Penrith Museum of PrintingPosted: December 4, 2022 Filed under: Western Sydney | Tags: letterpress printing, penrith, penrith museum of printing, print museum 12 Comments
The jacaranda trees are in flower around the Paceway, and a carpet of mauve petals surrounds the unassuming green shed that houses the Museum of Printing. Apart from the row of flags which announce the museum is open, swaying in the wind, and the magpies pecking at the lawn by the racing track, all is still. It is Sunday morning and, apart from the sound of the traffic on Mulgoa Road, it would seem like not much is happening in this quiet corner of Penrith.
Inside the museum it is a different story. At first I’m not sure what to expect from the sign that promises I’m about to meet the Linotype machine, the Eighth Wonder of the World. I am not quite able to imagine what lies behind the folding doors with a print of woodcut of a 15th century printing workshop on them. As an introduction, a display cabinet in the lobby has a display of various pieces of printerly ephemera: an invitation to the Copy Boy’s Picnic, instruction manuals and samples of type. I’m looking at this when the doors open and one of the museum guides welcomes me in.
It is busy in the print museum: every corner of it has a volunteer working away at something. One man has the top of one of the machines open and is cleaning it with a strong-smelling solvent, dipping a paintbrush into a saucepan, then leaning down into the mechanism to apply it. In the back corner, two men work with trays of type, and on the other side of the room, another operates a printing press. There’s a whirring, rattling sound as the press operates, which resounds through the room. It is as busy as I imagine print shops were when machines such as these produced anything printed: newspapers, books, office stationery, leaflets, everything before printing technology changed and these kinds of machines were thought to be redundant. Many of them were scrapped, but others, like these machines in the museum, have been saved by the efforts of printers who worked with them for decades, cared about their historical significance, and wanted to see them preserved.
Everything here works, the guide tells me, gesturing to the printing presses and the linotype machines. One tall iron press at the back of the room is painted green and has a gold eagle on the top: a weight, the guide tells me, not just a decoration. It is a Columbian Press, which was used to print the Carcoar Chronicle and then had another life on display in the foyer of Fairfax: the first copies of the Sydney Morning Herald had been printed on a similar press.
As we move around the museum, parts of the story are taken up by each of the volunteers. A compositor tells me how you could handset type as small as 2 point, so small it was barely readable, just by knowing the location of it in the case. He asks my name and, quick as a flash, hovers his hand over a tray of type and my name is set, upside down and back to front, in the composing stick. For posters they would use big blocks of wooden type, to print things like headline display posters, the kind that would be put outside of newsagencies. Another compositor tells me that, when Elvis died in 1977, they had used the largest letters of all to make the headline announcing this, as if that didn’t happen very often.
On to the eighth wonder of the world: the linotype machine. The man with the saucepan and brush pauses his cleaning operations and turns to show me how the Intertype – a tall and complex metal cabinet with a small keyboard at the base – operated. It had been invented in the 1880s by a watchmaker, he told me, who applied the mechanics of watch movements to devising a typesetting machine that would cast text out of molten lead, line by line.
The typesetter sits at the keyboard and types out a line of text, activating the machine, which rattles into life. The matrices – the metal pieces used to cast the type – drop down from a cabinet above and move through the machine with such precise, swift action that, by the end of the demonstration, I agree it is indeed a wonder. The typesetter had worked in a room that had 136 of them, noisily churning out the daily news. You were paid by the line, he told me, and if the machine malfunctioned you had to ring a bell that would bring the mechanic over to fix it. All major newspapers had rooms of linotype machines, like this one from around 1930, at the Sydney Morning Herald.
So I continue around the museum, seeing each of the machines in action. The largest of the presses, the Wharfedale Press, had begun the museum’s collection, along with other machines that had printed the Nepean Times, a local paper that had ceased operation in the 1960s. The inventor of the Wharfedale, the printer told me, would, when he was devising it, wake up in the night and sketch out ideas for the mechanism on his bedhead. Printers, I note, are drawn to details and idiosyncrasies. They seem to have a great respect or even love for the machines that they operate: feeding in sheets of paper, typing out lines of text, activating the foot pedal that drives the press to make its impressions.
