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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Born on the Fourth of July: The Hunt for E.J.Brady's Typewriter

For five months now I have been on the hunt for the typewriter once owned by the great Australian writer and poet Edwin James Brady. Imagine my delight when, early yesterday morning in Mallacoota in East Gippsland, Victoria, I managed to track down Brady's only surviving child, his youngest daughter, Edna June Brady. Yes, her father did use a typewriter, Edna told me, although it was her artist mother Flo who did most of the typing. And yes, as far as she knew the typewriter was still in existence, in the possession of a woman, a history researcher who also lived in Mallacoota.
Before I left to continue my search, Edna went to her bookshelves and handed me a copy of her book Mallacoota: A Love Affair in Poetry and Prose.  In it I came across this photo taken in 1951 of Edna, aged five, with her parents. Edna was born in Bega on the Fourth of July 1946, when her father was a month shy of 77 and her mother, Florence Jane (née Bourke) 41. Edna was an only child of this marriage, but Edwin had six children from a previous relationship, one of whom, a daughter called Norma Moya Brady (later Mrs 'Tuppy' Luckins), earned a living as a typiste.
The relevance of Edna being born on the Fourth of July, and being called Edna June, was explained by renowned columnist Gilbert Mant in the Sydney Sun in September-October 1946:
Edwin Brady had first become of interest to me back in June this year when, learning I was about to visit Mallacoota for the first time, a friend told me the story about how the great Henry Lawson had gone to Mallacoota to meet Brady in 1910. The photo of this momentous occasion, below, was taken by fellow journalist and historian Thomas Davies Mutch (1885-1958), who accompanied Lawson from Sydney to Mallacoota. Mutch's photo later became the basis of a mural at the fishing boat ramp on the foreshore at Mallacoota, an artwork which includes Brady's young son Hugh, who was aged seven at the time of the Lawson meeting.
Edwin Brady
Above, the headstone on Brady's grave in the Mallacoota cemetery and below, a marker at the spot on the headland at Mallacoota where Lawson and Brady met:
Below is the view today from the marker, and the writers' camp, and a 1951 painting by Flo Brady of the view from the Brady home across to the Mallacoota bar, which Lawson had so famously written about:
As for Brady's typewriter ... well, sad to say it has gone missing. I did make contact with the woman Edna entrusted it to, but she had given it to a nephew and there is now no trace of it. I shudder to think where it might have finished up! It's certainly not the one used below for an image to promote the annual E.J. Brady writing competition. Still, it would be wonderful to be able to find Brady's actual typewriter, especially since he gave the great New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield her first break, he befriended the Australian writer Katharine Susannah Prichard (she also visited Brady in Mallacoota) and he inspired the great Australian writer Miles Franklin.
The reason being, we know where the typewriters used by Mansfield, Prichard and Franklin are - Mansfield's Corona is in a museum in Wellington, New Zealand, Prichard's Remington, restored by me, is at a writers' centre in Western Australia, and Franklin's Corona is with me:

