A Smiling Baby
Wild Cat: A fraud uncovered & in dire need of investigation

The Territory typewriter mechanic: a man with key skills

Keith Jackson's Corona, a century old this year and still in working order


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.


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Arthur Williams

You youngsters!

I joined Lloyds bank in 1955. Biros were not allowed so we used old pens with their funny little nibs and two inkwells of black and red ink. No 'whiteout' allowed.

The name of a customer at the top of every ledger page was written in old English copperplate. It was nothing to come into work next day and find the manager had decided your efforts were poor and there were yesterday's ledger sheets torn almost in two and thus to be re-scribed.

I was dressed in black suit with stiff white detachable collars so you could use the shirt for few days in those pre-washing machine days. A tall wooden stool from Dickensian days at the old sloping desktop was my spot for 8 hours or often more if the books didn't balance when we remained into the evening until they did. One Saturday a month off - if nobody was sick or holidays.

One day as a silly junior I was being told off by an old (guess she was 23 or so) co-worker. To emphasise her point of view she banged her fist onto my old desk.

Both ink pots fell over and she had red and black stains down her nylon clad legs. Miss R looked like she was going to kill me but ran off to our tiny 6'x6' rest room.

We had one typewriter in that small branch of the old Underwood upright type. 30 years on in New Ireland I was given a similar one which by now was a vintage item.

Continued to use it for many years as my handwriting was and is poor.

One reason I left the bank in 1962 was because my next roll would have been supervising 20 or more young ladies in the burgeoning machine section of the city centre branch where we worked.

They were a tough bunch renowned for their efforts in helping promote the move for our bank to recognise their trade union.

I had not the slightest idea on how to operate and trouble shoot the huge noisy machines and the 'girls' which I would be expected to control. Obviously us men had to be Supervisors in those days when equality of the sexes was not considered.

Had some good times over those banking years with quite a few laughs behind the facade of the staid industry that was slowly emerging from the 19th century work methods.

In those days a bank manager was a trusted member of society and and could witness passport applications or other legal forms. Today for many people 'banker' is almost a dirty word just like MP.

Oh just recalled how local ladies on Lavongai would ask me for any old or even new carbon paper. They didn't have typewriters but would soak the paper in water to produce a lovely purple coloured dye for their grass mats or skirts etc.

Raymond Sigimet

Phil - Apologies for my burst of childhood reminiscing and making you count the years. Concerning the typewriter, I'm as illiterate as a log drifting on the Sepik down to the Bismarck. Cheers mate.

Paul Oates

In the last few years of being employed as opposed to self employed, and working in an office with a lot of younger people, I wanted to use a calculator, located on another desk.

"Toss me the adding machine will you?" I incautiously requested.

A series or loud groans and raucous laughter then erupted at my expense.

A somewhat younger person then had the temerity to ask: "What was it like in your day, Paul".

Chris Overland

In my distant youth (circa 1977), having lately returned from my time in PNG, I secured employment as Chief Clerk in the Education Department.

I assure you that the title of the position was in no way reflective of its singular lack of importance in the grand scheme of things.

It was, in truth, merely an anachronistic hangover from the distant past when a stern faced older man seated upon a raised bench, presided over serried ranks of earnestly scribbling junior clerks.

Anyway, for my sins I found myself in charge of the Department's Typing Pool. This was a group of 16 mostly young women presided over by an unsmiling, chain smoking Chief Typist.

The relentless clatter of their machines was a constant background noise in our then very fashionable open space office. Lime Green and Burnt Orange furniture was in great abundance, as were the exceedingly fashionable Safari Suits in pastel shades, in which I then cut a fine figure.

The very apex of technology in the Typing Pool was an IBM Golf Ball electric type writer, which sat glittering upon the Chief Typist's desk. It was rarely used as she who must be obeyed rarely deigned to strike a key in anger. That was left to the juniors.

Eventually, in exasperation at the gross under use of this marvel of technology, I gave it to the most junior typist to use, replacing it with an ancient Imperial manual typewriter.

Coincidentally, it was a very similar ancient Imperial upon which I laboriously typed out the entire Census Roll for Baimuru, using the hunt and peck system. Such was the role of a very junior Assistant Patrol Officer, still dripping behind the ears.

Sadly, I did not have the pleasure of meeting the type writer mechanic referred to by Andrew Marke. I guess it was just a question of bad luck.

Anyway, I digress.

Unsurprisingly, I was never forgiven for removing the iconic IBM from the Chief Typist's desk. She loathed me from that day forth although I made and retained 16 firm friends in the Typing Pool for ever after.

It was at about this time that that great technological marvel, the word processor, appeared upon the scene. In an astonishingly short time the typewriters were consigned to history and, I assume, those who repaired them were either retrained or redeployed to do other things.

I would guess that typewriter mechanics are now desperately thin on the ground. God knows how or where you might find one now.

They have, like so many other trades and professions of my and Andrew's yesterdays, simple disappeared. The rush of history waits for on man it seems, leaving me at least feeling progressively more and more out of my time.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Bloody hell Raymond!

Now you're making me feel old too.

PS: Are there any other mysterious things you would like explained?

Raymond Sigimet

I can recall two occasions, when I saw a typewriter being used. Once by my father in his office. He was typing a letter or some office document. He told me the thing was called a typewriter. It was on his office table.

That was in the early 1990s. The last time was when I was in high school in the mid 1990s. I've since not seen a typewriter being used till this day.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I had my Olivetti Dora "tropic proofed", which I presume meant some sort of gunk was sprayed on its innards.

Still going strong after 53 years.

By my calculations if Keith bought his Corona when he was 20 he would now be 120 years old - seems about right?

Well.... er.... thanks.... Bought it at an antique shop about 25 years ago and had it serviced by one of those pensioned off colonial mechos. Works like a.... what do you expect of a 100 year old? - KJ

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