Blown to Blazes & Other Works of J.B. Blair and Jim Blair’s years at The Bulletin (1934–1961)
(A talk given at the Sydney BCSA meeting of 1 September 2007)
TODAY’S SPEAKER was to have been long time Book Collectors’ Society member Norman Hetherington who was going to talk about his years with The Bulletin (1946-61). However as Norman was somewhat off colour, he expressed the wish to give his talk at a later time.I’ve known Norman all my life and vividly recall the cardboard clowns he made for the hoopla stall my parents conducted at a Fort Street High School fete in the mid–1950s. Norman and my father Jim kept in touch after theyboth left The Bulletin in 1961. Norman, of course, achieved later fame as a puppeteer and creator of Mr Squiggle. Ironically Norman, my brother David and myself all attended Sydney’s Fort Street High School. When I joined the Book Collectors’ Society in 2000, I was delighted to find that Norman and his wife Margaret were regularly attending members.
Jim Blair in his Bulletin office in the second half of the 1940s. Note the non-portable typewriter. The cartoon on the wall is by Ted Scorfield. Featuring Labor politician Francis (Frank) Forde, it appeared in The Bulletin on 21 November 1945.
I’d like to formally introduce my brother David Blair, who is the editor and publisher of Blown to Blazes & Other Works of J.B. Blair and has done most of the work in assembling this anthology. Once the project was up and running I became drawn more into it. When I advised David of Brian’s request to present this talk, David said he’d be more than happy if I looked after it, as he was still deeply embroiled in getting the book together. Inevitably, I’ve drawn substantially from what David has written. David has meticulously endeavoured to be as true to the original layout and style of the works as possible, and no doubt his background as a physicist has been a factor in this. One deviation from the originals is that it seemed more practical for the book to be A4 rather than the original rather cumbersome A3 size. I should indicate here that whilst J B Blair is obviously our father, I will refer to him as Jim.
The Bulletin was a long-established weekly publication with a large circulation and had been going 54 years when Jim Blair joined the staff in 1934. There was a legion of past names associated with The Bulletin: the founders, Archibald and Haynes; one time owner/editor W H Traill, editors James Edmond and S H Prior, Red Page editor A G Stephens; the writers Henry Lawson, Breaker Morant, Barcroft Boake, Randolph Bedford, Steele Rudd, Ernest Favenc, Christopher Brennan, Banjo Paterson, Rod Quinn and Hugh Macrae; and the artists Livingston Hopkins (Hop), Phil May, George Lambert, David Low, David Souter, Hal Gye, B E Minns, Alf Vincent, Will Dyson, Ted Scorfield and the Lindsays, in particular Norman, but also Lionel, Percy, Ruby and Daryl.
I am sure some of you will remember how the old style Bulletin looked with its reddy-pink cover pages in A3 size. For many years the cover featured a full page advertisement (indeed, this was not unusual as ads featured on the cover of the Sydney Morning Herald until replaced by news only in 1944!) and, later, a stately home or building from Great Britain. The overall layout of The Bulletin did not seem to change significantly from 1880 until 1957 when the smaller, more user-friendly A4 format was introduced. This format has continued although the magazine later became glossy.
