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Full stop for Chullora print plant after 19 years

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Features and investigations journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald

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End of an era: Greg Dewstow at the Chullora printing press on its last night of printing. The press will be sold off as scrap metal.

End of an era: Greg Dewstow at the Chullora printing press on its last night of printing. The press will be sold off as scrap metal. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Stop the paper, halt the trucks; cut the power and padlock the gates - the Chullora printers have called it a day. After 19 years, thousands of scoops and enough page ones to circle the globe, the presses at Fairfax's Chullora plant produced their final edition on Friday night.

''I couldn't sleep last night,'' said operations and logistics manager Greg Dewstow, who has been a Fairfax printer for 30 years. ''All the guys are the same. We simply can't believe that today is the day it all stops.''

The 50,000 square metre printing plant, completed in 1995 at a cost of $340 million, was part of a push by Fairfax to centralise its printing operations after the close of its Broadway and Condell Park sites.

Final edition: Fairfax's printing press in Chullora rolled out its final Sydney Morning Herald.

Final edition: Fairfax's printing press in Chullora rolled out its final Sydney Morning Herald. Photo: Wolter Peeters

The plant was world class, a perfectly streamlined end-to-end system, automated and integrated, with five colossal Colorman presses and laser guided forklifts, cutters and folders and strappers and stackers, all of it crisscrossed from above by kilometres of conveyor belts and snaggletoothed feeder lines. At peak capacity, in 2006, Chullora was printing 92 separate production runs a week, spitting out millions of copies of Fairfax papers big and small, from The Sydney Morning Herald to the Sutherland Shire Leader.

''We never lost a single edition,'' IT and pre-press manager Ian Wood said. ''Accidents, breakdowns, industrial action - nothing ever stopped us getting the paper out.''

The 200-strong staff were also a form of quality control, picking up errors in the early editions - misspelt headlines, wrong dates, even missing advertisements - and quickly notifying head office.

Mr Dewstow is the only employee to retain his job.

''Most of the guys have between 15 and 38 years of service. It's just very sad,'' he said.

But there is a silver lining. When the redundancies were announced, the Chullora workers had accrued $24,710 in their union fund. Rather than simply refund the money, members have agreed to donate it to the Starlight Foundation. ''They are really proud of that,'' Mr Dewstow said. ''And funnily enough, in a really trying time, donating that money actually made people feel a whole lot better.''

Staff gathered on Friday night, on site, for a farewell barbecue. From this weekend, the bulk of Fairfax's NSW newspapers will be printed at the company's North Richmond plant.

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