2019 in Review: Another one (and more) bites the dust

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As print goes through the most disruptive period in its 500-year history, there will inevitably be casualties – and 2019 gave us no shortage of the good, the bad and the ugly hitting the skids, with several major names now just history.

The biggest was Waratah Group, the sprawling operation in Port Melbourne with offset, digital and wide format print that emerged from a conga line of colourful characters who have had a share of its variously named predecessors over the years. Early indications the business was in trouble came when the ATO issued a winding up order, a tax bill unpaid due to a “technical error” according to Waratah at the time. It did manage to cobble together the funds to pay the ATO, but that was only postponing the inevitable – when it went down a couple of months later it was in a mighty crash, with $12m owed to creditors.

'We offer a unique range of services': Naresh Gulati, CEO, OCA Group, owner of Rooster IMC 
Naresh Gulati, CEO, OCA Group, former owner of Rooster IMC

Almost as big and at virtually the same time and place was Rooster IMC, the similarly-endowed business stitched together from various print operations bought by entrepreneur Naresh Gulati five years ago with a promise to change the way the industry operates. Sadly, the promise turned to dust – as did trade finishing house The Bindery, which Gulati had also bought five years ago, and as did promised redundancy payments to the 40-odd staff there.

Melbourne’s print community was in shock when well-regarded trade print business Whnirlwind suddenly collapsed, the result of an ill-fated decision to buy high quality Sydney outfit Lyndsay Yates two years prior – and the Victoria sign and display industry was not immune to the storm engulfing the city when well-regarded and respected Adherettes hit liquidation late in the year. Melbourne laminating outfit ProtectaPrint also collapsed three years after it was bought from Allkotes, and among the saddest signs of the times, bookbinder Irwin & McLaren quietly shut its doors after 150 years in business.

Still in Melbourne, one of the more curious collapses was that of the Melbourne Museum of Print, which was essentially the passion of Michael Isaachsen, who had spent a lifetime and $3m collecting a series of print heritage artefacts – some of which never saw the light of day. His landlord eventually took umbrage at unpaid rent and auctioned off the lot to recoup what was due – or what he said was due, as the figure was under dispute – and some of the historic treasures made their way straight to the city’s smelting yards.

Other well-known businesses now in the history books are Reactiv in Sydney, which went down owing $2.7m; FX Digital; Senses Direct; Swift Signs; Expo Group; Adam Middleton’s Civic Media; Australian Plastic Cards; Network Print Studio; and the 15 strong PostNet print pack and mail franchise group.

Falling newspaper sales led Norske Skog to close its Albury newsprint mill – although, in a case of one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, Visy promptly bought it for $80m, planning to turn it into a carton production plant.

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