The literary Red Page was an early feature and remained part of The Bulletin layout along with a number of featured columns, often with quirky sounding titles, such as Plain English, Society, Aboriginalities, Smoke-Oh!, North of Twenty Eight, The Little Sisters, Business Robbery etc. and Wild Cat (both with a focus on financial matters), Women’s Letter, Uncabled Additions, Sporting Notions including a subsection called Footbrawl, Sundry Shows, which included Artbursts. From about 1925 The Bulletin was owned by the Prior family, with S H Prior being both editor and managing director. From 1896 The Bulletin had operated from 214 George Street, Sydney, but in 1931 it relocated to 252 George Street, where it remained until 1964. The Bulletin was still in the ownership of the Prior family when it was bought by Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press in late 1960.1
Jim’s Bulletin years is a period of Bulletin history which has been seriously overlooked by commentators. Patricia Rolfe’s The Journalistic Javelin (published 1979) gives minimal coverage of that period compared to earlier years. But look at the calibre of its staff during Jim’s time— Malcolm Ellis (author of three major biographies: Francis Greenway, John Macarthur and Lachlan Macquarie); Cecil Mann; Douglas Stewart, Red Page editor, poet, author of Fire on the Snow and other verse plays, and presenter of the 1977 ABC radio Boyer Lectures on The Bulletin; David Adams (Bulletin editor 1948–1960, and editor of The Letters of Rachel Henning), Charles Shaw (author of Heaven Knows, Mr Alison); Ronald McCuaig (known as ‘Swilliam’); Andree Hayward (whose pseudonym was T the R); Stan Keough (Bo); Nancy Keesing; James Macdonnell (author of numerous navy-related novels); and Tom Fitzgerald; and artists—the Lindsays, Ted Scorfield, Unk White, John Frith, Oswald Pryor, Eric Joliffe, Hotty Lahm, Jim Phillips, Angus McGregor, Les Such, Sid Black and Norman Hetherington. Scores of other illustrious writers wrote for The Bulletin over this period—Les Robinson, JHM Abbott, Kenneth Slessor, Dulcie Deamer, Rosemary Dobson, Judith Wright, Kylie Tennant, Francis Webb, Roland Robinson, Brian James, Brian Penton, Eric Schlunke, Olaf Ruhen, R S Porteous and Hal Porter, to name a few.
Whilst The Bulletin was always based in Sydney, Jim wasn’t. He was born James Beatton Blair in 1903 in the town of Port Augusta on Spencers Gulf in South Australia. His father, Will, worked in various unskilled jobs; his mother, Nellie, had five children, with Jim the only son. While Jim was still a toddler, the family moved to the small, remote north-western town of Tarcoola where his father worked as a miner. The family returned to Port Augusta and two or three stories in the book are set there. Not only was this a poor family, they were also stricken with ill health. Jim’s mother, Nellie, contracted TB and died just after Jim turned eight. His two eldest sisters, both in their early teens, died of TB soon after. The upside was that Jim and his two other sisters, Barbara and Lorna, all lived well into their eighties.
Will and his three children moved to Adelaide where there was more work, but they continued to move regularly and Jim attended a number of schools. His major high school was Woodville District High. After leaving school he joined the Adelaide Steamship Company as a clerk and remained there for 14 years, during which time he completed various qualifications in Accountancy and attended Adelaide University. He continued living with his father and younger sister.
His closest friend at this time was Ashley Cooper, with whom he worked at Adelaide Steam. Both joined the Modern Pickwick Club, which catered for bachelors and focused on debating and public speaking. In 1932 the magazine South Australia Home and Garden ran a literary competition. Jim and Ashley both wanted to enter, but because there could be only one winner, they decided to toss a coin and whoever lost would enter the next competition. Jim won the toss, submitted “The Meeting”, and won the competition with its prize of one guinea (one pound one shilling). The story appeared in the June edition, but at the end of the piece was a paragraph indicating that due to the poor response, there would be no further competitions. Poor Ashley missed out! “The Meeting” is Jim’s first known published work.
There was a sequel to this. While attending a garage sale in Marrickville in the late 1980s I found some old copies of South Australian Home and Garden and to my amazement spotted Jim’s story. I couldn’t wait to tell Jim the news. He had totally forgotten about the story. Shortly afterwards I accompanied Jim to Adelaide for the Centenary Dinner of the Modern Pickwick Club, and the Keeper of the Archives, Jim’s old mate, Ashley Cooper, had arranged for an excerpt from “The Meeting” to be read out at the dinner.
In 1933 Jim’s father died; but in the following month, September, Jim had his first story published in The Bulletin, called Unfettered Shackles. Some weeks later The Bulletin published The Art of Fishing, which begins:
There are few places where fishing is not practised. Among them are places where there is no water. For example, the Sahara, Gobi, Kalihari, Arabian, Great Sandy and Wilfrid deserts, Alice Springs, Charlotte Waters and the proposed new City Baths.
