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2011-03, 369, Brian Taylor, Vale

Gerald Lyn Fischer MA (8/7/1923 – 26/8/2010)

(The author acknowledges his indebtedness for some of the following general biographical information to an obituary by the historian Eric Richards that appeared in The Advertiser and was emailed to the Editor by Book Collectors‘
Society of South Australia Treasurer Glen Ralph.)

GERALD LYN FISCHER was brought up in Aldgate, South Australia. His early college training was in the clerical area and he worked as a clerk till he joined the army at the age of 18 in World War II, serving in Australia and the East Indies. He developed an interest in history and literature and wrote some light fiction and verse. After the war he enrolled in the late 1940s as a student at the University of Adelaide and, before completing his degree in 1954, he had moved into archival work, becoming in 1950 archives assistant at the State Library of South Australia.

In 1958 Gerald moved to the reference section of the National Library in Canberra, but only six months later returned to Adelaide and took charge of the Archives Department there. He subsequently became involved with the Australian Dictionary of Biography as well as doing editorial work with the journal South Australia. He was also involved with the new national archivists‘ journal Archives and Manuscripts. He further played a key role in the setting up of the Australian Society of Archivists and served as its second president.

In 1968 Gerald took out his MA degree in History. The following year he was appointed University of Sydney Archivist, succeeding the university‘s first archivist, a Scot named MacMillan (who took over my rather nice old Quadrangle room, when I was the first person to bemoved into the new Christopher Brennan Building in late 1967). While here in the mid-1970s, Gerald published The University of Sydney, 1850-1975: some history in pictures to mark the 125th year of its incorporation (Sydney: University of Sydney, 1975).

During his period as Archivist between 1969 and 1980, he used his periods of sabbatical leave to look at archives and management systems in Britain and on the Continent, including Switzerland. I remember my late colleague John Fletcher once telling me that Gerald owed the spelling of his surname, Fischer, to a German-speaking Swiss forebear. And, indeed, Gerald tells us himself in the opening words of his article ‘Some notes on a few nineteenth-century books about Switzerland’ in Biblionews 294th issue (June 1992), pp. 44-53: ‘My interest in Switzerland began in boyhood when I became aware that my paternal grandfather had migrated to South Australia in 1876 from the Bäretswil Commune of Canton Zürich’.

 

GFischer

 

Gerald Fischer (from Record: The University
of Sydney Archives 2010, p. 5)

It would seem that it was during his time at Sydney or perhaps just before it that he joined the BCSA. He contributed an item to our volume of essays commemorating the 50th anniversary of Biblionews, Fellows of the Book (Sydney: BCSA, 2000) (Studies in Australian Bibliophily, no. 5); it was titled ‘Some minor memories of Walter Stone in the 1960s and 1970s’ (pp. 59-65). In the opening paragraphs he says he first met Walter Stone ‘in 1968 while on a visit to Sydney’, so the year before taking up his archivist position at the university. However, he also says that Stone‘s involvement in the fields of Australian literature, bibliography and book collecting had already come to his attention in connection with studies he was undertaking through the Library Association of Australia and that ‘Walter Stone‘s bibliographies and the journal Biblionews and Australian Notes & Queries which he founded and edited’ were amongst his notable resources.

The first mention of Gerald in Biblionews is in the 222nd issue of January 1968, where on p. 29 we read: ‘From South Australia the latest press book is The Disappearing Barmaid, from the Pump Press, Aldgate. Gerald Fischer, the printer, has quietly been doing entertaining work now for some years, and this item has the same blend of puckish humour and South Australian history that most of his other work displays.’ This brief review does not, of course, indicate whether or not he was yet a member.

Within Australian book collecting circles Gerald Fischer was probably best known for having his own private press, the just mentioned Pump Press. That Pump Press is so well known is in great part due to that Australian doyen of bibliographers of private presses, Tasmanian member Geoffrey Farmer. In the 276th issue of Biblionews (December 1987) Jurgen Wegner reviewed Farmer‘s The literature of Australian private presses and fine printing: a bibliography (Sydney: BCSA, 1986) (Studies in Australian Bibliography, no. 26), pp. 99-114, and there in the section on Pump Press he says (p. 109) ‘that the press has been steadily producing publications for over 30 years!’ Thus Gerald had established his press by the mid-1950s, evidently in Aldgate, well before coming to Sydney, though he brought it with him when he did come and set it up in his home in Mosman, which is given as the place of publication.

This is not the place to deal in any detail with Pump Press; Geoffrey Farmer has already done that for the Society in the very last book (no. 36) issued in our series Studies in Australian Bibliography, namely For personal pleasure, Gerald Lyn Fischer and the Pump Press, with a bibliography (Sydney: BCSA, 1993). It is, however, worth pointing out that its publications were hand set and hand printed and many consisted of only four pages, i.e. a single folded leaf, and so were in fact pamphlets and were in limited editions that could vary from as few as 16 copies up to a few dozen. One Sydney one that catches the eye (4 pp. and 65 copies) is Fillums MCMXXVIII, published in 1975; its puzzling title is explained, in part at least, by the annotation ‘Fillums is taken from the 1928 [song-]book [of the University of Sydney Students‘ Festival]’. When in 1980 Gerald and his wife Gwenda returned to South Australia, the press went with them, was set up in Lyndoch and continued its output.

Gerald Fischer, or ‘G.L. Fischer’ as his authorial name usually was, contributed more to Biblionews after he left Sydney than he did while he was here: apart from his contributions mentioned above to the journal and the anniversary volume, he contributed to the 257th (March 1983) issue his article ‘books on how to write letters’ (pp. 3-12); to the 275th (September 1987) issue ‘James Thompson Hackett‘s published commonplace book’ (pp. 81-86), and to the 302nd (June 1994) issue ‘Some nineteenth century Swiss books: a postscript’ (pp. 63f.).

Gerald‘s articles were virtually all published during the late John Fletcher‘s and my editorships of the journal. I made his acquaintance here in Sydney through John, but I remained but an acquaintance, whereas John was his good friend, as Gerald says in his June 1992 article (p. 53) in mentioning the only book on Switzerland in German that he possessed: ‘This book was a gift to me by John Fletcher who showed many kindnesses to me in this and other ways, and whose friendship and (almost indecipherable) letters I shall greatly miss.’ John had just died at the beginning of that June, and now we have lost another greatly valued member in Gerald Fischer.

Brian Taylor

 

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