The museum has been here, in the green shed at the corner of the paceway, for over twenty years, and is unique in its status as a working print museum. A few days before visiting I had been alarmed to hear that, with a proposed new sports stadium development in the planning, they are threatened with eviction. While known and loved in the printing community, the museum has a quieter presence in Penrith than other attractions: the prominently signposted Museum of Fire, or the ever-growing Panthers. The museum faces an uncertain future, but for now, the machines print on.
Thank you to Stephanus, Graham, John, George and all at the Penrith Museum of Printing.
Penrith Arcades Project MapPosted: July 10, 2013 Filed under: Maps, Western Sydney | Tags: creative cartography, penrith, penrith arcades project Leave a comment
I’ll be reading a story based on the Penrith Arcades Project this Saturday, July 13th, at the Penrith Regional Gallery, as part of Penguin Plays Rough, from 3pm – come to hear stories and pick up a copy of this map to begin your own High Street adventure.
Penrith Arcades ProjectPosted: July 5, 2013 Filed under: Shops, Western Sydney | Tags: ghost signs, high street penrith, penrith, penrith arcades 8 Comments
There are two areas to shop in Penrith, the grey hulk of the Westfield shopping centre or High Street, a long, straight street of shops with arcades leading off it like secret passageways.
Westfield has the predictable atmosphere shared by mega malls the world over: a repetition of chain retailers in a climate controlled environment, sealed away from the world outside. The businesses that don’t fit into Westfield populate High Street.
This is the part of town with the op shops, party supplies and hobby stores, the new age shops, bargain stores and independent retailers. Along High Street there are at least 14 arcades, making it the most arcade-heavy shopping area in greater Sydney. They are not the Victorian-era arcades that might immediately come to mind upon hearing the word, but rather their 1960s and 70s equivalents, built at a time when the boundaries of Sydney’s suburban sprawl were stretching towards the west. Large malls were new on the scene and slowly began to appear around Sydney, but small suburban shopping arcades sprung up all over the suburbs.
If there is one person whose name will be forever linked with arcades and what they represent it is Walter Benjamin. His unfinished Arcades Project is a vast collection of ideas, aphorisms and fragments gathered about and around the Parisian arcades of the nineteenth century. When Benjamin began the project in the 1920s the Paris arcades were well in decline. It was their anachronistic, mysterious presence that attracted him, and in his earliest writing on the arcades he refers to them as “a past become space”, full of mysterious signs, strange objects, “antiquated trades” and vacant stores containing only few traces of their previous occupants. Despite the differences in time and location, Penrith’s arcades share something of this mystery and link to the past. What kinds of signs and objects do they contain?
A Penrith Arcades Project must begin with Memory Mall, which has round neon signs spelling out its name in cursive above each entrance. The arcade derives its name from Memory Park across the street, with its war memorial, palm trees, and annual dawn service on Anzac Day. Memorial parks are a fairly common civic place, but a memory mall isn’t so clear a connection. What kinds of memories come along with malls? Memory Mall makes me recall my 1980s childhood and visiting shopping arcades with their potted plants (which I’d test to see if they were real), little specialist shops, and atmosphere of extended domesticity: there was something about these arcades that was almost like a house in their mixture of public and private, interior and exterior.
High Street Penrith has long been a shopping street and in some ways it isn’t so different today from how it was in the 1920s, when tea rooms, barbers, bakeries and estate agencies lined it. By the 1950s there were Greek milk bars and a movie theatre and electricals stores where people would cluster to watch the televisions through the windows. By the 1970s, Penrith had a Penrith Plaza, a shopping mall that was the precursor to today’s Westfield, and the High Street shops had been tunnelled through with arcades.
In 1985 High Street was blocked off to traffic and made into a pedestrian mall. The slogan of High Street Mall was “It’s bright, it’s friendly, it’s yours”, and a series of brightly coloured canopies were erected between the stores. This was to only last ten years, and by 1996, the street was open to traffic again, although the arcades remained.
While some arcades, like Memory Mall, are populated with businesses others are ghostly, such as the Nepean Walkway Arcade. The Nepean Walkway and the now unsignposted Carvan Arcade across from it are the easternmost of the High Street arcades. Nepean Walkway keeps its roller shutter partially down and its entrance is flanked by a tobacconist and a funeral parlour.
