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My talk today is in part a life-line to the life story and reputation of New Zealand journalist Pat Lawlor, and in part, a recuperation of the social and literary record left by some of his journalistic endeavours for a magazine called Aussie.
I hope by the end of this talk to have introduced a particular perception of that life and of the journalism of the time I am focused on most in my current research, being that long lost decade, the 1920s.
So here is Pat Lawlor, as photographed in a suitably literary fashion when he was about about 42 years old by the studio of S. P. Andrew Ltd, of 10 Willis Street, Wellington (courtesy of the Turnbull library).
It's the photo that appears in the flyleaf of the first of several books of reminiscence produced by Lawlor, Confessions of a Journalist, published by Whitcombe and Tombs Limited in 1935.
The inside of the dustjacket promised a book of irresistible appeal, containing an entertaining picture of a most interesting period in journalism and making mention of hundreds of interesting people.
The book was also talked up by stating that readers “will be fascinated by the first intimate picture given of life and letters in Australia and New Zealand by one who has played a prominent part in the press world for nearly a quarter of a century", and that "Mr Lawlor's book will be a source of reference for many years to come".
It is a book that regularly surfaces in the footnotes of scholarly biographies, and that can occasionally still be found in a second hand bookshop or on websites like Trademe.
For journalists today it would appear as little more than a curiosity, although both Jim Tully and David Cohen did it the honour last year of including it in lists of books they deemed to be essential reading for post-modern journalists. Perhaps it was just the allure of the title!
The thing that most piqued my interest, some years ago, was Chapter 12 of the book, simply titled '"Aussie” magazine’and a nagging desire it created in me to place and locate this piece of media history in a wider, less neglected, and perhaps, a less easily dismissed, context.
While I haven't embarked on a full-scale biography of Lawlor, such a job would be well paved by the trail of paper he left behind, including his lifelong bibliographic interests from book collecting to collection disposal, and his well-documented involvement in initiating support structures for writers in New Zealand (the New Zealand P.E.N. centre, founded in Wellington in 1934, and now known as the New Zealand Society of Authors, and the State Literary Fund, successfully lobbied for in the 1940s) and for institutions such as the Turnbull Library.
I have in my research to date, assembled a clear picture of Lawlor’s life from 1893 to 1979, and have taken extra steps such as making personal contact with two of his surviving children: Ruth and Margaret.
Lawlor was a young teen when he commenced his press career as a copy holder at his hometown newspaper, Wellington's “Evening Post”.
While he never received any university education, his outlook on life was strongly shaped and directed by his Catholic upbringing as a first-generation Irish ‘Marist boy' from St Pats in Wellington and his lifelong Catholicism.
In common with the notion of the “Inky Wayfarer” that Alison Oosterman has written about in the Australian Journalism Review, Lawlor was firmly attached to a host of journalists who moved peripatetically from paper to paper, and to & fro between Australia and New Zealand, operating within the context of what Denis Cryle terms the Tasman mediasphere.
In reconstructing the period of his life I am talking about today - what I will call the “Aussie” years - the motivation for Lawlor seeking work in Australia in 1922 was obvious and was corroborated by his family : he had just lost a job on the New Zealand Truth (in what turned out to be his last full time position on a newspaper) and was, at a time of a marked economic recession, desperate to continue his career in journalism and to secure both an income and sound prospects for the future.
His diary entry for 10 May 1922 reads as follows: “A week ago I made up my mind. I am going to Sydney once more... After some months I may, after remitting enough money to keep my home in the interim, put by an additional sum to return to N.Z. as a representative of some Australian paper. It's a gamble but what else can I do?”
Later that month he was passing comment about how remarkable it was to run across so many New Zealanders in the streets of Sydney, “yet not so remarkable when you know that there are 22,000 Maorilanders here at the present time”.
At first Lawlor secured a job at The Telegraph, while pursuing a position as New Zealand representative for the Sydney-based New Century Press, publishers of Aussie magazine and Humour magazine. His diary transcript for 6 July 1922 reads:“Wild with joy. All signed up with New Century Press, 10 pounds a week and commission".
Lawlor's instincts as an entrepreneur surface many times, and a profile of him by Patricia Burns in the Catholic newspaper Zealandia in 1963 makes an interesting comment that Lawlor was,"like every successful journalist, an eloquent and persistent salesman".
