Before Federation in 1901, the printing of official records, statutes, ordinances, electoral rolls and general jobbing work was the responsibility of government printers who were appointed by colonial governments. Prior to this, various private printing businesses undertook ‘official’ work, sometimes as self-proclaimed government printers.
George Howe was appointed government printer by Governor John Hunter around 1800, remaining in the position until his death in 1821. Curiously, Howe was also allowed to pursue private work, which included his publication of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1803.
The New South Wales Government Printing Office was formally established by Governor Sir George Gipps in 1840, and operated from a building at Phillip and Bent Streets, Sydney. New premises were designed and built in Ultimo in 1959. Here the office remained until its closure in 1989, when government printing was contracted to private companies.
In 1851, Victoria became a separate colony and gold was discovered at Ballarat. That same year, the Victorian Government Printing Office was established by the Lieutenant-Governor, Charles La Trobe. In November 1851, John Ferres, previously manager of the Melbourne Herald, was appointed government printer. A large, three-storey dedicated printing office was completed in 1858 on a site behind the Treasury and Parliament buildings.
After Ferres’ death in 1887, management of the Government Printing Office was passed on to his nephew, R.S. Brain. From 1901 until his own death five years later, Brain held the joint positions of federal and Victorian government printer.
After Federation, the federal parliament and many departments of the federal government were based in Melbourne, pending a decision about the location of the national capital. Responsibility for both Victorian and federal printing requirements was held by the Federal and Victorian Government Printing Offices. To cope with the new government’s incredibly high demands for printing, large contracts were let for the supply of machinery and materials. Under a formal agreement, each office was to purchase its own paper and consumables. Each office would also purchase its own machinery, which was shared for the duration, and Victoria hired the staff. In 1927, the transfer of federal government departments and personnel to Canberra began.
In June 1927, 86 male employees and 15 female bookbinders were transferred to Canberra to initiate the Commonwealth Government Printing Office. From 1906, Herbert Green supervised government printing for both Victoria in Melbourne and for the Commonwealth in Canberra until L.F. Johnston assumed sole responsibility as Commonwealth Government Printer in 1929.
A new modern plant began operation in 1963, with 600 personnel. Hansard and many other publications and reports were phototypeset and printed on modern high-speed offset presses. The Commonwealth Government Style Manual was first published in 1966. This manual was and still remains an important reference for authors, editors and printers. It is currently in its sixth edition.
Seven government printers had occupied the office by the time Frank Atkinson was promoted to the position in 1972. Atkinson was a qualified compositor, a technical education teacher and had completed an Honours degree in commerce. He resigned the position in 1977 to become Victoria’s government printer.
The Australian Government Publishing Service (AGPS) was established in 1970 under the recommendations of the Erwin Committee on Parliamentary and Government Publications. The Commonwealth Government Printing Office later became a part of the organisational structure of the AGPS. Both continued to serve the government for many years until they were privatised in 1997 and replaced by an authority with individual departments having the power to outsource their own printing. The Victorian Government Printing Office moved to modern premises in Macaulay Road, North Melbourne in 1961, but was abolished in 1997.
Government printing offices in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland were similarly responsible for official printed material; however, as in the cases of New South Wales and Victoria, government printing eventually became the realm of contractual arrangements with private firms.
REFs: T.A. Darragh, Printer and Newspaper Registrations in Victoria,1838–1924 (1997); D. Hauser, Printers of the Streets and Lanes of Melbourne (1837–1975) (2006).