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A colonial diarist of the Cowpastures

Janice Johnson (ed), Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson (Jnr). Camden Historical Society, Camden, 2019. pp.126. ISBN 978-0-6485894-9-5

 

In 1854 Charles Tompson described that the ‘village of Camden’ had ‘the aspect and the attributes of an English village’ (p.118) In doing so he was probably the first European to describe Camden’s Englishness, an attribute that numerous writers have agreed with, particularly in the early 20th century. Tompson was not the first to note the Englishness of the Cowpasture district. That privilege belonged to John Hawdon in 1828.

These are some of the observations of the Cowpastures drawn from the pen of Charles Tompson in a new collection of his work, Camden Through a Poet’s Eye, Charles Tompson (Jnr). The Camden Historical Society has published a work that the late Janice Johnson had had been working on while she was alive. The book has been funded by a bequest Johnson estate.

Tompson-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-Cover_lowres
Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes, Charles Tompson. ‘The  Cow-Pastures, Camden Park’ William McLeod. c1886.

 

Tompson was a prolific writer and observer of the Cowpastures under the byline ‘From our Correspondent – Camden’ for The Sydney Morning Herald between 1847 and 1852. He wrote about the ordinariness of the area, while occupying the position of Clerk of Petty Sessions and his reports are far from ordinary.

Tompson was an educated man by colonial standards, born on the Castlereagh and attending the local parish school run by Irish rebel Rev. Henry Fulton. His observations are full of colour and movement and provide an invaluable archive of data, descriptions and general goings-on across the area.

Tompson published regular reports on a host of topics including farming, the weather, cropping, local identities, police rounds, court proceedings and the movement of people through the area, amongst other topics. He was an astute observer and has provided the earliest detailed overview of the early years of the Camden village from his position at the local court house.

A detailed reading of Tompson’s work provides the patient and curious observer with a detailed description of rural life in the Cowpastures. In 1847 Tompson identified the area as the Cowpastures (p.23) as it was to remain into the late 19th century. He provided a useful descriptions of the area (p.23). For example, there was a constant shortage of farm labour in 1847 to cut hay by hand on ‘small scale’ farms across the area worked by smallholders. (p.28). Maize was planted in October (p.28), and wheat and hay were harvested by hand-sickle in November (p.33), although the drought restricted the harvest (p.32).

Market prices are provided for those who need to know about such things. Horses were worth between £8 to £10 in 1847 (p.29), wheat might get 4/6 a bushel, maize worth 2/- a bushel, and good hay was worth £10 per ton.(p.32). By March 1848 price of wheat had dropped to 3/6 to 4/- a bushel, while fine flour was worth £12 a ton, and vegetables were scarce with potatoes between 1d to 1½d per pound (p.42). Flour was ground at one of mills in the area.(p.23)

Tompson Book Back Cover Camden sketch 1857-lowres
Back Cover of Camden Through a Poet’s Eyes Charles Tompson. Sketch of Camden, HG Lloyd, 1857 (SLNSW)

 

The local population and its growth (p.23) were detailed by Tompson along with the villages and hamlets in the immediate area including Narellan, Cobbitty (p.24), Picton and Menangle (p.25). Tompson could be effusive in his description and Cobbitty was a ‘diamond of the desert on the dead sea shore’ while he could be more grounded and just described Narellan as the ‘Government township’. (p. 24)

The local colonial grants are detailed for the reader and their links to each location. Cobbitty was surrounded by ‘Wivenhoe, Denbigh, Matavai and Brownlow Hill – all beautiful in their own way – from the homely milkmaid-like undecorated farm and the verandahed cottage, with group plantations, to the elegant Italian villa, embowered in orange groves, and the secluded chateau of dignified retirement’ (p.24). Similar descriptions were used by travel writers in the early 20th century.

The gentry estates were the same ones that reminded Englishman John Hawdon of his Durham homeland in the 1820s. The description of the landscape provided by Tompson reminds the reader how short the gap was in years between the original European settlement of the Cowpastures and his presence in the Camden village in the 1840s.

Camden Park was described by Tompson as ‘magnificent’, which had in the last few years had ‘been opened up and cultivated by a story of primitive pioneer who takes farms on clearing leases’ (pp24-25). The tenant farmers were  not the yeoman farmer the British colonial authorities were trying to create at the time. They were closer to a peasant culture.  Tompson likened Camden Park to a European ‘principality’ rather than the gentry ‘Estate’ it was and would remain for over the next 150 years. (p.26)

TompsonCharles-Camden-ThroughAPoetsEyes-lowres

 

The Razorback Range was ‘scarcely…a mountain’ and was ‘in fact a tract of excellent arable land’. The Nepean River and Bent’s Basin was a ‘small lake of about a furlong’s diameter’ and it was ‘round and deep’. (p.27)

The weather was an ever-constant in Tompson’s travails of the Cowpastures as were the constant dry spells that are all part of the Australian environment. He laments ‘how sadly the rain keeps off’ in October 1847 (p.27) A month later he left his thermometer in the sun and it rose to 1200F when left on the ground on his way home from church (p.28). He observed that the continued dry spell of 1847 had ‘driven’ the smallholders ‘to despair’ (p.28).

