I don't recall exactly who's idea the bus was. My memory (or should I say lack of memory) on the subject could be directly attributed to any number of things ...exuberance .....enthusiasm ...spirit of the collective....(my feeling is the word 'spirit' may have more than just a little to do with it). Suffice to say that last years letterheads meeting in Maitland ended with SOMEONE suggesting hiring a bus to ferry hardened heads fanatics across three States to Loxton, South Australia, for an Annual Australian Letterhead meeting September 11,12 & 13th. 1998. (Blame will be proportioned at a later date <wink>) I won't bore you with the minor details of ......oops we left it a little late to confirm and ended up with the last bus in creation! What I will say is when I first set eyes on the 'Chariot from Hell' (a.k.a. Priscilla of the desert) my normal optimistic view of the world darkened...just a little.
(exert from phone log week leading up to Letterheads)
Dave: 6am sharp! Inquiring sign maker: What? Dave: Yup, that's right. We are Leaving Newcastle at 6am. No excuses.... No hanging around waiting for stragglers. We have four pickup points along a 20 hour route. We have to stick to a firm timetable or we'll never get there!
Over hearing this conversation a few times the week before departure to Loxton always put a smile on my face. If Dave was speaking with one of the blokes, he would punctuate with something like....Toughen up girly!... or if the sign maker in question was female, he would comment on how 'women' always hold every thing up you know! I all but belly laughed when he turned that finger waving reminder in my direction. This from the person who has a spider with 'lots of hands' tattooed on his wrist in place of a watch. Dave operates on 'Dave time'....which I can assure you has absolute no relationship to real time in any way.
As we drove our car into the workshop car park on Thursday morning at 6.20am (sharp ha ha) the faces of Newcastle sign makers, Michael George, Fiona Dewis, Rod Beath and our right hand man Jamie Callaghan (commonly call Uncle) were broad with grins. While Dave stumbled though his apologize for being late I laughed out loud!
It seemed upon inspection Michael had already found the large storage bay at the rear of the bus, in his words, "This will make an excellent sinbin if Cookie gets out of hand on the trip". Fiona commented on the back seat being great if anyone needs a sleep.... "big enough to stretch out on" I think she said, as I laid out my blanket and fluffed the pillows, that's right I smiled...and it's all mine. (got to be some perks to knowing the driver <grin>).
It took Dave a further ten minutes to recall what button did what on the dash, while the most irritating squeal echoed off the walls...oops I guess its not that one! I rolled up in my dooner and tried to go to sleep...... only to be interrupted by Jackie Nagel from Sign Innovations Canberra ringing to ask where we were? After only two hours sleep the night before..... my response....... In a bus! The rest of the crew where overflowing with enthusiasm and so after stashing my mobile phone where I wouldn't hear it I shut down and left them to it.
Next stop Sydney! I woke to hear grumbling about "bloody traffic" and the calming voice of Jenny Johnson, from the Sign Association stating that no ones drives in Sydney at that time of the day because of the peak hour nightmare. I closed my eyes again wondering how Dave's spider clock was going.
The majority of the trip I have to put down to hearsay I'm afraid....but hearsay from very reliable witnesses! Well, at least they were awake! Sydney pick up included not only Jenny but the afore mentioned Cookie a.k.a. Andrew Wouter..... and Dave Mcdowel who, I have it on good authority, settled quickly into the swing of things.
Newlyweds Tony Annabel and his wife Leanne from Wollongong were our next victims and I recovered my wits long enough to do the hostess thing and offer cake. Our itinerary had to be interrupted for a stop at the Big Marrino (the gynormious concrete sheep) on the outskirts of Goulburn..... a boy thing I'm told!
On to Yass where we collected the mobile phone monster Jackie Nagle and her partner Steve. Jackie and I have formed a close friendship since meeting at Canberra Letterheads, being 'girls of the brush' as it were. One of the bonuses of any Letterhead meeting is the friends you get to touch base with (sometimes only once a year)...another is the new friends you know your gunna make. I think Dave's spider had lost the plot by this time and Loxton was still 12 hours away.
Picture this, a bus load of enthusiastic nutters all wearing fake moustaches, (refer to Maitland meeting) armed with very loud fireworks, descending on an out of the way tire repair shop on the outskirts of Wagga Wagga in the State's far west. Yup! We blew a tire and added 2 hours to our trip, but what a blast! Literally. I'm sure those locals are still looking over there shoulders for Dave (the urban terrorist).
At least we didn't have far before the next pick up. Bruce Boyton (who was our relief driver) and Brian Petty looked a little stunned at our insistence that they don their own fake moustaches but good naturally complied.....hope neither of them need a tire some day soon. (What did he look like? he was a man in a fake moustache officer!) ha ha
I must admit to never having traveled to South Australia before and sadly as night fell my view of Victoria diminished, while I can guarantee being there, I can't tell you what it looked like.
