The other Hendrix

| January 20, 2023

Mike Barraclough (7 June 1943 – 1 October 2022) was a long-serving staff member at TCG, one of Australia’s oldest information technology firms.  Open Forum is proud to publish a series of extracts from his unfinished memoir as a tribute to him and his work in the domestic computer sector. 

The third part of Mike Barraclough’s memoir remembers the radical changes new technology brought to newspaper production.

After the slow burn out of Applicon, somehow in the mid ‘80s we became fascinated with yet another new wonderous piece of technology. This time it lay in the newspaper business, but yet again it was software-based on the redoubtable Pdp11/34 technology we knew all about.


Hendrix, later renamed the Hastech solution, was the world’s first newspaper page layout system. It incorporated innovative features such as justification and hyphenation, which are so standard today that most people wouldn’t believe the mechanical technology once required to “set” a line of type in a newspaper.

Back in those days, newspaper pages were compiled with molten lead slugs, on a behemoth of a machine such as the venerable Lin-o-Type. These massive machines required a huge amount of skill and experience to operate and were almost an art form in themselves. The job of compositor required years of experience to become proficient, and its exponents were true artisans. So, no wonder there were literally riots in London when “cold type” was introduced to allow anyone to act as a compositor with a simple word processing package.

So we dived into this new age of newspaper page creation with the Hendrix system created by a company nestling near Harvard in Manchester, New Hampshire. Their offices were in an old cotton mill by the river with a working clock tower and, even better, their international VP was a lady from Sydney.

We purchased our demo system and had it installed in no time. Now we just had to learn how to demonstrate the system, and find prospects for sales. Fortunately, a staff member named Jim Kennett was an ex-Linotype operator fluent in the vocabulary and jargon required to fraternise with the industry. After a few days we were ready.

By now TCG had expanded as a company and moved to new premises with two floors and our own carpark underneath. It gave us much needed space. I even had an office – albeit without windows – and furthered our evolution into a structured company.

Now came the arduous task of trying to sell the system. One thing we learned quickly was that newspaper people like to be entertained. These were definitely the days of long and expensive lunches, washed down with more than sparkling water in that pre-breathalyser age. Salesmen were definitely treated with contempt, and new technology viewed with suspicion, so we had to make it sweeten the pill.

After all, we were computer kids trying to consign skills evolved over centuries to the dustbin, but there were some enlightened souls within the industry – plus those happy to enjoy a free lunch as long as it was liberally liquid and paid for by someone else.  The technology was becoming accepted in the US, and those who had attended conferences over there were coming back with enthusiasm, so we knew we just had to find them and get our foot in the door.

A breakthrough in Brisbane

We noticed that the Pacific Area Newspaper Association would soon hold its annual conference in Brisbane. Exhibitors were not allowed, but we decided to rent a suite in the same hotel and ship the system up there. We stood the beds against the wall, shifted a few chairs around and made ourselves a little demo room. Despite offering drinks over the first two days, we got no takers, but on the second night we were schmoozing with a group who eventually asked what we were doing there, as we were not part of the clique.

So, we told them about our page layout system, and said we had one up in the room, and offered them free drinks to see it.  All of sudden, we were  in demand, as word of mouth spread, with a constant stream of visitors who were amazed at the technology. Deploying it would disrupt the whole industry, allowing editors to make up the pages themselves and consigning the expensive and highly unionised compositors to the same fate as the dodo.

The Trouble with Tenders

Shortly after this conference we were invited to bid on a project for Queensland TAFE at Kangaroo Point. They wanted to be at the leading edge and training young people in the newest technology, so their students would be industry-ready. I knew we were not the favourite, but that’s the way of tenders.  The old maxim is true that if you only find out about a tender after it is published, then you are not the chosen one.

Tenders for technology tend to have mandatory requirements which can present problems as well as opportunities. The tenderer has often seen something at a trade show and decided they need to buy some equipment – so the information they need to put in the tender tends to come from that supplier. If the preferred vendor is worth their salt, they’ll ensure there are sufficient unique elements in their blurb to make it difficult for the opposition to compete.

So it was with the TAFE, so reading the tender didn’t fill me with hope, but we put together our best effort, and much, much to our surprise, we won the bid!!!!

It turned out fate had smiled upon us, and when we discovered the scoop on what had happened, we knew we’d been more than lucky. The TAFE had indeed predetermined their tender’s likely winner – and it certainly wasn’t us – but our opposition had sent their hard copy tender to their office in Brisbane where it languished on a desk instead of being delivered to the TAFE.

The company had thought it would carry more weight if their Brisbane representative delivered it in person, but he assumed it would be couriered to the TAFE and took the day off.  This communication mix-up meant ours was the only bid, and we won by default.

While one swallow doesn’t make a summer, it certainly felt good to having gained a foothold and – as IBM knew then and Apple knows today, if you catch ‘em young, they’ll stay with you when they get real jobs.