Shortly after this The Bulletin’s fifth editor, John Webb, wrote to Jim requesting a “yarn for our Christmas Number. Nothing serious: too many of our story writers are becoming melancholy.” He went on, “By the way! What is your calling? Are you Australian-born and how old? Don’t think this merely impertinent curiosity.” Jim obliged with a yarn called Light Refreshments, a tall story set in the Antarctic. He added his brief CV listing his particulars including qualifications (which he described as ‘Drawbacks’), Vices (‘varied, but uninteresting’) and Accomplishments (‘Cannot sing’).
The Bulletin’s letter offering permanent employment with a starting salary of £8 per week indicated Jim had “a sense of humour and can write. What further appeals to us is that you’re modest enough to doubt yourself.” On the strength of three published stories and some correspondence he was drafted onto The Bulletin staff. Jim moved to Sydney where he was to remain, except for three to four years of the war. He was immediately put in charge of the “Smoke-Oh!” page and his first par appeared on 14 March 1934. “Smoke-Oh!” was devoted almost entirely to humour either in the form of short paragraphs known as pars or, what David calls, short short stories. Jim wrote several series of these with titles such as “Peeps at the Professions”, “Glimpses at the Past” and the curiously named “Prince George’s Advance Agent Sends His Impressions to the Fifth Equerry”. Contributions were from both staff and readers and pseudonyms were mostly used. Jim had three regular pseudonyms – Jasby (short for James + the first letter of his surname), Uco and Findy, both stemming from his Adelaide days. (Incidentally, a quaint, but now obsolete word I’ve found in old Bulletins is paragraphist, meaning a ‘writer of newspaper paragraphs’.)
In his introduction to the book David alludes to various groupings of stories. One such grouping he calls “Inspections”, which include: a visit to Cinesound, where film director Ken Hall is filming Strike Me Lucky starring the comedian Roy Rene, better known as Mo; a visit to Sydney’s ice skating rink, the Glaciarium, that was near Central Station; and another called Whaling for Pleasure. In each case Jim is the reporter and John Frith the illustrator, though they are referred to as Frith and The Psychologist. John Frith was a staff artist who illustrated a number of Jim’s stories. He went on to become the first political cartoonist for the Sydney Morning Herald and was the chief cartoonist for the Melbourne Herald for 20 years. He it was who dubbed politician Arthur Calwell, possibly because of some resemblance to a cockatoo, Cocky Calwell. He was also a sculptor of note.
These inspections are all light-hearted and comical in tone. Interviewing a Ship’s Cat involves visiting a luxury liner in port, the Manoora, with the view to interviewing the ship’s commander. The commander proves elusive, as do, in turn, the chief engineer, the officers and the ship’s cook. Jim encounters the ship’s cat:
“If it’s tales you’re interested in, I could unfold one,” said the Ship’s Cat. I looked around. There he was, a big yellow-and-black tom, curled up on a barnacle or binnacle or something. “ Puns,” I remarked, “are in very bad taste.” “ You’re telling me,” replied the cat. “ Me, what’s been at sea, man and boy, for nigh on 60 years.’ “ Sixty years!” I said doubtfully. “ Cats don’t live 60 years. ” “ Haven’t y’ heard of the cat o’ ninetails?” “Yes, but”——“There you go again. I’ll do the talking. Nine tails, nine lives. Look at me. One tail only. I’m on my last life.” I was convinced against my will. Probably there was a flaw in the argument somewhere, but I couldn’t see it.
There follows a long discussion where the ship’s cat is grumpy about the brand new ship and yearns for the old days. The narrator starts feeling sorry for him. He goes on:
He was clearly out of his age—a relic of a period that was now gone. “But,” I said, “you are an old servant of the firm. Surely you can arrange a transfer to an older boat—one where you——”
He broke in hotly. “No transfers for me, nor pension lists either. This is my ship, and I’m going to stand by her. I won’t let ’em say I fell down on my job. And, besides, you never know. Some day a rat may come on board. Stranger things have happened.”
He looked at me meaningly, winked his starboard eye and walked away.
I was still gazing after him when Frith arrived.
“Where have you been?” he demanded.