Friday morning 5am we arrived out front of the Loxton pub. Most of us decided that bed was the best option, for a few hours anyway, except Jenny who as everyone involved knows is the sane side of any meeting. Jenny had just enough time to wash and change, get all the registration paperwork, T-shirts, badges and other essential stuff together for a mad dash to the site. She might be little but man watch her go! The T-shirts for this years event were I feel the best yet. The logo was exceptional, and looked great on 'my favorite color' black.
Rod Tickle is normally a warm generous type of bloke, the type that would have come home from last years meeting, and after hugging his lovely wife Denise and two beautiful little girls, flatly stated that 100 mad messy sign makers where coming over for the weekend!
Denise I know would have immediately wondered if they had enough towel's. :) I can't imagine a nicer family, who not only welcomed us into there shop, but as it is situated 10 feet from the back door of their house, into their lives as well. Daren Wensil, Rods partner in this adventure plus weekend, already had an airbrush in his hand when I first saw him..... (in his case that equipment seems to attach directly into his blood supply) so with a quick welcome kiss on the cheek I was off to see who! what! how! that was this letterhead meeting.
All around I found samples of this years logo faithfully created from every imaginable substrate, whether on a banner or board, in chalk, paint or airbrushed, the richness of the work was impressive to say the least.
Because of the real passion our hosts have for airbrushing I wasn't surprised to see one complete wall of their shed covered with projects of all kinds being rendered in that medium. What did surprise me was the amazing talent issuing from people who didn't look old enough even to vote! Airbrushing has long been a fascination of most Oz signee's and these gifted young men and woman are obviously at it's fore in this country. I saw realistic photo reproduction on one panel and the very next, surreal imagination exploding, right next to T-shirt designs from our wonderful up-over mate Artee, Randy Thomas from Memphis.
What a great surprise it was to see Artee in Oz. I did
get a chance to chat for a short time with the 'farthest traveled' award winner after
dinner on Friday night, and no surprises here folks.... he's just as nice in real life as
those who have made his acquaintance on the net will tell ya. I can't wait to see more
letterheads from all over getting together at our meetings. We are all really glad Artee's
smitten with our mob too, cause we'd like to see
The gold-leaf display this year was, as in the past extraordinary. Kevin Gill & Mike Weston from Canberra Tafe always have a crowd around them five deep. I don't know if it's the luster of the gold that attracts or the wonderfully clear explanations of usage from the masters....but whatever the reason I do know one really happy camper that came home armed with glue pot and containers of stuff he assures me are sum bits of rabbit turned into glue, that look more like coffee sugar granules.......hey I wonder what would happen if I?.....umm never mind. <grin> Dave told me for weeks before Loxton that the only thing he really wanted to learn this year was glue chipping..... ever since the Canberra meeting gold work has had a real lure for him.
The next stop in my world tour of Rod Tickles shed was a van belonging to Gammart. The van became one of the main focus points of the weekend, as the mystro's of mirth assaulted every square inch of the thing.
Guy Richards from Adept Signs (our 'special mention' award winner for behind the scenes work) John Rigby (an award in himself), Ric Hayman, Jim Frederick, Darren Watkins (next years host), Rod Tickle, Wayne Harrison along with a cast of thousands........ and a wally or two that put their fingers in wet paint just to see what would happen! showed by example their spirit of teamwork. One of this illustrious crew told me later that his 'buzz' from letterheads...apart from the partying..... was when someone asked "how did you do that"? or when he got the chance to ask the same question of another. Just shows to go you..... we are all teachers, learners & doers...... and sometimes all three at once!
Sharon Tudor from the central coast of N.S.W. was by this time working her magic with chalk, and knew exactly where the blackboard panels where stashed...... in an effort to conserve energy (for the party later) I sat down for a while unpacked my chalks and sketched while we talked. She told me about a wonderful chalk art class that she'd taught recently with an aboriginal woman's group, the works produced she said were stunning...... when Sharon mentioned another class of handicapped folk she was teaching, I asked if I could come too.
I wonder how many of us have thought of teaching one of the short run workshops.... an afternoon or morning a week for six weeks or so? Most community center's run this type of thing, its something to think about eh? I know none of us have a lot of time or $$'s spare, but.... not many can just shut shop for a letterheads meeting either and yet heaps do it. We do it not because its easy but because of what we get out of the event in experiences and comradely. ok ..ok.... I'll get off the soapbox <grin>
The food! Letterhead food is the best ever.....it just magically appears....right when your starving... and with fresh fruit, cold meats, salads and sweet things, this years lunches and later, roast dinners were wonderfully appealing. As always I ate toooooo much, and didn't regret a bite.
After dinner at the Loxton pub on Friday night, Simon Reich from Broadford in Victoria, entertained us on the piano in his usual bluesy style, and set the mood for the rest of the evening. I didn't get to personally see Mic Demos on guitar but was assured as a guitarist....he'll make a good signwriter.
