Shirley clocks up almost 50 years at The Border Watch

AT WORK: This Ray Fowler photograph shows Shirley Earl at work wrapping the newspapers for the paper boys back in the mid-1960s. Notice the ink on her fingers coming from the thousands of newspapers she handled each day.

Graham Greenwood

FOR 48 years, three times each week, Shirley Earl would ride her bicycle from her family’s home in Amor Street to The Border Watch office in Commercial Street East.

Rain, hail or shine Shirley would leave home at about 12.30pm on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and 4.30pm Friday, ready for another busy work day at the local newspaper.

Shirley and her bicycle were inseparable. The bike had a basket on the front in which she often carried her groceries and her favourite newspaper which she took home each night after work.

Often on the way home she would have to “walk” the bicycle up Wehl Street South to Amor Street because of the steep ascent. She loved her bike and used it for many years.

She has never had a driver’s licence.

In about 1994, her old bike was nearing the end of its time and so the company bought Shirley a new purple coloured bike. She called it her “purple people eater”, after the famous song of the 1950s.

Shirley started at The Border Watch in April 1957 and retired in September 2005.

It was a sad day for her but she knew it was time to leave.

She had hoped to make it to 50 years but due to some health problems she thought it better say goodbye to a life she loved and cherished.

On the day she retired she was presented with a gold watch, which she still proudly wears today.

Throughout the 48 years of service and in the years since her retirement, Shirley remains a much-loved member of The Border Watch team and still enjoyed visiting the office fortnightly to pick up her newspapers until the paper closed in 2020.

Her greeting, “hello everyone” and a willingness to have a chat, still makes her popular.

Shirley is the daughter of Herbert and Effie Earl. Herbert was a fireman and regularly officiated at the Odeon Theatre, where a fire officer had to be on duty throughout the movie screenings.

When Shirley applied for the casual position in the distribution department she was interviewed by owner Reg Watson.

At the end of the interview, Watson told Shirley she had the job and asked her to be at the office, ready to work at 1pm the next Thursday. It was the start of a wonderful journey.

Shirley’s job was to look after the 16 paper boys who delivered about 1000 papers to homes, in and around the city. She and other staff wrapped these papers plus

another 1400 which went to the post office. Shirley said the biggest paper round was about 90 and the smallest was Suttontown which about 25.

After she had completed the paper boys’ rounds, other staff would join her at about 4.30pm to wrap the post papers. Apprentice at the time, Malcolm Bryan would then put the papers in a large canvas mail bag, carrying it on the handle bars of The Border Watch bike as he took them to the post office. Usually it meant three trips for each edition.

Shirley remembers that a couple of years after she started Graham Pocock was asked to build a wooden trailer which was hooked to the back of the bicycle enabling the bags to be carried more easily. She said none of the apprentices enjoyed riding the bike or delivering the mail bags in the wooden cart.

At first Shirley worked with Dulcie McRostie and later Phyl Ward in the distribution area. Her first impression of the office was that it was different to anything she had imagined.

“A newspaper office is quite different to other offices with all the different types of machinery, and deadlines are so important,” she said.

“Sometimes a paper break, which happened often, or a stop to correct a mistake could make the difference of a half hour at the end of the day.”

She also made reference to the various skills required to produce a newspaper.

“Each of the departments had different skills or trades and to watch the men operate the press or Linotypes was an eye-opener for me,” she said.

On occasions she was called in to assist in the commercial bookbinding department with Juliana Skawinski. This could involve interleaving race books, especially at June Cup Carnival time, wedding invitations, Christmas cards, accounts and receipt books.

Shirley would work each Saturday throughout June helping fold the front covers of the cup carnival race book and then interleave or slip sheet, as it was called, the inside pages to make up the book, which was then stapled, ready for distribution to hotels and the racing club.

She remembers the huge crisis in 1960 over the printing of a wedding report two weeks prior to the actual wedding.

“Mr Watson was not happy,” Shirley said.

“No one could understand how it could have happened and why there was no photo with the article.

It was very quiet in the editorial room for some weeks after that.”

One of the big frustrations for Shirley and others in the distribution area was when a mistake was found shortly after the press started running.

This meant stopping for 15 minutes while the correction was made and the machine restarted. This would put pressure on her to get the paper boys’ papers out by 4pm otherwise they would be delivering in the dark.

What Shirley enjoyed about her job was that every day was different. “No two days were the same,” she said.

“There were always dramas, problems but they were always fixed.”

In the late 1960s, a wrapping machine was purchased. It was a noisy machine but when it was going well it went “like the clappers”, hence its nickname the “clapper”.

This made Shirley’s job much easier and sometimes the paper boys rounds were wrapped in 30 minutes. Some of the paper boys she remembers include Stuart Stansfield, who would later become a journalist, the Ruediger brothers and Peter Minick.

“Many people ask me, ‘how could you work at the same place for 48 years?’ I loved it. It was like a second family. The boys in the various departments were wonderful to work with. They were always looking after me, protecting me. They were friendly and prepared to talk to me. There was certainly no bullying and if ever I wanted something moved because it was too heavy, they were happy to help,” she said.

“Everyone was treated equally, even the boss Mr Watson would come down to have a chat and if you had been on holidays he wanted to know everything about it.”

She also enjoyed being asked to join The Border Watch social club and remembers fondly the staff picnics each year at Clark Park, near Port MacDonnell.

In her 48 years at the newspaper, Shirley noticed numerous changes, from the old Duplex pressing machine when she first started, the Cossar and to the Goss Community.

Shirley Earl is an icon of The Border Watch, especially among those with whom she worked. She is a treasure and the important part she played in the history of the newspaper can never be understated.