BACK in 2010, driving home with a car load of old photographic negatives piled in boxes across the back seat of the car, I already knew somehow that this was a big event.
I’d bought the negs at auction, and didn’t really know quite what the contents were, other than there seemed to be lots of Newcastle and Hunter scenes. But this serendipitous purchase turned out to be life-changing, since the negs formed the basis of a book, Newcastle the Missing Years – so named because the images from the 1930s and 1940s covered a period seldom seen in Novocastrian photographic collections.
This year my wife Sylvia and I reprinted Missing Years, making a total of eight impressions so far and bringing sales of that title to almost 20,000. When it first appeared in 2010 Missing Years was something of a sensation, selling out its first print run of 5000 copies in just three weeks.
We doubt we’ll ever see such success again, but that first book whet our appetite for publishing, leading to another six titles.
Last year I left my three-decade job as a writer at the Newcastle Herald to concentrate on book publishing, with the first fruit of that venture appearing in bookshops and newsagencies last month.
The Way We Worked is a photographic survey of some of the jobs and workplaces of the Hunter’s past, spanning a period from the 1800s to the 1960s and 1970s and offering glimpses of people at work in mining, heavy industry, retail, the media, emergency services and much more.
We have optimistically sub-titled the book “Volume 1”, in the expectation of producing one or two sequels on the same theme, but taking in industries and workplaces not touched in this year’s book.
It’s a huge field: The wealth of material available means we could probably do four or five books on the same general theme. But there’s a few other projects we need to deal with before we can come back to that.
The Great War
One of those is due for publication next March – timed to coincide with a dinner celebrating the centenary of the Newcastle Sub-branch of the RSL – and we’ve been almost fully occupied with this job for most of the past half-year.
The planned book, The Hunter Region in the Great War, was originally commissioned by Herald Editor Chad Watson while I was still working at the paper, but it has changed in character and grown in scope and scale in the year since I left.
Essentially it’s an attempt to give some perspective on some aspects of World War I, both on the battlefield and the home-front, as seen by some people who were there to experience it directly.
The book includes a short history of the Newcastle RSL sub-branch – the second-oldest in NSW – and war researcher David Dial’s enormous nominal roll of Hunter Region enlistees.
We hope to have a bit of a spell for a while. Two books in one year has been an effort, so we need a break. But then we are talking to Ron and Liz Morrison about producing a new book featuring some of their huge personal collection of negatives taken around the Hunter in the 1960s, when the Morrisons were running their own press agency.
So far all of our books have been printed in Newcastle, a fact some critics describe as “poor business practice”, since printing in China is cheaper. But we hope to resist the off-shoring temptation indefinitely.
While I was at the Herald I wrote column after column about supporting local jobs and looking after our own region. Sylvia and I agree very strongly about that, and so far we’ve both mostly been really happy with the quality of printing right here in Newcastle.