Even so, as mentioned in the abstract I supplied for this talk, Lawlor was assured by some – including advertising businessman Charles Haines – that he was a fool to attempt to establish an Australian magazine in New Zealand, let alone one called Aussie.
Before leaving Lawlor and delving next more firmly into the story of Aussie magazine, I wanted to throw one other light on the bibliophile side of Lawlor's persona and personality as literally illustrated by these two bookplates which effectively 'book end’the Aussie years.
Bookplates were another Lawlor passion to which he gave – through the inauguration of the New Zealand Ex Libris Society – a considerable amount of his time and energy, and to which he attached much of his own identity and strongly-held bookish thinking.
First there is the Lawlor of 1916, portrayed by his black and white artist friend Tom Glover with a touch of the self-described bohemian, and generously provided by Tom for the price of one beer. Second there is the identity that Lawlor adopted as his favoured pen-name during the Aussie years, that of “Shibli Bagarag”, a character in a George Meredith novel, portrayed here in a bookplate of 1929 by the subsequently famous newspaper linesman Gordon Minhinnick.
Lawlor eventually owned seven bookplates and I'll close my talk with a reference to that idiosyncratic and motif-like aspect of his life.
Lawlor was rejected for military service during the First World War, working instead briefly for the army stores staff and then continuing his newspaper career including a tour of duty in the Parliamentary press gallery.
He did have some close friends who died on the front in Europe, where the likes of the British trench newspaper the Wipers Times was born.
The last years of World War One also marked the arrival of Aussie, subtitled The Australian Soldiers’Magazine, as brought to life under the editorship of Phillip Harris.
Aussie had its genesis in a regimental paper called Honk!, first produced on board the troopship Ceramic in 1915, a not unusual phenomenon. Honk! and later Aussie were produced on a small printing press that Harris brought with him to France.
In 1920 the entire European run of 13 issues of the idiom-syncratic Aussie was reproduced on behalf of the Australian War Museum and the Turnbull Library in Wellington holds a copy of that reproduction. It carries a dedication script that reads “To P.A. Lawlor, with my best wishes, Phillip L. Harris", dated Sydney, 4 July 1922.
It was Harris who determinedly kept Aussie alive, conducting the first edition “in civvies” in April 1920 with the new subtitle of The Cheerful Monthly. At the outset, Harris aspired to the goal of transferring “the grand esprit de corps which won the great battles of War into an esprit de nation to win the great battles of peace", and for some time Aussie’s masthead page carried the tagline “The organ of Australianism", later replaced by the glib phrase “The only paper that is ever stolen”.
At some early point– and this is beyond the reach of my research – the editorship of Phillip Harris stopped and the magazine’s letterpress became the responsibility of Walter Jago working with fellow journalist John Barr. A good source for a review of the legacy of Harris is Amanda Laugesen’s article, "Aussie Magazine and the Making of Digger Culture during the Great War", published in the National Library of Australia News, November 2003. [See link named 'Digger Culture' at top of page]
The magazine scene of the 1920s is again outside the scope of my main research focus, though I must note that there is a growing wave of interest in 'Magazines and Modernity in Australasia'.
A conference is indeed taking place with that very title in Queensland later this week, with leading academic researchers such as David Carter, Roger Osborne, Elizabeth Webby and Jill Julius Matthews to the fore.
Amanda Laugesen's brief article doesn't venture into the 1920s life of Aussie other than a closing comment that it became a curious and slightly disjointed magazine, the implication being that its dedication to sustaining the digger culture was not itself sustainable.
The prevalent nature of magazine publishing in the northern hemisphere was attuned to the era of the flapper. Whether it was Old Blighty or the U.S. of A, the themes were: Happy, Happy, Sunny, Jolly.
The market was being saturated with titles such as these.
By 1924 Aussie magazine might be described as existing somewhere in between, a mixed bag, anomalous, a local hybrid or home brew, peculiar to our particular shores and our often-times shared yarns.
In the "Aussie" chapter of Confessions of a Journalist, Pat Lawlor recounts how after some months of arduous work he had signed up enough advertising contracts to justify a New Zealand edition of Aussie, which first appeared – and only ever on this side of the Tasman – in April 1923.
The feat was achieved by tucking a New Zealand section of 16 pages at the rear of the standard 68 pages that each Aussie magazine consisted of, including the cover, all produced by New Century Press in Sydney.
In his diary at the time of the first number of the New Zealand edition, Lawlor wrote that he had written most of the letterpress under many nom de plumes. You can almost hear his hands being rubbed together when he observes that his cheque for various extras should be a good one, and to balance that out he was eventually‘bought into’the firm with a parcel of shares.
