The Gumtree Press sits below the Moponui ridge on the North Otago Coast line, and looks over the Purakanui inlet back towards the township, and out to the peeling surf break at Potato Point. The railway lines curve behind the house, and a disused train stop ‘The Gums’, lends it’s name and the promise of a convenient transport alternative. On the Saturday morning I drove out, (listening to the best driving soundtrack ever) the lagoon was filled with glassy green water, and some smiling Purakanuians were guiding their horses down from the gravel road into the estuary mud. A battered sign on the wire farm gate opens to a stone and packed clay road that crosses the inlet flats and twists up and into the North-facing foothills.
Mr Rob Lamb met me at the door, of his green house with black window trim, grabbing his jacket from the hook, and motioning towards the shed,
“It will be cold, keep your jacket on.”
Gumtree Press is housed in a classic kiwi shed and has a wall that splits it into a skinny long comp room, and a large press room. The comp room has a small window that looks out to the Pacific, high benches, clamp lamps, and cubbies filled with various tools and lead strips. The press room has a north facing garage door that opens right up on hot days, and metal shelving runs the length of two walls, filled with ink, paper and projects. Two handsome Arab platen printing presses sit side-by-side along the dividing wall. Both have smooth wooden feed trays, waist-high heavy flywheels, and glinting silver ink disks. The one sitting to the left prints crown folio size and found it’s way to Gumtree via the Buller newspaper rooms on the West Coast. The other, with a foolscap size platen, accompanied polar explorer Ernest Shackleton on his boat from England, and was left in New Zealand on his way to the ice. (Although he did do some press work on the ice, but that’s another story.)
The comp room is lined with tall cabinets filled with heavy, wide wooden trays of 12pt, 18pt, 30pt, Bodoni, Times, Gill, and scripts and serifs gleaned from type cases all over the world. The metallic smell of lead type, mixes with the inky air, and a stocky grey cat called Gordon has a spot on the paper shelves along the back wall.
I knew, as soon as I walked in to the room, that I had found a happy place.
“I’d really like to learn.”
“You mean, like, be my apprentice?”
“Okay, but you have to bring chocolate digestives, and Mint Slices occasionally too.”
“And if a tray of type gets dropped, you have to stay late and put it all back.”
“Cup of tea?”