I turned to him. “I have been talking to the spirit of the Manoora.” I replied.
“So have I,” replied Frith. “And it’s damn’ good stuff, too. Let’s come and have another.”
A feature of this anthology is that after many of the stories David gives a commentary. In this case he makes the observation: “Jim uses the cat’s complaints as back-handed compliments to draw attention to the luxurious features of the Manoora. There is a significant pattern here. Repeatedly Jim presents the argument of his ‘opponent’ (in this case the crusty cat), stringing along with the opponent for a while. In due course the real point that Jim wishes to make emerges irresistibly. This is a technique that Jim used to great effect in his later political writing in The Bulletin.
A larger batch of Jim’s stories involved a variation on a time machine type device. This invention, called The Reacher-Outer-Bringer-Backer, enables one to hear conversations from bygone eras. The device is used for various money-making schemes which are totally absurd, but one gets carried along by the concept. The schemes invariably end in failure as crime or profit-making deceit cannot, in the 1930s anyway, pay.The main character in these stories is Eddie Rumpelmayer. In the story “The Reacher-Outer-Bringer-Backer” Rumpy and his associate endeavour to bring back Nelson’s words at the Battle of Trafalgar, believed to be “Kiss me, Hardy”. In “Rumpelmayer’s Reverser” the schemers find a way to re-record gramophone records played backwards and palm them off as works by a Russian composer named Vitchisvitch: hence Colonel Bogey’s March becomes General Par’s March and The Merry Widow becomes The Dissolute Bachelor. The scheme makes lots of money until things start to go inevitably wrong.
These stories appeared in the 1930s, but in 1954 they were given a new lease of life when Frank Johnson in his Magpie series brought them together into a so-called novel which was titled Pardon My Intrusion. To make the book more marketable the coloured illustration on the cover was of a voluptuous, scantily-clad blonde in a seductive pose with a man in Elizabethan dress. Jim reckoned this was supposedly Queen Elizabeth the First. Though her real looks hardly match the picture, Jim apparently didn’t mind this brazen embellishment of his work.2
After Jim married Phyllis Stennett in 1936 he became editor of The Bulletin’s sister paper The Australian Woman’s Mirror and remained there for nearly six years. This weekly had started in 1924 and was a major women’s paper for about 37 years. Today it seems bizarre that the editor was a male, but this was indicative of the times. Women did work for the Mirror and, of course, the bulk of the contributions were from women. Jim brought various innovations to the Mirror, most significantly a weekly comic strip which had started not long before in the United States. This was The Phantom. Little did Jim then know that he introduced one of the most famous comic strips of all time into Australia. It first appeared on 1 September 1936 and for the benefit of Australian readers the story was transposed into a Sydney setting with an ocean liner arriving in Sydney Harbour. The Phantom continued running in the Mirror until 1961. In the late 1930s The Bulletin published the first full comic book of The Phantom. Jim had a copy of this but sadly appears to have discarded it. A few months before Jim died, David and I took him to an exhibition of Phantom memorabilia in Sydney’s Woollahra. We told the organiser about Jim’s claim to fame but, as I recall, he didn’t seem particularly interested.
Jim’s Mirror years didn’t prevent him from furthering his output of short stories and other material for The Bulletin. He wrote about all manner of things including village green cricket, about a side which rarely won and where no game was played without the presence of two or three nine-gallon kegs of beer:
The Limpinghome Leatherhunters have played the grand old game for upwards of seventy seasons during which period it is claimed, they have never fielded exactly the same team twice. It is a striking testimony to their love of the sport that the club is still flourishing after seven decades of reverses, for it is an undeniable fact that their victories have been almost as rare as the occasions on which they have returned home without emptying the last keg.
One of the players is Chukka Greenslope, quite in the old tradition, who lately covered himself with glory by a spectacular run-out when he threw the ball at one wicket and hit the other. When asked whether he had really intended to hit that wicket, he replied that he had originally aimed at the other but had changed his mind soon after the ball left his hand.