From Manuscript papers held at the Turnbull Library in Wellington there is a record of Lawlor being feted on Wattle Day 1924 at a social function held for New Century Press employees in Sydney.
The official programme exclaimed that Aussie and Humour had, through the good offices of Mr P.A. Lawlor, risen to a greater popularity than any other magazines in the Dominion and attained sales greater than £10,000 per annum.
THE CLIMB IN CIRCULATION
The covers of Aussie – and much of the cover art can be traced to New Zealand artists, as they were called – back Lawlor’s boasting of the climb in circulation to a total of 21,000 by 1925 from a starting point of just 3,500 per month.
For one Xmas issue, which was always the November issue, he cites written proof from the New Zealand manager of Gordon and Gotch that the circulation rocketed to 36,000.
This was most probably 1925 also, a year in which Lawlor notes in his diary that he is amazed by the number of people calling on his offices seeking advice about the success of his new enterprise. Printing and publishing he wrote was challenging the “land agency business for popularity”.
Magazines are easily consigned to a category of incidental ephemera, and certainly by comparison with the bibliographic bedrock of our book culture, a robust knowledge base about the rich history of periodicals in Australia and New Zealand can be extremely hard to retrieve, even in comparison to newspapers.
I am still researching the print culture surrounding Aussie, and highly recommend Richard Wolfe's book Fronting Up: Classic New Zealand Magazine Covers, as a point of departure and a visual feast. As Wolfe notes in his introduction the market for magazines in New Zealand in the 1920s was showing signs of increased specialisation with magazines for just about every interest. His selection from that decade includes the New Zealand National Review, Meat and Wool, New Zealand Theatre and Motion Picture ("Read by 17,000 New Zealanders Monthly"), The Kiwi, The Dominion Joker, New Zealand Tit-Bits, The Scotsman and New Zealand Home Life.
The New Zealand Edition of Aussie rolled along, making a colourful splash each month, and running in synch with its Aussie parent into monthly numbers that carried thematic titles like: the Gee Gee Number, The Sinful Number, The Wowser Number, The Lover’s Number, The Wife’s Number, The Husband’s Number, The Government Job Number, The Taxi-Cab Number, Mrs Grundy’s Number, Dave’s Number, The Divorce Number, and yes, towards the corny end, The Telephone Number.
The pattern of editorial content in the New Zealand Section, as it was titled, was tightly followed in a three column format. It was a regular pastiche of the art of the yarn-teller in joke-form, diversions and verse. The first page of the Section typically carried some items of relevance to current happenings and a topical cartoon with a relatively serious theme, before the reader was presented with a recurring set of subheads and bylines, heavily interspersed with an array of New Zealand advertising and more cartoons.
To reach that Section at the rear of the magazine, meant, of course, flipping through and/ or digesting some 48 pages of Australian-made content first. A study of the contrasts (for New Zealand readers) could well be a fruitful exercise. On the surface the editorial content between the two was much of a muchness in style, tone and typographical appearance, with the differences most notable in the almost inter-changeable variations in use of dominant slang and stereotypes.
With more space the Australian content featured more regular columns such as John Barr's "Men and Other Sins".
Women's page journalism, which we'll hear about from Patricia Clarke next at this conference, was in strong evidence in Aussie magazine with two sub-sections, firstly one titled "The Aussie Woman", followed by "The Voice of the Enzed Woman" for the New Zealand market.
The magazine also catered for the 'reading public' by a two page spread called "Bookish" under the Australian content, and Shibli Bagarag's "A Literary Page or Two" in the New Zealand Section, which I will now turn to.
Lawlor ran his editing and sales operations from Wellington as a form of branch office of New Century Press. Confessions of a Journalist re-plays the different offices he occupied as the chain-smoking hub of what he liked to portray as a mini-Fleet Street in his much-loved city.
Much of Lawlor's literary page or two can be understood, literally at times, as an anecdotal diary of the comings-and-goings around him and amongst those who constituted his stable coterie of helpmates, friends or variously esteemed persons. As observed by the Wellington Public Library Readers Review publication in 1935, a chief characteristic of Lawlor was that he was "ever moving and scheming" to create an interest in the "literary world" (at least as he penned it).
