It was a decision based on more
than 35 years of observation and experience. Even though Westacott was 66 years old, Dunn regarded him as the obvious choice. Dunn’s faith was not misplaced; Westacott served the Bulletin well as editor for 10 years. He often quoted CP Scott of the Manchester Guardian: “Comment is free, but the facts are sacred.”
Westacott was a fair, fearless, but careful writer and never once did he land his paper in court. “Better to be dull than dangerous,” he used to say. He was never dull – or dangerous. As editor of the Evening News and later the Morning Bulletin, Westacott was guided by two maxims, which fitted neatly into the Dunn ethos:
1. To present a good newspaper that would attract public appreciation, prestige, circulation and advertising; and
2. To allow the correspondence column to be a forum for all matters of public concern.
Judging from the letters that did appear, Westacott stuck to his word.
In January 1959, in what students of news would expect to be a ‘quiet’ month, the Morning Bulletin published 41 letters – as many as four in one issue – ranging in topics such as the need for improved library services, an issue splitting the Rockhampton Jockey Club, the city’s meat supply, the label of ‘cow town’ for Rockhampton, road hazards, new states, female gem-cutters, wedge-tail eagles, overpopulation and the Springsure Centenary.
The percentage of letters received that were published is unknown, but the range of letters published in the issues studied in 1959 and 1963 suggest that it was a high proportion. The issues ranged from those of national importance or interest (Federal politicians voting themselves a salary increase, April 4, 1959) to the trivial (the loss of a pocketbook, September 4, 1963).
Westacott’s active part in promoting district affairs was the sort of thing that delighted the Dunns because it fitted neatly into the localism part of their ethos. Westacott was largely instrumental in forming the Central Queensland Advancement League. In 1949, on behalf of the League, he compiled a booklet outlining the pastoral, agricultural and mining resources of Central Queensland and its scenic and tourist attractions.
In retirement, Westacott continued to write the whimsical local-interest column which, over 54 years, helped win him accolades such as this one from his colleague, Denis Butler: “If ever there was a bloke who managed to touch the funnybone of a whole city, it was George Westacott.” Butler, who won the Graham Perkin Award as Australian Journalist of the Year in 1976, had been so impressed with what Westacott was doing at the Bulletin that he had written asking if a position were available for him; no vacancy had been advertised.
Of the decision by Andrew Dunn junior to appoint Westacott, Butler said: “It was a brilliant choice to put that old man in as editor because, old as he was, he was as fit as hell. He could eat nails, that man. He was always there, never sick, even though he did totter around on a stick and even though his eyes flexed and he looked vaguely like a Down Syndrome baby. He was so much on top of his words.”
Melbourne’s Argus began devoting the front page to news on Monday, September 13, 1937. It ran an editorial, ‘We believe’, about the new format.
“Today, the Argus enters upon a new era,” it said. “Since the formation of the Argus and Australasian company, plans have been made for the production of a newspaper which will be in harmony with modern thought and modern taste – a newspaper which will authoritatively record and at the same time wholesomely influence history.
“The Argus in its new form is today in the hands of many thousands of readers and they will judge for themselves the changes that have been made. Briefly, these have been designed to give increased space to news, to make the presentation of news more attractive, to supply more pictorial illustration, and to make it more possible for the reader, as he holds his paper, to find the more important news quickly and easily.
“These in a morning newspaper are important improvements, for the readers of today are busy men and women, and at breakfast (or before) and in train or tram, are impatient to learn what has happened in the world since their last reading of news.”
On page one there was a box with guidance on ‘How to read the new Argus’. It said, “A strict regard for the sequence of sections is a feature of the new Argus. This sequence, which will be adhered to each day, is as follows in this issue: general news, pages one to eight; women’s section, nine, 10, 11; finance and shipping, 12 to 13; leader page, 14; cable news, 15; country section, 16 to 18; classified ads, 19 to 24, children’s section, short story, strips, 25; sporting, 26 to 30. The principal news of the day appears on page one and the back page is devoted to highlights of sport”.