Saturday morning there were just a few sore heads and lots of happy faces as 'Pricilla Of The Desert' rolled into Rods driveway. I tried to get a picture of Dean Tomaselli's effort of pinstriping the semi, but couldn't quite get the focus.....or was that my eyes? Whatever the reason, it was choice.
Ron Andrews from Sign Design in Canberra (96 Oz Letterheads) had a crowd around him, out in the sunshine, all working with signfoam. Judging by the mermaid that went home with us on the bus, it was a very productive endeavor. Wandering through the office I found people with pen and ink in hand trying to master the intricacies of calligraphy. It's been more than half my lifetime since I had one of those nib-pens in my hand, but I figured 'what the hell.' Five minutes later I had embarrassed myself enough and left them to it.
John Rigbey was doing a demo of transfer medium onto glass, a time honored method with new age product. In the main shed a reproduction of a photo grabbed Dave's attention.... he's still trying to tell me that the photo was already there and it was developer in the airbrush...... sorry mate, it was pure talent doing that work.
Saturday's evening meal was served in the most marvelous venue. Loxton being a river town boasts one of the prettiest surrounds, nestled at the rivers edge of town is an historical village that has been faithfully restored....in some cases stone by stone moved onto the site, into a tiny township. The bank, bakery, blacksmith (and that's just the b's) all filled with mementos and curios of a time we only get to read about. As I wandered along the streets of the village I saw Letterheads going in and out of buildings checking out the saddler's, shearing shed and fire fighting equipment. Our meal was served in the Institute, aptly named as Veronica Rigby commented, most of us need to be institutionalized.
We had speeches and laughter. Jim Frederick availed himself as MC. Awards created by John Hadfield (on his new 'u-beaut' laser engraver) were presented to......
In appreciation for his role in bringing Letterheads down under, a special award for a 'good bloke' Services to Letterheads: John Rigby.
The farthest traveled to this years meeting: Artee from U.S.A
Peoples choice rendering of the logo: Philip John from Townsville.
Young gun of the meeting: Daniel Seddon from Wagga.
Spirit of Letterheads: Dave & Gail Beattie.
Jim also told us that it was suggested 1999 annual Letterheads meeting be held up north.... Darren Watkins from Fraser Coast Signs... in beautiful Harvey Bay, Queensland, had agreed to host the meeting and we unanimously said.....umm.... umm....weeel....I guess..... err ... (ha ha only kidding) the response was deafening! Yippee bring on tropical paradise.......
The evening ended, (and in some cases didn't) after lots of cheers, beers and in-depth 'sign related conversations' <grin> Rod got the pub to keep serving and Dave & I went to bed...... although a little birdie told me sum of what went on. ps: You will be advised where to send the blackmail payments....you know who you are! :)
Cattle call (group photos) was at 10.am Sunday morning, so bright and bushy tailed we had to be...... well there anyway. The photographer perched precariously on the roof of Rods carport was a nice touch, especially when the poor bugger got handed a zillion cameras to take pics for everyone.
People disappeared real quick after that to finish projects that had occupied them over the weekend and to take last looks at the wonders they had seen. I watched Sally Green and Artee working on the fridge, and I have to tell you that when the raffle tickets went on sale for it I was way up the front of that line...... now of course I realize I should have been at the other end.......Ross Keats won the prize and I believe we have another convert, he'll be back next year trying to add to his collection.
The lucky door prize (for apprentices only) of a fist full of brushes, was a great idea and one that I really hope continues, won by our guitar playing virtuoso. We are truly grateful for the unfailing support of our letterheads sponsors, those suppliers to our trade that so generously give back to the sign making community by way of the products we use over the whole weekend. Not only do we get to explore new products but also raffle prizes donated help raise the necessary funds required to hold more meetings. The very essence of the Letterhead movement is everyone pitching in to make it happen.
We all took turns at a black texta, to sign Artee's T-shirt, and handed around a brush to sign the attendees board. I got the chance to decorate the sign-in register with sum fruit n stuff around the wonderful calligraphic rendered heading 'Letterheads' .
The pinstripe racetrack came out and the noise level rose, Brian Earle survived as champion of the track... no mean feat when you have nudging and shuffling all around, got me how they pull any sort of line let alone better and faster than the next bloke under those conditions.... good on ya mate. We ate sum more and then .... oh gee, it was time to leave. Don't ya just hate that part! Lots of hugs and handshakes, big smiles and quick quips interspersed with good-byes marked the end of yet another terrific Letterhead meeting.
While, as a dear Canadian friend of mine keeps saying there are no Sign-Gods here, just everyday people trying to make a living, doing what they love and sharing what they know with the next signpal. There are a few 'larger than life' personalities at every Letterheads gathering, these are the people that help to keep us coming back to be entertained and informed next time.... to them I would like to say thank-you. To the rest of you reading my memories of a great weekend I would like to say 'don't wait, get some mates together and have your own meeting.... just don't forget to invite me <grin>.
The friendships formed are the lasting impressions of each meeting I have attended. Thanks for Loxton, see you in Harvey Bay!
ps: if not before <grin>
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