LOW HEAD, TAS - Everyone working in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, visited an office at some stage, if only to pick up their pay.
Some people actually worked in them. And at this time, before the advent of repetitive strain injury, RSI, which none of us had ever heard of, those who worked in offices would spend most of their time pounding keys on noisy old typewriters.
From time to time, at regular intervals that never seemed to be announced, these offices, all of them, would be disrupted for an hour or so by an unlikely visitor: the typewriter mechanic.
Imagine people’s relief at the arrival of this man. They could sit back, wring their fingers, relax and watch as his skilled hands went to work refurbishing their machines.
As someone who was daunted by these noisy old apparatuses and who never really conquered them or learnt anything other than to write correspondence by hand, I admired this man.
And it was “this man” because it was always a man and always the same man.
There were many different types of machines: some had exotic names like Olivetti and Corona while others were more urbane and sophisticated, like the Remington. They were big or small, usually heavy – even the portables - and in time some were even electric.
But undeterred the visiting mechanic would work on them regardless of this bewildering diversity.
And what did he do? He oiled them, restored the bell peal at the end of each line and repaired faulty keys. His skills seemed to know no limit.
He never in my experience was heard to say, “Look! What do you expect me to do with this old wreck; I am impotent before it.”
His practiced hands always prevailed. So great was his skill there was no need for helpful assistance from any other.
It should not be thought that the mechanic’s contribution to Territory life ended at the office for after hours he was to be found at the club demonstrating other skills.
And as the people in the offices gathered in the club, he must have known just about every one of them.
The typewriter mechanic was not an exclusive Territory icon. I once found him hard at work at Honiara, the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate.
So where did this man come from? Who employed him and paid his fee? Was he on the move all the time, oiling and repairing? And where is he now?
For nothing is as dead as a typewriter. I have seen them sitting haplessly at markets waiting to sell for a dollar but with no takers.
So where is the mechanic now? It would be pleasing to find he was servicing computers but it is more likely he became a metal recycling merchant collecting old machines and selling them as scrap.