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Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne

No. 8 - Printing Museum

This body of this article was first published in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No. 295 on 15th January 2009


In 2009 we wrote the following article regarding the quirky but highly important Printing Museum. Today (30th November 2019) the contents are being sold off by the landlord for unpaid rent. The reasons behind this are long and complicated but the result is that much of the printing heritage of Melbourne may end up being melted down as scrap.

It is salutary to remember that when Little Johhny Fawkner was given the honour of appearing in a parade celebrating the European settlement he co-founded, the symbol he chose for his ceremonial float was his printing press. (You can read about that in our 7 Journalists of Melbourne.)

Here is what we wrote in our newsletter no. 295 back in 2009 about the collection that is today being auctioned.

___________________  White Hat  ___________________

If you wander along the banks of the Saltwater River (sorry – the Maribyrnong – but we people in Melbourne still refer to the Sydney football team as South Melbourne so give us a bit of time) in the area around Footscray and Cynon Roads, you will find a pleasant quiet little area suitable for a quiet picnic. The Maribyrnong has long been cleaned up and lost much of its feel of a neglected industrial canal. You will see smaller fishing vessels at the dock and the headquarters of Lonely Planet – a business success story that started on a kitchen table above a Chinese restaurant in Brunswick and went on to become the world leader in its class before recently being sold to the BBC. One of the founders may be instrumental in financing the Ring Cycle in Melbourne, but on a quiet afternoon you are likely to walk past such a building without making any of the connections.

Further upstream smaller apartments have quietly taken advantage of the gentle surrounds and riverfront views. Still further upstream you might see the might Blackbird – Melbourne’s answer to The African Queen – at its moorings. Venture up Wingfield Street and you may be able to pick up some marinated mussels from the seafood wholesaler there if they are open. Over the road and up a side lane and you come across one of Melbourne’s more unusual museums. It is ... but why not let the proprietor tell you about it in his own words (even though he writes about himself in the tird person):

“One of White Hat's "strange and quirky readers" felt, in the 1980's, that too much of Melbourne's history, particularly industrial history, particularly of the fading industry of traditional printing, was being discarded as scrap metal and waste paper.

Michael Sachsen (an Adelaide immigrant to Melbourne) had his day job at the P.M.G. (remember that, a story in Itself?) while at night he pursued his interest in printing with a small press and many founts (better known in American spelling as "fonts") of metal letters in the spare room at home. He had begun this in his bedroom in Adelaide, aged 9.

With the established makers of these founts of letters closing down because mainstream printers no longer needed this "hand set type", what was an enthusiast to do? Michael HAD to become a typefounder and make founts for himself and others around Australia.

But the urgency of preserving the disappearing artefacts and documents of the printing trade, along with machinery and the unique cabinetry, overtook the need to run the typefoundry as a business and in 1992 declared the enterprise to be a museum, the main activity being lecturing and demonstrating to students of modern design and typography just how this was done without a computer.

The museum had to close in 1998 due to the building being sold, and reopened in 2004 in much smaller premises with most of the machinery and artefacts in storage.

Many students and artists worked at the museum using traditional metal and wooden types to produce posters (often illustrated with beautiful linocuts) that now grace the tiny, cramped access studio within the museum. This activity has recommenced and the "Access Studio" is sometimes very busy. There are several regular volunteers and many more occasional volunteers.

As is sometimes the case with privately started musea, it consumed all of Isaachsen's time (he gave up his day job) and then all of his money, and at this stage has failed to become self-supporting. An appeal is being started for sponsorship and other forms of support.

At present it is still open on Sunday and Thursday afternoons from 2 to 6. Group tours are conducted by arrangement, as are school and university classes.

The General Admission charge is $6 (or $4 if unwaged).

___________________  White Hat  ___________________

Sadly, the opportunity to visit that museum is no more.

BL

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Long reads

Other articles in the series Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne:

Seven Lost Icons of Melbourne - overview

Addendum

  • No. 8 - The Print Museum

 
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