At this stage of my research I am fully engaged on tapping into Lawlor's Shibli Bagarag columns - all 97 of them - to the fullest extent possible. I expect that as I keep sifting and indexing through the 1273 brief items that appeared on those pages, no less than 800 being directly attributable to Lawlor's preferred pen-name, I will keep discovering new diachronic and thematic groupings. The most obvious are the ones set out on this slide: Book notes and chatter,Enzed journalism and what I've called, using a pet phrase of Lawlor, "Austrazealand" tales and trails.
As Patricia Clarke has written I believe there is much to be gleaned from looking for points of identity that have perhaps been ignored or noted only on some periphery. There is a real challenge in finding some people on these pages who never or seldom ever show up in strictly literary surveys, as well as the tempting detective work that could be done to reveal more about Lawlor's gallery of subjects and contributors across a range of collaborative journalism specific and quite unique to "Austrazealand".
If the writings in these columns belong to any sub-genre, it would probably best be called that of the pithy paragraphist, a relatively ordinary journeyman rather than a man of letters. Much seems to be written of, for and by fellow ink-slingers in the Bagarag columns in a somewhat recursive and repetitive loop, and shows how immersed Lawlor was by the milieu of books, and publishing, and newsprint, almost to the point where I wondered if the implied reader was almost solely Lawlor himself and his circle.
By producing some detailed indexes to the Bagarag columns I will be holding up a mirror to the running monthly catalogue of cultural production, transactions and other traces on those pages. The number of "scribblers" lauded by Lawlor doesn't take long to look like a telephone directory, and he is methodical in the way he tracks the rise and demise of both publications and people, including the way in which New Zealanders, particularly a figure such as David Low, fare in the wider world while invariably relating each story back to "Austrazealand" and an embedded circuit of communication.
The turns of phrase used on these pages have a particular resonance for journalism history, from the linguistic oddities to some colloquial gems. For instance on these pages you just don't die, you are "buried somewhere among the printing presses on the other side".
Sadly by 1931 Aussie was about to reach its last number and in November 1931 notices were placed in the New Zealand press advertising its sale as a going concern and (unsuccessfully) inviting tenders. That same month Aussie editor Walter Jago wrote to Lawlor relaying the opinion he had given to the manager of New Century Press, Mr Catts, that Aussie was being let go on the ebb tide, “while he (Mr Catts) should be preparing to come in on the crest of the wave".
Pat Lawlor was 38 years old when the Aussie run ended. And those years had been about much more than Shibli Bagarag's literary pages. Considering the travel he did around New Zealand and at regular intervals back and forth to Sydney, it's remarkable that he also launched The N.Z. Artist's Annual in 1926 amongst other spin-offs - notably his best-selling repackaged humour series of apparently well-received 'tales' based on pidgin-Maori jokes and race- based stereotypes.
All of this activity was connected with the good offices and financing of the Sydney-based New Century Press. The Annual ran until 1932 and, on the same basis as the New Zealand edition of Aussie, was printed by New Century Press in Sydney. In a diary entry for December 1926 Lawlor commented that while it was difficult to publish from Sydney, he doubted if any New Zealand printer would have taken the risk.
For an in-depth overview of magazine publishing in the transit years of the late 1800s and early 20th Century, two key references are Frank Greenop for his 1947 opus on magazine publishing in Australia, and David Reed's survey of the popular magazine in Britain and the United States.
In David Carter's work on what he calls the mystery of the missing middlebrow, he states that the 1920s saw the progressive disappearance of key magazines characteristic of the late 19th Century, when print had the cultural field pretty much to itself and when the readership could be conceived as inclusive of the whole market or public.
Other magazines like the Australian Journal and the Triad have much to tell us about the inter-colonial and trans-national trans-Tasman market for magazines and literary journalism. Joanna Wood, who was a resident scholar at the Turnbull last year, has work in press at the moment about the Triad and its editor C.N. Baeyertz.
The Lone Hand, the expensively produced hereditary offspring of the Bulletin, published between 1907 and 1921, is another interesting case in point of the passing of old formulas. Greenop's conclusion was that the Lone Hand died because of an inability to form and adapt editorial policy to changes in public taste, interest, trends and demand; a constant line of criticism in Greenop's book.
The Lone Hand's last editor was none other than Walter Jago who as discussed earlier also sang the swansong for Aussie.
Dulcie Deamer, shown on the right, was a New Zealand transplant to Australia who wrote for the Lone Hand and was also strongly connected with Aussie magazine through The Aussie Woman pages and in the New Zealand Section.