Thunderstorms unsurprisingly were typical of a summer’s afternoon across the Cowpastures. In December 1847 a ‘heavy thunder storm passed over, without much rain’ (p.33) as it still happens today. Thunderstorms could be the cause of bush fires that burnt throughout the hotter months of the year (p.30). Fire was been an ever-present part of the Cowpasture’s ecology – both natural and man-managed – by Indigenous Australians.

Tompson was not a fan of the Indigenous people and possessed the British attitude to the inferior nature of the Australian Aborigine that was the basis the settler society colonial project. In March 1848 ‘the blacks [Dharawal] from the south country always visit the Cowpasture…in great numbers’. Reminiscent that the colonial frontier could be violent site and a male domain. Tompson reported that there was a woman of a lonely farm hut ‘scarcely considers her safe’ as the Indigenous people moved through the area ‘in the absence of her husband’.(p.44)

The newbies to the local area in the 21st century could do themselves a favour and read the description of the 1848 flood at Camden. The flood was caused by an east-coast-low-pressure-system as they are in eastern Australia’s today. The 1848 flood event was over after three days with its peak reached within 24 hours of the river starting to rise. Tompson witnessed an ‘expanse of water several miles in circumference’ that had previously ‘dry land’. (p.43)

Disease was a problem with influenza (p.31) prevalent in 1847 and ‘everybody is wrapped up, pale, coughing and wearing a certain indescribable dreamy appearance’. (p.31) Tompson reported the presence of scarlet fever in 1848 (p.61) and called it scarlatina (p.61) as it was also known. Even as early as 1848 the Camden village was regarded by many Sydney ‘invalid refugees’ as a type of health resort with many staying at Lakeman’s Camden Inn. (p.61)

The very English activity of hunting made an appearance in 1849 and the Sydney gentry brought their ‘dingo hounds’ with them. Tompson reported that they were joined by some local ‘gentlemen’ and went deer hunting ‘in the bosky glens of the Razorback’. It was reported that some hounds ‘ran down a fine kangaroo’ and the party returned drenched ‘by heavy rain’. The following day the party moved to Varroville.(p.79)

Janice Johnson’s collection of Tompson’s musings and sometimes whimsical commentary on life in the Cowpastures is a convenient summary of work published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The researcher does not have to wade through hundreds of pages looking for a short descriptive paragraph as Alan Atkinson did for his work on Camden.

Johnson has done the hard graft by extracting these snippets of Cowpasture life using the National Library’s wonderful database Trove. This is a treasure trove of information for any researcher complemented by a useful index. For those interested in colonial New South Wales this book should be a standard reference of the colonial period in any library.

Aesthetics · Attachment to place · Camden · Camden Museum · Colonial Camden · Colonialism · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · history · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · Place making · sense of place · Settler colonialism · Tourism · Trust

GLAM, trusted sources and the local museum

In these days of fake news and social media hype people have lost trust in many public institutions. Social media is king and the prominence of news can be driven by clicks and algorithms.

 

Trust is difficult concept to define and measure. It is a fragile belief that people and institutions can be relied upon to be ethical and responsible. Trust is critical in the effective functioning of a democracy.

 

It is more important than ever that there are sources that are trustworthy and produce credible evidence-based information, particularly around scientific and cultural issues.

 

Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC states in reference to recent controversies:

More and more, the trustworthiness of information is based on the perceived trustworthiness of the source. Libraries and museums are considered honest purveyors of information and places for conversation on issues of local and national significance. Today’s museums are dynamic learning hubs, using the power of art and artifacts to engage, teach and inspire. Museums touch lives and transform the way people see the world and each other.

One group of trusted institutions are museums, galleries and libraries, and within these are local community and folk museums, pioneer villages and house museums. They are genuinely authentic.

camden-library museum
Camden Library Museum in John Street Camden. The Camden Museum is a volunteer-run local social history museum that tells the story of the Cowpastures and Camden Districts. It has a significant collection of local artefacts and objects, archives and image collection. (I Willis, 2016)

 

 The landscape of local museums is one of the characteristics of rural and regional Australia. These local museums are managed and conducted by a host of local community organisations.  According to the National Museum of Australia there are over 1,000 local and provincial museums across Australia.

 

Local museums tell local truths and are trusted sources of local stories and histories.  Local museums are stores of memory that are built on nostalgia and contribute to well-being of the community. They are sites of volunteerism and strengthening of community. They promote local tourism, local employment, skill enhancement and training opportunities for local people.

Aust Day 2018 Museum Open Frances&Harry
Two local sages on Australia Day 2018 at the Camden Museum. Frances and Harry are two larger than life local characters who are well known local identities. They have spent their life devoted to their community. They have a vast trove of local stories and knowledge that they willing share with others. (I Willis)

 

Centred on local history local museums are not fake. They are are honest and straightforward. What you see is what you get.

