Early this morning I wandered through an old, deserted warehouse watching the dusty cobwebs drift lazily on an invisible zephyr. My three hundredth sneeze echoed in the empty silence and rattled the mercury vapour lamps hanging from the ceiling like grimy grey stalactites. I rubbed itchy eyes with the knuckle of my right index finger and completed my last walk-through of the man-made cave. After thirteen years it was finally time to go.
In 1987 I began working for my family business. It was my second job out of high school and only my third in total. I was a salesman and graphic art supplies was my specialty. Vertical cameras standing six feet tall, diffusion transfer silver-bromide paper, panchromatic lith film that had to be handled in complete darkness – these extinct products were highlights of my price list.
Base camp was the suburb of Marrickville in NSW, an ethnically diverse community with the best Yeeros and Pho soup I have ever tasted. From here I serviced a client base that ranged from Newcastle to Wollongong and as far west as Katoomba. Long hours alone on the road, excellent customer hospitality at the other end. I drank good coffee, bad coffee and something that resembled coffee in a previous life. My favourite was Turkish coffee, so thick that the teaspoon stood straight up in the cup instead of resting against the lip. That was a buzz!
We moved twice in the ten years since I began working with my father, finally settling down in the 290 square meters we would call home in 1998. Rusty racks laden with printing plates lined the walls of the warehouse. A colossal cool room kept photographic film at the required temperature. The gas powered forklift rumbled along the driveway moving pallets of chemicals from articulated lorries as people busied themselves in the Hardiplank offices above.
Unit 6 was alive!
In the dawning decade of the twenty-first century the business grew, and changed. The desktop publishing revolution was well underway when inkjet evolved into a serious solution for proofing and poster production. Apple, Epson and HP were encroaching on the realms of Agfa, Kodak and Fuji; usurping traditional print and photographic processes in their path.
Photographic film went the way of the Dodo.
Pots of printing ink became cartridges of toner.
Lithographic tape became memory modules.
Folks Graphics became Creative Folks.
Unit 6 was thriving!
Staff levels increased, stock levels decreased and the focus shifted. The consumable division was sold off to make way for better IT support facilities and the old building watched helplessly as the oxidised iron shelves were recycled and the rumbling forklift drove away. A roaring silence permeated the atmosphere when the cool room generators were turned off for the very last time and I’m sure I heard Unit 6 sigh as the removalists relocated its family east of the Cooks River.
I said goodbye to my old friend one last time this morning. The roller shutter door squealed a final farewell as I slid the bolts into place. Fluorescent lights flickered upstairs, and then became dark.
My eyes watered. I swear it was the dust.