One New Zealand literary connection made extant in the Shibli Bagarag pages is a frequently noted network of support engendered from Lawlor to Miss Iris Wilkinson, that is, Robin Hyde - as well as many other journalists, editors, poets and writers.
This is one obvious type of relationship that my research might shift some more light on, by touching on the binary nature of their Jack-of-all-trade journalism and shared friendships, and by pointing out that Hyde's appearances in Aussie had more layers and dimensions than the appearance of her poetry, already indexed by Michelle Legott of Auckland University.
The Hyde revival in modern scholarship, if I can call it that, was given a boost in 1991 by the publication of Disputed Ground – Robin Hyde, Journalist, by Victoria University Press.
The reputation of Lawlor and the predominantly male types of his generation received a boost just this year with Chris Hilliard's comprehensive study, The Bookmen's Dominion.
Hilliard's narrative analysis has been honed by writing he has done on the psychology of salvage and what he calls textual museums, and the important part played by the bookmen's contribution in the development of the humanities in New Zealand.
This kind of analysis coupled with the large number of evocative photos in The Bookmen's Dominion, goes a long way to capturing and reconstructing the reality of who could be counted as New Zealand scholars and writers, particular to that era when (Pakeha) newspapermen took a consciously active role as the nation's cultural middle men and recorders of history.
(The Bookmen's Dominion also contains the factual material mined and converted by Maurice Gee for his 2003 novel, The Scornful Moon, in which Pat Lawlor is reanimated and recast as the moralistic journalist Sam Holloway).
So, if Lawlor was no lightweight, how should either he or Aussie or both, be assessed?(without prejudice)
One approach to that question is to think of the careers of A.G. Stephens and Monte Holcroft – neither of whom were exact contemporaries of Lawlor but who are convenient (high water?) markers on either side of the Aussie years and provide some sense of the interlacing of what I have wanted to cover today.
The Australian Stephens, once literary editor of the Bulletin, was a committed bookfellow who, incidentally, briefly worked on the Wellington Evening Post just before Lawlor's first job as a copy holder there. Stephens' career, which coincided with the heyday of Maoriland literature, has been described by Brian Kiernan as literary empire building, notable for its continuity.
New Zealander Monte Holcroft, best known as an essayist and long-time editor of the Listener, is relevant for that phase of his life that overlapped with the Aussie years, when for a while he epitomized the courage of someone striking out to be a true, would-be writer.
He is a good source too, in a chapter in the first volume of his memoirs published in the 1980s, The Way Of A Writer (1983), for describing the Sydney of Smith's Weekly, in a chapter titled the beguiling city.
Lawlor, one time novelist, continuous editor, and dyed-in-the-wool journalist, was unlikely to ever have a career of the order or nature of Stephens or Holcroft, but in saying that he sat somewhere in the middle I am attempting to provoke some thinking about his achievements that carries a wider context, a form of continuum, and that recognises the value of the 'middle man'.
In his later years Lawlor became well-known for his local 'diarist' histories of Wellington, including Old Wellington Days and More Wellington Days. His output as a writer is probably most noteworthy for its quantity and sheer diversity, from his Catholic writing to the assiduous scribbling of thousands of words about beer, eventually published as The Froth-Blower s Manual and the The two Baxters : diary notes, by Pat Lawlor with an essay by Vincent O’Sullivan published by Millwood Press in 1979.
For some 30 years to 1964, Lawlor held court in his bureau office in Wellington's elegant Nathan's Building, where he was engaged in roles as varied as being the Bulletin's representative in New Zealand to amassing and caring for his collections – of books, of first numbers of newspapers and magazines, of famous autographs, of New Zealand poetry, of line drawings and cartoons, and of books about books. It was a pattern set during the Aussie years and followed for his entire life.
This bookplate designed by A.S. Paterson was Lawlor's favourite.
In 1977 the time came when Lawlor was driven by ill health to locate to Auckland to live with his daughter Margaret (an accomplished artist, Margaret provided illustrations for, amongst other books, Lawlor's limited edition Books and Bookmen published by Whitcombe & Tombs in 1954).
Just before Lawlor left Wellington, the Dominion ran a story and a photo of him in his library, as it was being dispersed. I wonder if he enjoyed the last paragraph of the profile, which reads:
"Pat Lawlor is almost a caricature of the literary man as he sits back at an ancient desk in a den as thickly threaded with books as a grove has leaves".