John Ringer

My career began at Photo Engravers as a stripper (oddly enough just behind K Rd). A stripper takes paper-based artwork and photos or transparencies, does the camera work and film work to combine it all, and then makes the plates for the printing press. It was fascinating, interesting, challenging, with the best workmates ever. From my saxophonist foreman to magicians, in-house movie makers, multi-talented craftsmen, exiles and refugees from post-war Europe, pioneer skateboarders, the odd rich kid, skilled mimics, a lolly addict... our factory was a hard-working, hard-playing, buzzing, creative beehive.

And in a way, I never wanted to work anywhere else, but of course had to. So I went a bit feral, did a stint in Hamilton at Photo Engravers again, learned to weld at Lightweight Caravans (with some interesting consequences), production-managed printing at Plastic Products doing early yoghurt and margarine pottles, and then went bush at Matapouri for a number of years.

Living off the land (and the sea) at the beach in the 1970s was fun for a while, especially in summer, but oh dear, the winters... serendipity finally intervened with a job at Northland Polytechnic establishing a public access print facility. The director had a perceptive vision for education in Taitokerau that included our nascent facility. This gave me access to the National School of Printing at ATI where I trained in typography and letterpress printing, bookbinding and marbling; and gained an abiding respect for traditional printing skills.

Whangarei had also by then attracted some very interesting and dynamic people – Labour Department, Community Arts Council (CAC) feminists, eco-warriors, Maori activists, enlightened business people, local and international artists – who together created an extraordinary milieu of energetic creativity: Waitangi Action Committee organised the annual hikoi north; Muldoon’s ugly 1981 inspired our facility to became a ‘public good’ enterprise (about which I can’t say more); Whangarei CAC put on the most astounding show any of us had experienced, the Whangarei All Human Circus (where by the final night we had people driving and flying in from around the country clamouring to get in); PEP and TEP schemes imaginatively employed locals to build all sorts of ‘public’ assets – then slowly the energy dissipated as people moved on, funding parameters changed and some among us actually got real jobs!

Then Melbourne – for a change, new experience, and a living wage. Although my first interview with an employment consultant began with: “You bloody Kiwis, you think you can just get on a plane, come over here, and expect a job!” Has anything changed? I did get a job though, which included designing and printing in up to 16 languages, brochure runs of 300,000 copies at a time, working on events to support the homeless, teaching the unemployed desktop publishing skills, publishing local history books – and tried not to stare at the stubble-etched ‘man-ladies’ (as our kids called them) on the St Kilda train and the Kiwi drug addicts on The Promenade. 

Melbourne, a real ‘super city’, but a place where immense and obvious wealth squatted unashamedly alongside the utterly destitute indigenous homeless and landless; the Hoddle St massacre where Julian Knight lay in the bushes at Clifton Hill and shot seven people dead at the end of our street (we’d gone down to St Kilda for the evening and when we got back it was all over); where the mafia rule Lygon street; where our favourite (and cheap) Lebanese takeaway turned out to be a Class A supermarket and was fire-bombed into oblivion.

St Kilda where we could lie in the bath with windows open in our crumbling apartment block and listen through the wall to Midnight Oil at The Venue, all 120 decibels shaking the bricks loose, and then go for a swim across the road at midnight when the heat became too much. “… I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour all that land and all that water, for that one sweet promenade.” Paul Kelly, local boy, singing his anthem. I still miss St Kilda – getting off the tram after work and walking home swatting flies, with a piece of baked Russian cheesecake to look forward to. What a place! 

Finally the lack of green fields and old friends, and the expense of flying kids backwards and forwards, all became too much and we cried coming in over the emerald fields of South Auckland. We came home to the dire heritage of the Douglas/Prebble cabal, and the unknown - no jobs, no money, three expensive Macs and the dream that became Paradigm.

It has been far from easy, with many ups and downs along the way. I am the only original partner left (not sure what that means!). It's always financially difficult as we work mainly with people who are driven by ideals and seldom have generous budgets. Staff go overseas or leave because they want to have children and have to pay mortgages. And our economy has never recovered from the dark destructive days of Rogernomics (and Richardsonism). 

What has made it possible, and for the most part personally very rewarding, has been the quite humbling loyalty of our clients, and the equally humbling hard work, dedication and creativity of Paradigm’s brilliant staff over many years.

Thank you.