Birthday girl: Celebrating the entrepreneurial life of first lino operator

Oct 11, 2020 at 06:47 pm by Staff

With Australia's 'women in print' leaders in mind, a nod to Olive Ketels, whose 95th birthday it would have been today, October 11.

Those inclined to question 'Olive who?' might like to note Victoria's - and possibly Australia's - first Linotype operator.

To which before we beg another question, I'll volunteer the following: A Linotype was a machine for setting lead type for letterpress printing, casting complete lines rather than individual letters. Inventor Ottmar Mergenthaler incidentally, died in October 1899 aged 45, but not before patenting his invention in the US.

But back to Olive Ketels who, as the step-daughter of an itinerant newspaperman, learned every job in the business - from journalist and sub-editor to lino-op and stone-hand, laying out letterpress pages which she read upside-down and left-to-right (think about it) as was the practice of the day.

'Father' George Hopkins launched the eight-page weekly Leongatha Echo in South Gippsland, in the state's south-east.

In an obituary in The Age following her death on August 25, 2007, her grandson and nephew told of the many skills which accompanied her deft fingers and quick eye.

Shane Threlfall and Philip Hopkins recalled the woman who became more and more involved in production of the newspaper after her husband, Cliff Ketels and eldest brother Keith, went to war soon after her marriage in 1940. Neither were to return.

"Ever the newspaperwomen, Olive stayed in bed and tapped out the last story for that week's paper before being taken to hospital in nearby Korumburra to deliver their first child, Leeona," they said.

Postwar entrepreneurial efforts included publication of the country's first colour knitting books, and a shop in Warrnambool selling corsetry and lingerie - her slogan, 'if your figure isn't becoming to you, you should be coming to Olive Ketels' - establishing a brand and an institution which though closed, is still to be found on Google today.

Recruitment consultant James Cryer - to whom, thanks for Olive's story, from a newspaper cutting still in his possession - comments on how ironic it was that back then, publishers in tiny towns scattered around our country and regional areas were able to thrive on micro-circulations.

"Only recently the giant publishing behemoths admitted defeat by closing dozens of local newspapers on which many locals had become dependent for decades. These big, ungainly behemoths were never a good match for the small, often home-grown newspaper-publishing entities that could produce papers with a high-degree of local content, on the smell of an oily rag," he says.

"It's just a pity the big battalions were allowed to gobble up these micro-businesses when it was obvious it would all end in tears. A better solution would have been for the government to have blocked this massive grab for market-share on the grounds that it was 'not in the public interest' as local news content disappeared."

If only we'd known!

Peter Coleman


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