Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dawn, in full glory

I just received an e-newsletter from the National Library of Australia which among other things announced that they now have a full archive of the Dawn newspaper digitised and freely accessible. You can even download it as PDF files. Slightly after International Women's day, but in the same month, so HUZZAR!

I have a casual interest in Dawn, mainly because of its printing history. It was the first Australian paper written totally for women, by women, established by Louisa Lawson, who also happened to be Henry Lawson's mother (and so much more than that).

If you want a really good read about Louisa, find a copy of Pat Clarke's Pen Portraits (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988). It's well out of print, but I'm sure there are secondhand copies to be found, and good libraries should have it. There are chapters on all sorts of women of the pen, and a very good chapter on Louisa.

Here's my favorite part:

The production of the paper was a saga in itself. Years later Louisa Lawson described how she got a printing machine* and some type and with her female employees started to print a paper:

"How did we learn to set type and lock up formes**? Goodness knows! Just worked at it till we puzzled it out! And how the men used to come and patronise us, and try to get something out of us! I remember one day a man from the CHRISTIAN WORLD came around to borrow a block -- a picture. I wouldn't lend it to him; I said we had paid a pound for it, and couldn't afford to go and buy blocks for other papers. Then he stood by the stone*** and sneered at the girls locking up the formes. We were just going to press, and you know how locking up isn't always an easy matter -- particularly for new chums like we were.
Well, he stood there and said nasty things, and poor Miss Greig -- she's my forewoman -- and the girls, they got as white as chalk; the tears were in their eyes. I asked him three times to go, and he wouldn't, so I took a watering pot full of water that we had for sweeping the floor, and I let him have it."****

Two weeks after founding the Dawn, she decided that there was nothing peculiarly masculine about the skill involved in typesetting so she sacked her two male employees and employed girls for this work also. [p. 164]

Of course, the trade unions balked at this, and there were campaigns mounted to boycott the paper and its advertisers. Louisa Lawson fought back as hard as she could, but the fact that she wholeheartedly supported trade unionism made it a tricky process. She exhorted her readers to support unionism and also to support her advertisers so that they wouldn't stop supporting the paper. BOOYA! In Pat Clarke's words, "All this provided the Dawn with great copy" and the paper lasted seventeen years.

One of my academic friends, Paul Eggert, once showed me one of Louisa's side projects, a volume of Henry's poetry printed very early in his -- and her -- career. It was dreadfully printed, with the quality of the printing varying from too heavy to so light that lots of letters were missing. Paul asked my opinion as a printer, and what I could remember of my readings about Louisa seemed to bear out in this physical evidence: that when she started her press, she went around to other printers and asked them for contributions of type and other bits & pieces. They obviously gave her their oldest and most worn typefaces, not taking her seriously.

She showed them, didn't she?

* I guess she means 'a press'
** Not a big stone, but a metal-slab-topped table that was used as the place to put your type as you lock it up. Also called a 'printer's stone'.
*** The forme is the complete type set-up blocked into a chase (metal frame) with metal or wooden furniture and locked up with quoins, ready to put on the press to print.
**** Good for her.


Elephant's Child said...

Love it. Thanks.

dinahmow said...

Indeed.Feistiness in skirts.

Felicity said...

that's really exciting - i spent hours in the uni library squinting at the dawn on microfiche!

Julie Mia Holmes said...

Hi Caren,
thanks for the great post.
I was just trawling the net and found this great book about women travellers. It made me think of you.
Julie :)

Christine said...


This is a fascinating post...the relationship between Louisa and her son Henry is quite a tale, too. I really learned much from this post and will traipse over to NLA and have a look.

Ampersand Duck said...

Wow, thanks for the link. I'm glad you're enjoying Louisa's feistiness.