In Picnic Races someone comes up with the bright idea of switching horses halfway through the race. This takes place in a little patch of scrub along a country racecourse just before the three-furlong post, which is out of sight of the spectators. Before long others cotton on to the lurk such that at one stage there are twelve instead of six horses in the scrub. In later races additional horses are added, and extra jockeys, and confusion reigns. Back in the city is an endearing story called The Lost Tram set on the North Sydney to Chatswood tram route, where both the driver and conductor are new to the route and the tram goes astray. One of Jim’s classics is The Strip Stroll, where a large sum of money will be bequeathed to the city if the mayor walks naked from Central Railway Station to Circular Quay.
In 1937 The Bulletin serialised over seven weeks No Train on Tuesday illustrated by Unk White. In “No Train” a NSW town secedes from Australia and installs a new governor, a Scottish laird, who brings along a bagpiper. Assorted odd characters are thrown into the mix where the town leaders plot, the state and federal governments counterplot and mayhem ensues. In 1954 Frank Johnson published No Train on Tuesday as a humorous novel.
Well before the Pardon My Intrusion anthology was Jim’s first anthology named after one of his stories, Miss Pennycuick’s Nightie. This 1941 collection included three stories featuring world famous detective Stagnant Waters, a Sherlock Holmes type of character, who also has a brilliant mind and utilises disguise to great effect.
In early 1942 in the wake of Pearl Harbour, Jim, now 38, enlisted in the army and had two tours of duty in New Guinea. On one occasion when he was walking along a track up there, an air drop landed almost at his feet, which amazingly was a bundle of Woman’s Mirrors, of which he was still the official editor.
One of his war stories, Point of View, won a Special Prize in the ABC Story Competition for the Armed Services in 1943. This was in a more serious vein than his usual work, embracing issues of integration, racism and mateship. The main character, Wang, a Chinese Malayan, was based on a real life army colleague. David believes this story was considered the best of those submitted to the ABC, but due to the somewhat controversial nature of the story, it didn’t win. It doesn’t seem to have been published in The Bulletin; however, it appeared in the 1944 anthology of Australian Stories Coast to Coast.
Returning from the war, Jim requested a return to The Bulletin and thus began his third distinct phase. Whilst he continued to have his short stories and pars published, he became associate editor and writer of leaders, subleaders and articles, which were mostly unsigned, so it is not easy to track what he wrote. Among the material Jim photocopied were unsigned articles that he certainly wrote; however while recently researching in the University of Sydney’s Fisher Library, I located an index listing 156 leaders and articles written by J B Blair in 1957–58, which gives some idea as to his overall output between 1946 and 1960.
By 1947 Jim had three sons and started his series about the Noyse family. N-O-Y-S-E reflected the name Blair (Blare), but he retained the names and ages of his sons, David, Tony and Richard. He added an elder daughter named Patricia. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy when in 1951 the real Patricia Blair arrived to complete the family. Jim had six Noyse family stories published. This style of writing was not necessarily original, but in later years writers such as Ross Campbell, Morris Gleitzman and Richard Glover also drew from family experience to write about life. Some of these stories are illustrated by Heth, who we all know as Norman Hetherington.
David doesn’t recall all of the events covered in the Noyse stories—a fear of things that crawl and the dangers of inserting a lemon in the mouth— but he certainly remembers the material covered in “Ancestor Washup” about genealogy, an interest which David cultivated from an early age, and the joys of owning a 16-year-old Renault, in a story called “Starter Trouble”, where the story is told from the car’s perspective. In “Chicken Dinner”, David, aged seven and recognised as the thinker of the family, has decided that eating chicken for Christmas dinner is wrong. The setting is Christmas Day, 1946:
Mr. Noyse was a great believer in the traditional Christmas and he felt impelled to introduce a Dickensian flavour into the feast by proposing a toast. From somewhere he had secured a bottle of light wine, which he now proceeded to open with due ceremony while his spouse was doing the honours with the vegetables and trimmings. Tiny glasses had been provided for the children, to allow them to honour the toast in thimble-sized libations.
Mr. Noyse rose to his feet, glass in hand. “I give you,” he said, “Christmas. A Happy Christmas to all the world.”
“ Happy Christmas to all the world,” chorused the family.
