The piece of paper was a blank invoice from the 1940s, with a beautiful letterhead:
I looked and saw other pieces of paper: job sheets, quotations, sketches. All from the same era, and the same signwriting company. As I picked them up I saw they were blowing in from the fenced-off end of the street, where demolition was underway, next to a railway line that will soon have a track added.
The gate was unlocked so I went in and collected more pieces of paper until the site manager drove in, saw me and told me to leave. I waited until he left, then went back (the gate was still unlocked). In the bushes on the pavement next to the railway line, I found a tattered, bound book labelled 'Incoming Correspondence' that contained letters, telegrams, statements and other documents:
The book contains the 1947 and 1948 correspondence of a company called Australasian Radio Productions, producers of radio serials during the 'golden era' of radio in Australia (before the advent of television, I found out later, Melbourne was a centre of radio production). The co-owner and director of ARP was Morris West. West would later become Australia's most internationally successful author with 70 million book sold. The book contains a wealth of material including correspondence with writers about serial plots, negotiations with radio stations and the Australian Performing Rights Association, memos to other ARP staff and royalty statements from West's first book, Moon in my Pocket.
Now excited, I noticed that these scattered papers seemed to originate from the fenced-off demolition site next to the street, which until recently had been a Vietnamese-owned mechanic business that I passed every morning after parking my car. So after work, and after the blokes in hard hats had left, I went back, jumped over the fence and found a large pile of damp, musty papers unceremoniously dumped on the concrete and exposed to the elements:
For the next two hours I rummaged through the pile. It mainly contained the records of the Lewis and Skinner signwriting company back to the 1920s, but also contained other ARP records, in various states of decay.
By the time I sneaked out in the dusk (and was seen leaving by the security guard on patrol) I'd found the outgoing ARP correspondence book, invoices and a pile of other loose correspondence that spanned from 1946 until 1954, when, I've found out, West sold the company.
So the last few nights I've been reading and sorting, trying to dry out the damp and grubby archive, and in one case moving papers to new folders, for obvious reasons:
The more I delve, the more I find. And the web is filling in some missing bits. So far I've read about things like:
- West's lively correspondence with writer/director Shan Benson, who was quite a prolific ABC documentary producer (eg his doco on the Flinders Ranges: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNdBPKTwtq8)
- West's attempts to resuscitate the career of wayward voice actor Clifford Cawley (a colourful story about which is described in a paper by West's biographer Maryanne Confoy: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=084723527524201;res=IELHSS)
- Issues with radio show recordings and discs, clients, writers etc
- The corporate trajectory of ARP, from expansion and intense creativity to financial complexity, incorporation into the Frank Mason advertising group and ultimate demise, in parallel with West's nervous breakdown, departure and reemergence as a full-time writer
- The connection of ARP to Skinner and Lewis, Frank Mason and other companies (see this 1950 business article in the Adelaide Advertiser: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/50202428?searchTerm=Frank%20Mason%20&%20Co&searchLimits=)
I'm still figuring it all out.