, the pubs would be shut at six o'clock. So someone would sneak off early and go to the pub across the road, the Phoenix or the Astoria up the hill, get half a dozen pots for his mates, they'd all knock off, dash over, drop these down and away they'd stagger off home to catch the train. They were hard days.

KEITH FREESTONE: It was a very, very high pressure job, and many a time I've seen guys during the hot metal days, they'd finish making up pages and just about get to the Winkler, and you'd have to slide these things on, and of course the chases would be maybe the half-inch gap, and the type wouldn't be made up tight enough and it would all just disappear and the whole thing would just disappear on the floor. And this may be five minutes before edition time.

AGNES WARREN: And that's the front page.

KEITH FREESTONE: And that's front page. And everybody would just hop in and re-do the whole thing as quick as you could, you know, it was that sort of comradeship that got the whole thing through. It really did. It was good stuff.

AGNES WARREN: How long ago were the hot metal days and what have we changed since then?

KIM HAYES: The last page here was in 1983, so that's only 12 years ago. So since then we've gone to what we call cold type which is paste-up, and it's a lot cleaner, they're in air-conditioned comfort. The conditions are much easier, you're not lugging pages around and mounts which are very heavy, and very physical work in those days when you were getting everything set up. But now it's an office- type environment.

PATRICK PATTERSON: There was one Sub- Editor that came in, he'd had a few too many one night, and he wasn't too sure what he was doing, so the Comps covered him .. because he was up-front, he'd had a few and ....

KIM HAYES: Tired and emotional was the term they used. Tired and emotional.

PATRICK PATTERSON: And he was covered, you know, we covered his job for him - cuts were done, or headlines had to be done, we could get someone to do that, or get someone to cover for him, but never let on to his superior downstairs that he was too - as Bruce says - tired and emotional to continue.

KEITH FREESTONE: What about The Baron, you know - speaking about a guy who used to be here. He was a very good Comp., a very good hot metal Comp.

AGNES WARREN: What makes a good Comp.?

PATRICK PATTERSON: They're born, not made.

KEITH FREESTONE: Yes, I agree with that, you're born with it, you're not made - you've got to be very, very cool under pressure, extremely cool, and able to think very clearly. And of course The Baron was to my mind about the best I've ever seen at that sort of thing. And of course they were a bit late with the racing tips and the page was going, so he wrote his own racing tips and put them in. The only trouble was he got seven out of eight right. He got first, seven out of eight. So not a word was said, a big cover-up, very, very well done - yes, thank you, thank you. And as I said, it was just one of those things that you help people out with. But he was extremely good.

PATRICK PATTERSON: I liked the hot metal days, I thought it was terrific. I liked the pressure, and I liked the camaraderie that you had with other people. You could have a journalist come up and he'd write his story and he'd come up to sub it on the stone. And of course we'd all read the story beforehand off the proofs and probably 90 per cent of the people would disagree with the story, and you'd have an absolute fight, absolute cat and dog fight it was, you know. And I can remember in two instances where the journalist went downstairs crying, actually crying because the people had torn his story to pieces, and he'd put a lot of effort into it. But he'd come back the next day and the story would be better. What he was writing was better and it sort of improved everything, more and more and more until it got to that stage where the guys who wrote the stories wouldn't come up onto the stone unless they had all the answers. And that's the way it was you know. It was that sort of a place.

KEITH FREESTONE: We all considered the Editorial people from up here in the Comp. Room, we considered Editorial people as the enemy, and they considered us the enemy, and Advertising, they were the enemy to Editorial and the enemy to us; this was a great big convoluted circle, that everybody hated each other, but we all did our jobs together. But all the time the Comp. Room would save Editorial from their mistakes, the Advertising from their mistakes, even the Press Room - we'd save their bacon a lot of the time. But when the Comp. Room made a mistake, there was no-one to save us.

UNIDENTIFIED: They never wanted to.

KEITH FREESTONE: They never wanted to; it was their only opportunity to get us, and when we made a blue Laurie, we made a good blue.

AGNES WARREN: And what were they? How many stuff-ups were there?

KEITH FREESTONE: Oh, there's only about one, in my memory, in 22 years.

LAURIE MCGINLEY: I suppose to go out with the wrong dateline on the front page, and I suppose that's happened a couple of times over the years, and all the checking procedures we've put in place, it still happens, it's amazing. They were nightmares, when somebody would ring up and say 'You've got the wrong date on' you know, and you could just feel the ground opening up. And then you get these wonderful comments from superiors to say, 'How did it happen?' If you knew how it happened, you never would have bloody-well done it, would you?

KEITH FREESTONE: Then you'd hear 3AW, 'The Herald Sun have got the wrong date - oh, I think I've brought the wrong day's paper here'. And then of course you'd get people coming from the Production Office coming with 30-foot long banners 'The date of today's paper is ....' and it would be stretched right down the Comp. Room Floor and the crack just wasn't big enough to get into.

AGNES WARREN: So you're not allowed to forget your mistakes in this business.

LAURIE MCGINLEY: No. You're in the Public Library for reference.

AGNES WARREN: The Comps. who haven't taken redundancy packages have been retrained and are heading down to the Southside of the river. They're among 800 staff and 700 computers completing the move this weekend. Rick Swinard is managing the move.

