Bob Brandis teaches print to three diverse groups of people, including prisoners, Pacific islanders and TAFE students, reports Wayne RobinsonFrom teaching sweet-natured Pacific Islanders, through the indifferent youth of Sydney, to serious offenders in the state’s prisons Bob Brandis has developed a sanguine view of human nature, as he has sought to impart his print knowledge for the past quarter of a century.
Perhaps his most challenging workplace is within the state’s penal system. NSW currently has three jails with print production facilities; Wellington (on the road between Orange and Dubbo), Grafton on the north coast, and Parklea in the middle of Sydney. The print units are aimed primarily at teaching prisoners a trade for the time they come to walk through the gates to freedom. They also serve as place where prisoners can relieve the boredom and pent up frustrations of prison life. And they are a self-print unit for the department of corrective services. Equipment tends to be a mix of old and new, Parklea for instance has a new Agfa chemistry free CTP, but has also just bought its first multi-unit press, a 1986 Komori 26 five-colour.
The print departments are run by prison guards with some knowledge of print, the guards in the Parklea print facility comprise an ex printer, two ex comps, and one guard with a bit of bindery knowledge as its main staff. The job assigned to Brandis is to teach the theory side of print, to Cert II and Cert III level. Prisoners cannot become apprentices, as they would then be entitled to the same basic conditions as apprentices on the outside, including lunch breaks and long service leave, which they of course would welcome but which clearly wouldn’t go down to well with their victims. So they take traineeships, which are funded by the government, and recognised on the outside, although their place of training isn’t highlighted by the ex-cons.
Brandis says teaching in a prison presents many challenges, including understanding the culture, he says, “You have to be mindful of the pecking order, and the fact that the man perceived as top dog may not actually be the best printer.” There may also be issues in prison culture in regard to prisoners interested in the print work being seen to be on the side of the authorities. This doesn’t affect Parklea but isn’t unknown in some of the other jails, where a prisoner may get more than a verbal warning from some of his fellow inmates, and the press itself may be tampered with.
Dealing with people looking at significant stretches inside means different criteria come into play. The five men currently under Brandis’ tutoring are in the serious offender category. Brandis himself, like all staff internal and external, wears a personal alarm. There are rewards, especially when a former prison student begins life on the outside working in the print industry.
Prison though is just one of the teaching environments Brandis finds himself in these days, he is also possibly the only Australian print teacher working in Pacific Island print shops, in flying visits sponsored by Ausaid.
It is essentially a voluntary role, Ausaid pays for air fares and accommodation, and provides $200 a week for food, but the time needed – it is usually between four and six weeks – comes out of Brandis’ own holiday and long service entitlement.
Brandis says, “Due to the lack of cash many of the islands cannot afford proper print training. In addition they will often be using antiquated print equipment, which is unlikely to be fully functioning. So while they know how to put ink in the tray and attach a plate they may well know little about rollers, fountain solutions, blankets and the like. This technical deficiency clearly holds them back, but they just can’t afford to hire trainers. So Ausaid steps in, and provides teachers, me, to go in there and help explain how to work well.”
So far Brandis has been to teach in the Solomon Islands, Kirabati and Fiji twice, usually at government print shops. The issues Brandis has to deal with are legion – from printers convinced that the correct ink sequence is YCMK, to rats eating the electronics of presses, to 35 per cent alcohol in the fount solution, to press operators dying of poisoning through not wearing gloves when using an ancient green etch solution. Brandis says, “OH&S does not exist over there.” And just like the prison there are clear cultural differences, Brandis says, “For instance you cannot give someone a roasting in public, and you have to teach in a group, if you do it individually the first to be taught will proclaim himself top dog! However the Islanders will soak up every bit of knowledge they can. The prisoners on the other hand will first establish your credibility, then begin to listen. TAFE students will decide for themselves whether they want to listen or not, some are keen, some are only there under sufferance.”
With print education , especially funding for it, continually under the microscope, there is no telling how long any of Brandis’ three current groups of students, diverse as they are, will continue to receive the benefit of his 25
years teaching experience. However so far so good, and let’s hope it continues for a long time to come.