Saturday, 11 November 2017

My Cousin Fred Messenger, the Californian Remington Typewriter Agent

San Bernardino County Sun, August 9, 1947
About the time Doug Nichol's much-acclaimed documentary California Typewriter was premiering, in August this year, I was astonished to be told that my late cousin, Fred Messenger, had been a California typewriter agent. Fred, who died 70 years ago, was Remington Rand's man in Los Angeles at a time when the typewriter company was in the grip of an extremely bitter industrial dispute.
The Santa Rosa Post Democrat, July 17, 1947
The discovery of my close relationship with Californian typewriters helped ease the pain, by then becoming increasingly acute, that in Doug's change of direction and editing of his film, I had landed up on the cutting room floor. I was there when Doug started his typewriter movie project, at Herman Price's gathering at the Chestnut Ridge Typewriter Museum in West Virginia in October 2013. I was interviewed by Doug at the museum, and was there when Doug interviewed Richard Polt in his typewriter-laden office at Xavier University in Cincinnati. Later, Richard and I were filmed together at WordPlay (see my image of Doug filming Richard below):
I feel sure that if he knew Californian typewriters were in my blood, Doug might have kept in me in his doco. But, hey, I don't have the audience drawing power of Tom Hanks or the late Sam Shepard. Nor do I have the charm of a Richard Polt or Martin Howard. But I did have a cousin who was right there in the thick of the trade when the typewriter business in California was at its peak.
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 1947
I wasn't able to tell Doug that because I only found out myself last August. My cousin Noeleen Mulholland, a brilliant genealogist, messaged me saying, "According to my family tree you and Frederick are second cousins - once removed. So you aren't the only Messenger with a connection to typewriters."
Frederick was born in Port Washington, Long Island, New York, on January 2, 1908, the son of Albert Ayers Messenger and Elizabeth Morris (Bessie) Marston. Messenger Lane in Port Washington is named in Albert's honour, as he was one of the early property owners in Sands Point.
Frederick grew up in North Hempstead, Nassau County, where he started work as a bank clerk. Albert Ayers Messenger was born in New York on February 4, 1859, the son of Harry Messenger, a half-brother of my great-grandfather, William MessengerAlbert and my grandfather Robert Messenger were first cousins.
Frederick's nephew Albert Clay (Al) Messenger (1927-2003) had two great-grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, one with the Army of Northern Virginia. Al had a passion for auto racing and established "Corner of Racing Memories" in his basement. He annually attended the Indy 500 and was honoured with a special award by the Race Car Fan Club of America for his attendance and contribution to auto racing. He was also a life member of the US Auto Racing, the Old Timers Racing Club of Lattimore Valley, Pennsylvania, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.   
 Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1947
Hastening Fred's premature death? San Bernardino County Sun, July 24, 1947

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Hanoi Typewriters: or How I Popped in on Ho Chi Minh's Baby Typing

At the top of a long list of things to do in Vietnam a few weeks ago was to track down H Chí Minh's Hermes Baby portable typewriter in the H Chí Minh Museum in Hanoi. That didn't take very long. And although it's ridiculously obscured in a pyramid-shaped glass display cabinet, I was still able to get a pretty good look at it. What I wasn't expecting to find was a wax figure of Uncle Ho typing on another Hermes Baby, at a desk set up just a few yards away on the same floor of the museum. This second, later model Baby has a Vietnamese keyboard, unlike the Baby that Ho actually used, which has a French keyboard. The museum has many original documents typed by Ho, and I was told by an Australian anthropologist that the accents and descenders were usually added by hand on top of or below the typed characters.
Note the care the curators have taken so that Ho's wax fingers are positioned exactly as they are in the photo below:
The Olympia Traveller we found in the Indigo store said "No touch" but the temptation just to brush off some of the surface crap was enormous. And I don't think there'd be too many takers, whatever the price. Still, it was interesting to compare the keyboard layout with Ho's later Baby.
The manufacturer's logo on the back of this seriously dilapidated model in a restaurant was vaguely familiar, but I'm still trying to work out what the brand is.
Later, on the other side of the city, in the French Quarter, we visited the Grand Hotel Metropole, where this typewriter image was at the top of a display about famous writers - Graham Greene (The Quiet American was set in Vietnam, of course) and Somerset Maugham in particular - who had stayed at and written in and about the old hotel. 
Then it was on to the Vietnamese Women's Museum, where I knew I'd find the Voss typewriter used by "The Rose of the Barbwire Forest", Bà Ngô Bá Thành, who was such a vigorous campaigner for women's rights during the Vietnam War that Nguyễn Văn Thiệu's regime had her kidnapped.
Ngô Bá Thành (centre)
We couldn't find the Olivetti Studio 42 in the traditional Vietnamese home in the Old Quarter (it had been moved), but the typewriter hunts in Hanoi were so much fun it was worth getting drenched to the skin from being caught in a sudden Monsoon thunderstorm.
And there was always plenty of coloured paper for me to type on: