Heritage-conscious Hillgrove, present population about 100, features signposts indicating where commercial enterprises used to be located a century ago. One sign says: Morgan Stephens, Printery. The world demand for what came out of the ground at Hillgrove led to two newspapers being established there; the Hillgrove Guardian and New England Mining Gazette in 1889, and the New England Democrat in 1894. “By 1890”, according to an economist, “Hillgrove was an urban-industrial island in a pre-industrial landscape.” On three sides the town was bounded by wild, spectacular and virtually inaccessible gorges.
When Herbert Vincent joined his brother Reg in Dorrigo at Christmas 1909, ready to launch the town’s first newspaper, he had made a hazardous 2 and a half day journey from Armidale in a four-horse drag. So in 1998, I am thankful for the advances in transport and road surfacing – even if the newspaper has shunned the advances in typesetting and printing technology - as I sought out the offices of the Gazette, wholly owned by John English since 1984. English has edited the paper since 1973.
The newspaper office is located at 44 Hickory Street. That should be about here, I surmise, but “here” is a newsagency. Surely, they will know where it is. I enter and ask, “Just through that door out the back,” I am told. Yes, the Don Dorrigo Gazette, which used to own the newsagency, is produced from the back of the building whose shopfront is the town’s newsagency.
Two years earlier, in another town and another main street, I stood searching for another newspaper office – that of The Lachlander, another hot-metal paper at the time. It was located at 46 Bathurst Street, Condobolin, but I could not see any sign on shopfront or awning. There were, however, some telltale photographs in a shopfront and I opened the door to find a grey-haired lady – yes, lady – seated at a desk behind the counter. She acknowledged that it was the office of The Lachlander. I had asked, I said, because there was no sign. The sign had gone when the awning blew down explained the lady, Doretta Ryder-Wood, proprietor. All the locals knew where the paper was.
Front page news
The scissors of the editor of the Manning River Times, Taree, NSW, roamed far and wide in 1898. On April 9, the editor declared that he did not often hear of a newspaper being published with one of its pages totally blank, owing to that forme being “pied”, for generally if such an accident occurred with a portion of the type, there was some other way of getting over the difficulty.
This was actually the case with a paper received in London from Mexico, called the Daily Anglo-American. The front page was absolutely blank, except for an announcement in big type along the top, “This forme was pied.”
An explanation was to be found in a note inside, lamenting the hard luck the paper had suffered when going to press. A compositor fell down a flight of stairs and “pied” the page. He slipped and sat down suddenly on the type, and the only existing copy of the page was imprinted on the seat of his “ice-cream” pantaloons, which would be placed on the file in the editorial room of this journal.
A quick review of some significant newspaper dates for Wollongong, Canberra and Newcastle – the biggest cities within a few hours’ drive of Sydney – reveals: the Wollongong daily, the Illawarra Mercury, will celebrate its 150th birthday on October 8, this year. It did not become a daily until January 9, 1950.
The Canberra Times will be 80 years old next year – on September 3. It became a daily in 1928. The Fairfaxes, who bought the Canberra Times in 1964 from the founding Shakespeare family, shortly before Rupert Murdoch launched the Australian in Canberra, established the afternoon Canberra News on November 12, 1969. They closed the News on 19, July 1974. The Canberra Times launched its Sunday edition on May 28, 1978.
In Newcastle, the Herald will be 130 years old next year – on April 3. The paper began as a daily and was called the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate and changed its name to the Newcastle Herald on October 6, 1980, three months after the closure (July 4) of the afternoon title, the Newcastle Sun, launched in 1918. The Newcastle Herald has been simply the Herald for the past two years since shortly after the since-terminated experiment with a Central Coast Herald at Gosford-Wyong.
Imagine a punch-up between Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer in the Sydney CBD, or between Melbourne editors Andrew Jaspan and Peter Blunden. Imagine the pictures and headlines. Imagine the television coverage.
Turn the clock back to 1864 and what we seem to regard as a more genteel age and this is what happened, “A fracas has occurred between the editors of the Age and Herald in Elizabeth-street, Melbourne. One eye was blackened, and a tooth knocked out. It arose out of their calling each other “flunkey”, “go-between”, and “rascal journalist”.