Print veteran retires after 51 years

Ray Portbury, production manager with Melbourne based Signs Publishing is stepping down from his role after being with the company for more than 50 years.

Portbury started at the Seventh Day Adventist owned book and magazine printer as a teenager, becoming an apprentice in 1967. He would go on to become the longest serving employee in the church owned firm’s 133 years, working through advancements to letterpress, offset and digital printing.

Portbury says, “I have been at Signs for exactly 51 years, seven months and two days.

“I started as an apprentice book binder in January 1967 and it went on from there, I eventually became a full time book binder. Back then we still had to do a lot of book binding by hand.

Portbury started as a book binding apprentice

“I went up the ladder in bindery and then became assistant production manager. Around 19 years ago I became the production manager.

“One of the achievements I was happy about was helping to put in a ten colour press we bought from Heidelberg around ten years ago. It gave a huge jump to the work coming out of Signs Publishing.”

Portbury’s aunt, uncle, brother and two sisters also worked at Signs, and he met his wife Norlene there. His daughter continues to work at the publishing house.

“Signs is like a little family of its own, everyone is close.

[Related: Clark & Mackay celebrates 90 years]

“The church does its own printing and it has done so for a long time, along with outside work. It still has its original printing press. In the foyer of the business, the little hand press is set up.

“I am passionate about the work and I liked working for the church, being a part of the whole process of printing.

On how he fell into the trade, Portbury says, “I had finished year ten and I was looking for something to do and I saw an advertisement for an apprentice book binder. It appealed to me because I like doing things with my hands. It is also a creative process, particularly back then, when we doing hand binding.

“At the trade school in north Melbourne, we had to design our own covers, put work on the cover, bind it all and make sure it looked good and worked.

Established in 1885: Signs Publishing

“There have been a lot of changes to print since I started.

“Now in my retirement, I am planning to relax, spend time with family and do things with my wife that we have not been able to do.”

Looking forward, Portbury says, “Nobody can predict the future, I would like to see it continuing on. I think there is no reason it will not.

“The technology is going and it keeps getting better and better.”

Signs was established in 1885 and now has around 25 staff.

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