Glasses were replaced on the table and knives and forks picked up.
“ Please can I start?” yelled Tony, his mouth already full.
David, fork in hand, regarded his plate.
“ It’s a Happy Christmas, all right,” he said reprovingly, “for everyone except this chicken.”
“ Don’t talk nonsense,” said his mother. “Eat your dinner like a sensible boy.”
David centred his attack on his sister, who appeared to be enjoying the feast free from any idealistic qualms.
“ I’m surprised at you!” he said, “eating a poor chicken that was running around yesterday.”
He considered a moment and added, “Or the day before.”
Jim wrote some reminiscences from his early life in South Australia. Most poignant of these was “The Sheoak”, which does not appear to have been published. It concerns his sighting of the Great Comet of 1910 and some poignant memories surrounding his mother’s death from TB. In “Pioneers and a Parachute” he recalls indulging with fellow schoolboys in the so-called Donkey Martin Nerve Test, a forerunner to “playing chicken”; then he relates the amazing flight of a home-made parachute across the countryside. This story elicited a letter from an old schoolmate who was finally able to prove to his wife that this extraordinary parachute flight had really happened. My favourite of this batch is “Please to Remember” about Guy Fawkes Day as celebrated in Port Augusta. The first part focuses on going from door to door with “the guy” seeking “pennies for the old guy’s hat”, then on to the incredible evening bonfire. The climax came:
My sister had a jumping-jack left. “Better let me light it,” I said, butshe insisted on doing it herself.
After wasting three matches she managed to get the wick to splutter,then with a shriek threw the thing from her. It landed just behind myenemy, the Halls’ kangaroo-dog, who had just sauntered up to watchproceedings. Hearing the splutter, he turned round to investigate, and was just in time to get the benefit of the first explosion. Where the second and third jumps took the jack I have no idea; during the next half-minute there was too much to watch for me to worry about a little thing like that. At the bang Splinter almost threw himself over backwards, and in doing so collided with Mr. Lodge.
This would not have mattered so much if the old man had still been engaged in giving out crackers, or even if he had merely been standing admiring the blaze and chanting songs about Guy Fawkes, but unfortunately he was in the act of lighting a skyrocket. He had, in fact, just lit it and was rising to his feet when Splinter crashed into him. Caught off balance, he fell on the rocket just as it was leaving the ground. The bump diverted it so that instead of describing a graceful parabola it merely shot along about a foot off the ground. Roly Hall saw it coming and flung himself aside. He needn’t have worried; the rocket wasn’t looking for him. Its goal was the Hall boys’ case of fireworks.
The glory of the next couple of minutes was something to be talked about for years. There were youngsters who claimed afterwards that they could distinguish in the flare-up particular types of fireworks— flower-pots, mines-of-serpents, fiery-fountains and so on—but I don’t claim that. All I remember is a furnace of multi-coloured flame cascading sparks in all directions, a farrago of deafening reports, and from the midst of it all half a dozen glorious rockets burning their way to the stars.
By late 1960 both The Bulletin and Woman’s Mirror were running at a financial loss and the Prior family had no option other than to sell to Consolidated Press, which was owned by Frank (later Sir Frank) Packer. Within a matter of months the majority of the staff left. It was a dramatic end to The Bulletin of old, and Packer, with Donald Horne as editor, took The Bulletin in new directions, while the Mirror was absorbed into Everybody’s Magazine.
After leaving The Bulletin Jim was appointed Research Officer with the NSW Public Service Board. He became speechwriter for the Chairman, Sir John Goodsell, and editor of the Board’s quarterly journal Progress. He said that, at 57, this was the first time he ever had to sign an attendance book. He retired at 67. Most of the material in Progress was unsigned, but we believe Jim, as editor/compiler, wrote most of it. One piece he definitely wrote appeared in 1962. It is a satirical piece which sends up the practice, especially common in the Public Service, of using lengthy phraseology or jargon. Jim always preferred a simpler word to a more obscure one, unlessstriving for effect. “Waltzing Matilda” is paraphrased as “Once an Itinerant Indigent”. It starts:
It would appear that on a certain occasion an undetermined number of years ago an itinerant unemployed person of the male sex, who was without visible means of support and had no known address, established a temporary abode adjacent to a sheet of surplus water which had overflowed from a river, due to flood conditions having developed at higher elevations somewhat nearer to the source and thus having injected into the stream a greater volume of water than the banks could retain at the one time, having regard to the material of which they were composed and their effective height in relation to the surrounding terrain.
