A Glimpse into the Subculture of John Fairfax & Sons


Dartistry box illustration
This illustration that appears on the box containing the D'artistry magazines is a parody of a Tom Bass sculpture that stood over the entrance of the John Fairfax Ltd's Broadway building. The original motif depicted a herald transmitting a message to the community by way of the printing press. Note the dominant symbols in the herald's tunic

The thousands of files that make up the Fairfax Media Business Archive tell us a lot about the people who managed the company. But what of the worker on the production floor? What were the experiences and stories of the printers, compositors, proof readers? Occasionally we come across records in the collection that provide a glimpse into the social side or even the sub-culture of a group within the organisation, records that gives us a sense of what it was like to work in John Fairfax Ltd.

D'artistry magazine is one source in the collection that exposes this sub-culture. Developed by staff of the Readers’ Recreation Club, it initially described the activities and competitions of the Darts teams. There were 4 teams, Pica Points, Quoin Quips, Shrdlu Sidelights and Day Staff D’Artibles, made up of staff from the Reading Department. However, the magazine quickly evolved to take a more satirical look at the characters and events of the proof readers room. Full of inside jokes and stories the material demonstrates both a social and professional connection between the proof readers as well as highlighting the special rapport between individuals at various levels within the organisation.

Front cover of an issue of D'artistry
The cover of issue 29 of D'artistry, 1959

The first issue of D'artistry was compiled in October 1952. The issues are one-offs and were passed between staff of the Readers Department with contributions encouraged. There is usually an editorial page, club election news, cultural issue, fashion pages, motoring sections, poetry and a Man of the Month segment. Thirty-one issues of the magazine were produced between 1952 and 1961.

Cartoons and illustrations were common in the magazine with many attributed to “Clappocolour”, an alias for Richard Clapperton the art director. Clapperton, incidentally, was an author of detective novels, including No News On Monday (1968) in which he created the Scottish detective Peter Fleck. 

The printing and binding of the magazine was attributed to “Shrdlu Press”. Shrdlu is a reference to letters on the keyboards of type casting machines. Unlike conventual keyboards these were arranged by letter frequency. The letters e-t-a-o-i-n s-h-r-d-l-u were the lowercase keys on the left side of the keyboard. A staff member, Ed Smith, was nicknamed Shrdlu, and he appears under his alias in many of the articles.

Serialised stories such as “Rattlesnake River” and “Life on Broadway” provide a humorous inside into working in the Reading Department at Jones Street, Broadway.

Friday night
Panic ! Ulcers! Rush! Faster! ------ Friday night.
The atmosphere is terse.
Assistants appear harassed – if assistants CAN appear harassed.
David Ritchie is going round with a piece of paper clutched in his hand. He has just finished a lengthy, wordless argument with Max Sherwood and moves onto another room with Max’s “…but I fail to see” following him.

An index to the magazines was included in the March 1955 issue with the comment "Now that D’artistry has become established it must follow the lead of other reputable newspapers and publish an index of all past issues- for prestige purposes.”

Dartistry Box
One side of the decorated box specially made to hold issues of the D'artistry magazine

The D'artistry magazine is kept in a brightly decorated box  with several random illustrations, faces that could be members of the Readers' team and a picture of a Dart board. On the box is a list of the contents with the following statement:

D'artistry (31 issues) * "No.17 is missing. I suspect it was taken by someone who just had to have the three pages of dialogue I think it contained, between a reader and his assistant, who, as soon as an ad starts to be read, breaks off to yack, make phone calls, move his car, visit the canteen, etc, before the reader concludes: “two lines."”

There is also other material besides the magazine including 'Special' issues of D'artistry, such as one dated August 1968,  published in honour of the retirement of Alf Ludlam, senior reader.  Another compilation , Broadway 62, by Ron Cunningham, contains photographs of reading department staff at work

The guys, the ways, the calls of the night, compiled by Duncan Miller, contains poetry looking back at his time with the reading department and also contains copies of the Rattlesnake Herald, a successor magazine to D'artistry .

These records together with the official Fairfax staff newsletters give voice to those individuals that business archives tend to pass over.



Peter Arfanis, Project Lead, State Library of New South Wales, 2017