ACT News


And there's ink in his blood still

Jim Woods, OAM, 99, would be remarkable enough just for his great age (''I was born in Temora on the 11th of the 11th, 1913, and that's a long time ago!'') but this reporter sallied forth to interview him because he is the founder and inspiration of a dazzlingly fine local museum.

The Queanbeyan Age printing museum is a stimulating establishment that I blush to confess to never having heard of until a fortnight ago. Anxious to atone, I've just spent an enlightening afternoon there talking to Woods and marvelling at the still-working printing contraptions of yesteryear. ''We could print a newspaper tomorrow,'' he claims.

At the museum, Woods, who was boss of The Queanbeyan Age until it was sold to Rural Press in 1994, explains that he set out along what he calls the ''inky way'' (a life in printing and newspapers) when he was only six.

One day in Temora his sturdy little legs took him a different way home from school and he came across a small crowd of paperboys outside the office of the local newspaper. He joined their queue, took six newspapers, and away he went to sell them on the streets. His first customer was an uncle who to little Jim's joy told him to keep the change. An affection for newspapers was ignited then and has never been snuffed out. He kept selling papers until he was 14, the age at which you could leave school in those days. The Temora newspaper proprietor offered him a job printing the local papers with contraptions very like those that today decorate his museum.

Lack of space means that we must take a flying leap forward across Jim Woods' illustrious history and plonk him down in Queanbeyan, in 1956, after already achieving great professional feats with rural newspapers (more than 10 of them) elsewhere in NSW.

He was 45 (with a wife and two sons) and because he was so famously good at running rural newspapers he was what we would call today ''head-hunted'' to take over the Age.


''So I accepted and I came here. I came here as the owner, the everything, the bloke that ran the thing. I came here to a broken-down paper that was absolutely disgusting.'' He set about transforming a disgusting enterprise into a thriving and respectable one. He sold it, with great sadness, for retirement seemed to print an inky full stop at the end of his long ''inky way'' among rural newspapers, to Rural Press in 1994. He was 81.

But it turned out not to be the end of the inkiness. One day in Queanbeyan ''I was visiting the dry cleaners and I saw my old machines [at the Age] being thrown out by Rural Press. And I said 'Jeez, that's terrible!' So I went up and stopped them. I rang up John Fairfax (Rural Press owner and supremo) and I said 'I can do something with those machines'.''

And he has gone on to do something with them because, having pestered the local council for some premises (''I told them I only needed a tin shed because that was all we'd ever had at the Age) he was given the rather sumptuous shed of the old motor registry, and the museum was born.

The dream of the museum came to him because, even though all his working life he's been a highly practical, utterly hands-on man (he laughs to remember how he was always far too busy producing the paper to talk to John Fairfax when the mogul visited the Age premises) he loves newspapers and printing and their history in ways that are hard to express. They have been his whole life. You see the same inarticulate love at work in the workmanlike men who dote on railway steam engines.

The point of his museum, he explains (and though we call it his museum it has a staff of knowledgeable print and print-history geeks) is to show how printing was done until quite recent times. The transformation of the industry has been sudden and incredible.

''So I thought this would be a great thing for the town to have, for this and future generations. You'd be surprised at the people that come here … they never dreamed there was once all this work in printing a paper. The surprises they get!''

There are echoes in Jim Woods' career of the career of the great Queanbeyan newspaper proprietor and journalist John Gale, claimed by some to be the Father of Canberra because of his visionary advocacy of Canberra as the site for the federal capital city. Gale, revered by Woods, is present everywhere in the museum and there is even, donated to the museum, exactly the same model of primitive 19th century printer John Gale used when he began printing in Queanbeyan in the 1860s. It is a sweet machine, decorated with embossed acorns and oak leaves, and is, as someone will demonstrate for you, in working order.

John Gale (April 17, 1831 - July 15, 1929) lived to a great age and Woods pretends, laughing, that there's been a kind of friendly competition between the two great newspapermen to see if Woods could outlive Gale.

''And [laughing] I've got past him,'' Woods notes. ''I'm older than he got to be. If he's looking on he's saying 'You go for it, son! One hundred would be good!''

There will be a little more of Jim Woods and his museum in next Monday's Gang-gang column.

The Queanbeyan Age Printing Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 2pm to 4pm. Groups are catered for. Inquiries to the Queanbeyan Visitors Centre, 6298 0241.