Launceston 1982, Three a.m
Even in the 1980s, newspaper journalism wasn’t a particularly healthy occupation.
Sub-editors started their working day in the middle of the afternoon and worked until midnight or when the job was done – whichever came later. The pace of the shifts was irregular: some frantic as subs scrambled to wrestle tens of thousands of words into order as an immutable deadline loomed, others slow and methodical.
Once assured we could do no more for the night, we turned to drink.
Few subs made it home before the early hours, and even fewer were awake and alert enough to enjoy breakfast with their partners or children. Most had lives of heartache and poor health (many smoked at their desks, casually leaving scorch marks on the carpet or the desk itself), balanced only by the excitement of the job – the craft, we called it.
“It’s a shit life,” my first chief sub advised. “You never see your kids and your wife hates you because you’re never there.”
I started subbing on The Examiner in Launceston around 1982.
Sub-editors worked as a team and like other nocturnal wildlife we clung together for protection.
More often than not the subs of The Examiner would adjourn to the Batman Fawkner Inn in Cameron St, which had a late licence.
Sometime between 1am and 2am but sometimes nearer 3am, we’d wander back to the office through the deserted streets of Launceston where the press was speeding up and the newsprint was flying across the rollers.
There was nothing more satisfying than picking a warm paper off the line studying the work that only a few hours earlier we had been engaged in creating: our editing, our designs, our headlines. It was like newly baked bread, the smell of hot ink in our nostrils and newsprint dust in our lungs.
Among other things, my subbing colleague Chris Copas was the paper’s music writer . He boasted an unequalled record collection, most of which were samples supplied by label reps. He lived alone with his German shepherd dog Adolf in a big house not far from the office and would have us back for one last drink before bed. Once there had been a wife and child but now they lived in Queensland.
One evening he played In For The Kill, a vinyl LP with a painted tiger on the cover by Hunter, an English band. The rest of the subs (including myself) had never heard of Hunter. These guys, Copas declared, were going to be the next big thing.
Hunter had a driving, gritty sound led by the raspy, growling voice of lead singer Les Hunt. Their tunes could be soulful and melancholy, or wildly optimistic. We agreed with Copas and adopted the band; In For The Kill became something of a soundtrack for journos drinking late in Launceston that year.
Tracks such as You Can’t Beat Rock’n Roll, Living for the Nights and the album’s masterpiece Do You Believe in UFOs were strong and catchy but Hunter’s version of When You Walked In The Room spoke to me loudest.
Hunter had rearranged Jackie de Shannon’s classic song of unrequited love to bring the middle eight to the start, where Hunt’s aching vocals dripped with emotion: … but I only have the nerve to stare.
At the time there was no significant other in my life – our working conditions made it impossible to meet ordinary people. But there were a few people I wished I could tell how much I felt … and, no, it wasn’t any of the people I worked with.
Hunter never became the next big thing and many years later I found out why. They had officially split even before they had finished recording In For The Kill.
I left Launceston in late 1983, looking for a social life that didn’t take place in the wee small hours with a bunch of sad blokes and a dog called Adolf. A cassette tape of In For The Kill came with me; When You Walk In the Room is one of the few songs I can sing right through.
“I HAD NO IDEA anyone, anywhere listened to In For The Kill,” said the voice on the end of the phone. “I know of only one other person in Australia with the album.”
At different times over the past 30 years, I had tried to find Hunter. Through Google I’d found a link to the keyboard player Chris Ellis, and also to the Cairns Post. Could it be the same Chris Ellis from Hunter.\? So I just rang the Cairns Post and there he was, on the phone. In the mid-1980s, he’d become a journalist, of all things!
“Hunter was fun but none of us were making any money,” Ellis said. “We were on 25 pounds a week from the record company but that only paid for the beer.”
After the demise of Hunter, Ellis and Hunt picked up the changing musical mood and formed a heavy metal band called Demon. Hunt then moved to the Climax Blues Band in the mid 1980s. I moved, eventually to Melbourne, with that cassette tape of In For The Kill.
© Hugh Jones. Hugh is a Melbourne-based journalist and media manager.