The majority of the shops are for lease, apart from Lorraine’s. The hand made sign for Lorraine’s describes the merchandise as “hand made baby’s wear and pretty dolls”. Peering through the window, as the store is shut, I can see this for myself. Lorraine’s sells hand knitted baby jumpers, devotional items, tapestries and 70s beauty guides. These are displayed on a series of long tables in a jumble of objects and bright colours. As I peer in, the beady eyes of a trio of nun dolls, wearing knitted black habits, stare back at me.
Further along High Street, past Memory Park, is another arcade, The Cottage Lane.
The awning displays the names of previous businesses – Floraison Design, Power of Beauty, Devine Creations – as well as the one remaining listed business, Prima Ballerina ballet shop. It is next to Behind the Mask Fancy Dress store, with a window display of masks and a leering Incredible Hulk on the sign at the back of the arcade. The Cottage Lane is Penrith’s fantasy arcade, where people come for their tutus, masks and costumes. Across from these stores is a mainstay of Penrith’s arcades, a new age store, this one offering psychic readings. A hand made sign spells out “please come in and say hi” in sparkly letters, with the rates for half hour and hourly readings.
I have no need to consult my fate, I know it, at least for the next few hours. I leave The Cottage Lane and take a few steps to the entrance of the NK Centre, the next arcade.
The NK Centre is a solid, brick building with arched windows on the upper storey, tinted so there is no clue as to what goes on inside. The NK Centre has a store which also offers psychic readings, but the most activity occurs in two shops at the back of the arcade, where the cake decorating store faces off against the wool shop. Which hobby will I choose?
Inside the Wool Inn, a queue of people wait at the counter for advice from women wearing hand knitted jumpers. The store is stacked with plump balls of wool and knitting patterns, in as much abundance as the cake tins and figurines in One Stop Cake Decorations across the arcade. I choose the cake decorating shop, never having been a knitter, and look through drawers of plastic decorations spelling out “Happy Birthday”, a rack of every imaginable shape of cookie cutter, cake tins shaped like ladybugs and monsters, and shelves of figurines: bowlers, ice skating couples, football players.
These stores sell small pieces of future. One Stop Cake Decorations contains the potential of celebrations yet to come, birthdays, successes and surprises, as the Wool Inn holds the potential of future jumpers. The neatly stacked balls of wool will be transformed into thick winter cardigans, or novice knitters’ first scarves.
To walk through the NK Centre arcade, under the yellow grid pattern light fittings which stripe the arcade’s ceiling every few metres, is to pass the inscructable black shopfront of “Your Best Life C3 Church”, counsellors’ rooms, and Buddhist statues in the gift shop. The NK Centre is the arcade of hobbies and spiritual guidance.
Back out on High Street, across from the NK Centre, is an old sign just visible behind the protruding boards advertising Nepean Pizzas and Charcoals above the awning. Words are painted in the arches above the three windows:
Pelmets. Blinds. Advice.
This is the sign of a long-gone store (a pelmet, for those who don’t know, and this included me until now, is the piece of fabric that goes along the top of the window to hide the curtain rail), I imagine this store as having the same kind of function as the psychic services in the arcades: their advice extending beyond curtains. Who better to offer advice than those expert in concealing and revealing what goes on inside buildings?
This part of High Street has the highest density of arcades. As I walk down the street I look for their entrances: some are more obvious than others. The High Street entrance of Elizabeth Arcade is an unassuming doorway with a few signs for the businesses to be found within. Every arcade’s entrance is also an exit, and each arcade has two faces, the face it turns to High Street and the face it turns to the carparks and laneways behind them. Even if people don’t shop in the arcades they use them as thoroughfares, and in the more dimly lit arcades the people at the opposite end look like advancing shadows.
Elizabeth Arcade is one of Penrith’s blue arcades. The High Street facade is painted pale blue and the carpark-facing side is royal blue, with round-edged signs that look like giant capsules with the names of businesses printed on them: Ye’s Shoes, Elizabeth Arcade Book Shop. Outside the bookstore people browse the cheap books on tables in the arcade, novels, guidebooks, pet owners’ manuals and gift books. Propped up among these is a copy of a book that every household must have owned in the 1970s, for there are so many of them secondhand: Dinkum Dunnies.