The actual situation selected for his domicile by the unemployed indigent person was located in such a position that a tree of either the eucalyptus microtheca or eucalyptus largiflorens—there is unfortunately a conflict of opinion among authorities on this point. Further inquiries have been instituted and it is anticipated that a more definite pronouncement will be forthcoming in this connection in the near future—variety afforded him some degree of protection from the direct rays of the sun. The circumstances of his taking up residence at that particular locality make it obvious that he possessed no domiciliary rights in connection with the aforesaid location either in his own right or as an agent for the legal owner or (in the event of the land being the subject of a Crown lease) the lessee. There is nothing to suggest that he had been granted, or had even applied for, permissive occupancy. He was, in fact, a trespasser. In view of subsequent developments it is advisable that this aspect should not be overlooked.
Jim’s other published novel was his 1963 childrens’ adventure story set in New Guinea called The Secret of the Reef. It was serialized in the Sun-Herald newspaper the following year. For many years he had contributed editorials and other articles to The Border Morning Mail in Albury, and edited magazines such as The United Service Quarterly, The Harbour and The Contract Reporter. His main writing in retirement was genealogical in nature. He died in 1991 aged 87.
May I add that our book includes two published pieces by our mother Phyllis Blair, who died in 1976: “Pink Camellias”, a story in the Woman’s Mirror, refers to the shrubs that lined our Marrickville avenue; her article “Pin-up Girls of Yesterday” was in The Sydney Morning Herald.
We expect the book to be available by the end of 2007. David is planning a companion book of Jim’s works comprising: verse; humorous and human-interest articles shorter than most of the works in this book; more serious articles on politics and current affairs; and three further stories discovered too late for inclusion in the current book. This companion book will also discuss in some detail both The Bulletin and The Australian Woman’s Mirror during Jim’s association with these magazines.
The book was published in December 2007 and relevant details appear below. On 24 January 2008—128 years to the week after The Bulletin first appeared—it was announced that this was the final edition of The Bulletin, though technically the date on that issue was 29 January 2008. The justification for its demise seems twofold: a) The Bulletin was operating at a financial loss (although this had not apparently overly concerned the late Kerry Packer, keen to maintain the tradition); and b) the associated huge drop in circulation largely attributable to the ever-increasing access to the immediacy of online news, rendered this weekly paper largely irrelevant. There have since been suggestions that The Bulletin may survive in some sort of online format. Ironically, it was also for financial reasons that The Bulletin of Jim Blair’s era was sold just over 47 years before, in late 1960!
1. Commentators these days decry the slogans that used to appear on the front page of The Bulletin: initially it was “Australia for the Australians”, but this was later changed to “Australia for the White Man”, which continued until removed by Frank Packer and Donald Horne in 1960. Whilst we now regard the latter slogan in particular as deplorable, it was indicative of the majority view of the population of earlier times, though deemed offensive and totally inappropriate by the time of its removal.
2 After giving this talk I located a manuscript held by the Mitchell Library for a collection of short stories titled Rumpelmayer’s Reverser and Other Stories. Three bibliographic references confirmed that this was published by Frank Johnson in about 1944 as #39 in the Magpie Series. No copy of this book has yet been located so we are not certain which stories appeared there; however, of the 13 stories in the draft, 11 had previously appeared in The Bulletin and most reappeared in Pardon My Intrusion (1954). The two remaining stories, not known to have appeared in The Bulletin are titled “I’ll Take the Blame” and “What Happened to Herman”, a farce about Hermann Goering. “I’ll Take the Blame” is known to have appeared in It’s a Beaut!, another Frank Johnson short publication that includes cartoons. Their rediscovery was too late for inclusion in the current book.