RICK SWINARD: We've got eleven floors in HWT Tower, and one floor across from the IBM Centre next door, which is where the Australian Editorial Department is going to be located, as well as the Royal Children's Hospital Appeal Office is also located, on Level 2 of the IBM Centre. The Editorial operation, which is our largest single department, is spread over effectively four-and-a-half floors in here - 9, 10, 11, 12 and part of 13. Advertising occupies Levels 5, 6 and 7. Our Circulation Department takes up most of Level 4, so we've got about 16,000 square metres of space here.

Quite a different set-up to what we had at Flinders Street, which as you know is a very large flat building, and here we're going to a very tall building, so the communication will go from being of a horizontal nature as it were, to a vertical nature. And largely for that reason, we've installed internal stairs linking all the Editorial floors and also stairs linking the Advertising floors, just to enable people to have good access vertically, without having to jump into a lift every time they want to go somewhere. So we think the building's going to be highly functional from a newspaper production point of view.

AGNES WARREN: It's very clean and very orderly.

RICK SWINARD: Well, it is, and you might say that's a contrast to Flinders Street. But Flinders Street, for all its faults, and I suppose faults are inevitable when you look at a building that's 73 years old - but it was functional in its own way, but steadily becoming dysfunctional. A lot of the systems were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain, the building systems, air conditioning and so forth. So the time was ripe for us to relocate, and what better place for the Herald Sun to be than on the south bank of the Yarra? And the most exciting part of Melbourne right now. It's becoming quite an arts and media precinct around here, with the ABC of course on Southbank Boulevard; you've got the Arts Centre and all those other arts-related facilities; and then The Herald & Weekly Times being here just really completes I think a fantastic arts and media precinct for Melbourne.

AGNES WARREN: And is this the Newsroom?

RICK SWINARD: This is the Newsroom. We have this raised area here which is where what we call the Backbench will operate. These are the people at the nerve centre if you like, of the daily newspaper production for the Herald Sun and then the Sunday paper. And this is an area where the paper really gets stitched together in the evening, and sent off to Westgate Park to be printed. You'd be aware, of course, of our fantastic printing site out at Westgate Park. So this building really, with all the technology and the state-of-the-art facilities and the comfort levels, if you like, for staff, really complements that fabulous $340 million printing plant out at Westgate Park. So HWT we think, is better positioned than any other newspaper in Australia, if not many other countries in the world for the sort of demands of newspaper communication, publishing communication, in the emerging century.

AGNES WARREN: So what's the technology here? When you're talking about in with the new, what sort of gear will they be using here to print the paper?

RICK SWINARD: Well, the printing plant, as I said, is out at Westgate Park. All the pre-press activity will take place in this building. In fact, we've installed over at Flinders Street a new state-of-the-art what's called a Cybergraphic Editorial System. This is a system that really brings right into the editorial function the total make-up of the newspaper. And sadly, it eliminates that level of skill that used to be provided by compositors. And those skill levels have been overtaken by the new technology and this allows us to go to full page make-up on terminals, on this very floor in fact.

And what happens there is that the Advertising Department creates an electronic dummy of the newspaper showing where the advertising placements are; our journalists, sub- editors and layout subs, they then put text into those spaces left on those pages, and those pages are then outputted and transmitted to Westgate Park where our plate-making activity takes place, and of course the presses start rolling and a few hours later we have something like 560,000 copies of the Herald Sun being distributed around Victoria.

AGNES WARREN: So all the tradesmen, if you like, have really left the operation.

RICK SWINARD: The old trades have left the operation. There is still a requirement and still in place tradesmen of another type. But certainly the old printing skills and the compositing skills have changed dramatically on most advanced newspapers right around the world, and of course we're no exception. The technology we now have in place here at HWT Tower at Southgate really brings us right up to the leading edge of any newspaper company in the world as far as our pre-press and our press activities are concerned. When you look at the combination of what we are able to do in this building, combined with what we've got out at Westgate Park, we really are in a fantastic position to exploit the opportunities of the future.

AGNES WARREN: Rick Swinard. The old building is to become a car park, offices and shops, and nearby pubs are in danger of going out of business.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes, it's really the only place that I've worked in where the in-house phone directory, where they've got the nearest hotel to the Herald here, and if you needed somebody, you rang that extension number and got them out of the hotel to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED: A direct line to the Phoenix from there. You don't have to ring out, you just dial the extension and you get through. Always has been. Always has been.

AGNES WARREN: And so the move to the Southgate, how do people feel about that?

UNIDENTIFIED: I think most of the people here who are going over, I think they're enjoying it, they will enjoy it, they should enjoy it. It's a whole new technology, a new ball game. We've gone the same way as the sword makers and the armoury makers, we've all gone the same way.

UNIDENTIFIED: The horse and cart.

UNIDENTIFIED: Exactly, yes. We've had our fun, and it has been fun.

UNIDENTIFIED: We can remember the good times, a lot of good times.

UNIDENTIFIED: I suppose I'll have the times too, but they've got to establish a tradition down at Southgate, the same as a tradition was established here.

AGNES WARREN: Laurie McGinley, Bruce Miller, Keith Freestone, Kim Hayes and Patrick Patterson.

That's it from the Media Report. Thanks to Margot Foster for her work on the program this year. Next week, we begin our summer season with a report on the rise of the video news release.