High Street’s other blue arcades are Broadwalk, an open arcade on the other side of the street from Elizabeths, and the Calokerinos Arcade, its angular blue roofline the same colour as the sky. Calokerinos is now permanently closed, shutters down, awaiting redevelopment, even though of all the arcades it has the most stylish facade.
One of the mainstays of Penrith’s arcades are hairdressers, and most arcades include at least one barber or hair salon. Of all of them, Rod’s Hair Shoppe in the City Central Arcade has the most ingenious signage. At the carpark entrance to the arcade the drainage downpipe has been painted to look like a barber’s pole. Rod’s Hair Shoppe, in which a couple of fidgety boys sit waiting for their haircuts, is next to another salon, Male Look Hairdressing, although on closer inspection, Rod seems to run both premises. Next to Male Look is yet another hairdresser, Afro Varieties, where a woman is having her hair plaited into many tiny rows.
In the Parker Arcade across the street there are more salons, Exquisite Hair and Beauty, with roses painted on the window and another men’s salon, Man About Town “gents hair stylist”. I imagine the clients of these men’s salons to be something like this man from Maxim’s Hairdressing, back in the Nepean Walkway. Hopefully if another business rents this shop they will keep him on the window.
Upstairs in the Parker Arcade is the college where you learn to cut hair before your graduate to working in the arcades, Active Career College. Many of the arcades have businesses upstairs, small colleges or solicitors offices, places which offer services rather than products and can hide away above street level. The stairwells leading to these upper levels, with their exposed bricks and worn steps, lead me to imagine 70s style offices with clunky telephones and secretaries wiping dust from the leaves of indoor plants.
On the corner of Station Street is the Penrith Centre, the largest structure of all the arcades, with pebblecrete rendering and shingle tile awnings. Inside the arcade the floor is made of alternate panels of brown tiles and linoleum, with parlour palms (real) in pots beside burgundy benches. Outside Polly’s Beads, yet another arcade hobby shop, there is a set of rigid-looking tables and chairs, painted in the same burgundy. Although the arcades have many stylistic similarities: strip lighting, brown tiles, ceilings made up of white striped panelling, each has a particularity – a colour, an atmosphere – to discern it from the others.
Skipton’s Arcade, across from the Penrith Centre, also features pebblecrete but differs from the other arcades in that it has an atrium in the centre, letting in the daylight. Pebblecrete stairs lead to the upper levels and the real estate coaching business, as well as the Penrith Guitar School. This must be the place to go to learn classical guitar, judging by their elegant logo of an acoustic guitar resting against an open book of sheet music. The G4 Guitar School back in the City Centre Arcade teaches a different style of guitar.
The final arcade on High Street is Riverlands, at the end of High Street.
Across from Riverlands the grey wall of Westfield stretches out, seemingly endlessly, behind a screen of eucalypts. There’s a quilting store, Hair Fanatics “fanatical about your hair”, and The Shoe Shed, with a window display of one of every possible kind of women’s flat shoe: leopard print with bows, fluoro yellow with black studs on the toe, pink with a decorative buckle. Next to the Shoe Shed is Derby Skates, a Roller Derby supply store, the doors decorated with a large image of a group of sneering Derby women in skates, making it impossible to look through and see if anyone was inside.
I walk through Riverlands Arcade to the carpark, where a sign listing the businesses inside (some still there, some not) is moored among the rows of cars. It includes three hair salons and a sewing shop, a bowls shop and a “coffee house”. Has the roller derby store replaced the bowls shop? I ponder this for a moment, then turn and retrace my steps to High Street, at the end of my arcades adventure.
Having zig zagged my way through the tiled and pebbled interior of High Street, I look back along it. The buildings are a patchwork of different facades with landmarks standing out from the rest: the Penrith Centre, the bright blue fin of the Calorkerinos Arcade roof, an old ad for Reuben F. Scarf Hand Tailored Suits, the serifed letters of SUITS golden in the afternoon sun. People walking down High Street disappear into arcades, to have their hair cut or buy cake decorating supplies, or just to walk back to their cars, past the pretty dolls in Lorraine’s and the temptation of a psychic reading, and the For Lease signs that make them remember what used to be there, or imagine what might be.