Norman J Field – Australian printing royalty

6 Dec 2018 By Media Super Team

It could be said that Norman J Field was to the Australian print industry what The Beatles were to the world of music – always innovating, consistently leading the way, and delivering a quality product time and time again. To call Norman a legend is no exaggeration, and for this reason PIAA awarded him the title of 2018 Media Super Industry Legend. We asked him about some of the standout moments during his illustrious 62-year career.

Back in 1956, Norman defied his parents’ wishes to join the family ophthalmic business, and he’s never looked back. ‘Instead of fitting glasses on elderly ladies and gentlemen,’ he tells us, ‘I was enticed to join a small print business called Duplications (which was soon to become W Lane Ingpen) as a sales rep. They bought a small Rotaprint offset machine, which was when my lifetime interest in offset lithography began.’  

Four years later, Norman decided to start his own print business, aptly named Norman J Field & Company, with a staff of just two people. This number would grow rapidly over the coming years, perhaps partially due to Norman being a true perfectionist. He has always maintained that there is no substitute for quality, and even once proclaimed, ‘Let the world print to a standard, and I will just better it’. This was definitely not an empty promise. He and a German printer he’d hired became the first people in Australia to print 200-line screen, while everyone else was printing 85. ‘This gained us enormous credibility in a short period of time’, he recalls. ‘We were printing quality brochures for GMH, Ford, Chrysler and Kodak, and for most of Melbourne’s advertising agencies.’

Many firsts among equals

There have been many more firsts during Norman’s illustrious career. For instance, in the late sixties, he employed the first-ever female sales rep in the Australian print industry. He tells us, ‘After six months experience in the plant, she went out on the road and became our secret weapon. She was incredibly successful.’

They also won a prestigious worldwide Kodak competition for lithographic printing in 1970, after which Norman was flown to New York to teach Kodak his process! 

When Norman’s business was eventually sold, 20 years after its inception, it had grown to 165 people, spread across two factories. Over the years these employees have included many specialist printers Norman had brought in from the UK, Germany, Belgium and the Philippines, as well as equipment from Japan, America, Germany and the UK, and it’s certainly paid off. 

He told us he once had to bring out two bookbinders and their families from the UK to work on a collection of limited edition books because they needed binding in a way no one in Australia could do at the time. 

He also introduced the first four-colour Japanese Kormori press to Australia (which has been popular here ever since) and installed the first German Konig and Bauer web fed press, producing the world’s very first 200-line screen brochure printed on a web fed press. 

Printing royalty

Norman J Field & Company were also the first privately owned Australian company to produce stamps. Norman recalls, ‘We got the job because the government printers were unable to print silver ink and they had already wrecked two thirds of the special paper that was sent out from the UK. It was for stamps to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and her visit to Australia.’ 

On the subject of royalty, one of Norman’s prints is actually hanging in Buckingham Palace because Prince Phillip liked it so much when he saw it hanging in Parliament House. He saw the print, Sketches of Australian Life and Scenery, hanging in the President of the Senate’s suite and when he let it be known how much he liked it, one was duly sent to him in London. 

A similar thing happened when Norman’s company printed the world’s first 500-line screen on a Heidelberg Drukmaschinen press. ‘I chose a Kenneth Jack painting to print, The Fog Lifting at Lucerne,’ he recalls, ‘because it had very light tones. It worked, and this print now hangs in the Head Office of Heidelberg Drukmaschinen in Germany.’ 

Forever passionate

Norman’s love of everything print was always just as strong, right up until his very recent retirement, aged 86. He told us he was very lucky to be able to continue working in the industry he loved, he said, ‘The industry’s been great to me. I've been a very lucky fella.’ Well, Media Super thinks the Australian printing industry has been just as lucky to have Norman J Field’s relentless passion and industry-changing innovations. Which is why he’s the deserved winner of this year’s Media Super Industry Legend Award at the National Print Awards.