 

 The local museum tells local stories about local identities and local events, and are driven by local patriotism, parochialism and localism. They celebrate local traditions, myths and commemorations.

 

The local museum can vary from world class to cringingly kitsch, from antiquarian and to professional.  Individuals create them from ‘mad ambition’ and shear enthusiasm.

 

For all their foibles they can build trust within a community. The local museum can help to build resilience through strengthening community identity and a sense of place. Local museums are a trusted local institutions, contribute to a dynamic democracy and active citizenship.

 

This post was originally published on the ISAA blog.

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Address to Camden Council supporting a motion for a heritage protection sub-committee

In October 2016 historian and author Dr Ian Willis addressed a Council Council general meeting. He spoke in support of a motion proposed by Councillor Cagney for the formation of a heritage protection sub-committee.

Camden Macaria CHS1571
An exterior view of Macaria in the 1980s during the occupancy of Camden Council. During the 1970s the Camden Council Library Service occupied the building. (Camden Images)

 

Dr Willis stated:

Camden Council Public Address

25 October 2016

ORDINARY COUNCIL  ORD11

NOTICE OF MOTION

SUBJECT: NOTICE OF MOTION – HERITAGE PROTECTION SUB-COMMITTEE

FROM: Cr Cagney

TRIM #: 16/300825

I would like to thank the councillors for the opportunity to address the meeting this evening.

I would like to speak in support of the motion put by Councillor Cagney.

I think that a section 355 sub-committee on Heritage Protection is long over due in the Camden Local Government Area.

A panel of councillors, experts and community members could give sound and constructive advice to Camden Council on local issues of substance related to local heritage.

This could contribute to the Council’s knowledge of heritage matters within the community.

The proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee could allow stakeholders a platform to voice their concerns around any proposed development that effected any issues concerning heritage in the Local Government Area.

The proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee could seek the view of external experts on contentious heritage matters within the Local Government Area.

The proposed sub-committee could provide considered advice to Council on matters of heritage concern to the community.

Perhaps provide more light that heat on matters of community concern.  Such advice might lower the noise levels around proposed development around heritage issues that have arisen in recent months.

In 2010 I wrote an article that appeared in Fairfax Media which I called ‘Heritage, a dismal state of affairs’. It was in response to an article by journalist Jonathan Chancellor about the neglected state of Camden’s heritage lists.

In the article I quoted Sylvia Hales view expressed in the National Trust Magazine that in New South Wales there had been ‘the systematic dismantling of heritage protection’ over the past five years.

I also quoted the view of Macquarie University geographer Graeme Alpin who wrote in Australian Quarterly that ‘heritage listing at the local level does not provide much protection at all’’.

I expressed the view at the time that there needed to be a ‘ thorough and considered assessment of historic houses’. And that

The current political climate in NSW is not conducive to the protection of historic houses. Heritage is not a high priority.

Six years later I have not changed my view.

The proposed sub-committee could give greater prominence to the Camden Heritage Inventory, similar to Campbelltown Council and Wollondilly Council.

In 2015 I wrote a post on my blog that I called ‘Camden Mysterious Heritage List’ in frustration after spending a great deal of time and effort trying to find the heritage inventory on the Council’s website. It is still difficult to find.

In conclusion, the proposed Heritage Protection sub-committee would be a valuable source of advice for council and provide a platform for the community to express their view around heritage issues.

 

Camden Council approves formation of a Heritage Advisory Committee

Camden Narellan Advertiser HAC 2017June7 lowres
Camden-Narellan Advertiser 2 June 2017, p.16.

 

 

Macarthur Chronicle HAC 2017May11
Macarthur Chronicle Camden Wollondilly Edition, 16 May 2017, p18.
Attachment to place · Colonialism · Communications · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Local newspapers · Newspapers · Place making · sense of place

A short history of a major provincial daily newspaper

UOW historian Dr Ian Willis contributed a short article on the history of Wollongong’s  Illawarra Mercury to the compendium A Companion to the Australian Media in 2014. The Companion was edited by Professor Bridget Foley and assisted by an eminent Editorial Advisory Board.

Newspaper Illawarra Mercury 1856Jan7

 

 

The history article written by Dr Willis follows:

Illawarra Mercury

One of the Australia’s most important provincial newspapers, the Illawarra Mercury has been defined by parochialism and localism since its foundation in October 1855 by Thomas Garrett (1830–91).

Initially a weekly, the Mercury cost sixpence, and had a print run of 200. Garrett had pooled his resources with W.F. Cahill, who left after three months, to be replaced in 1856 by Thomas’s father, John, a Primitive Methodist. By 1856 the Mercury had become a six-column broadsheet and was distributed to Dapto, Jamberoo, Kiama and Shoalhaven by express coach.

Involvement in community affairs and politics has characterised Mercury proprietors. John Garrett was elected Wollongong’s first mayor in 1859 and the editor, John Curr, was elected Wollongong’s first town clerk. Garret’s son, Thomas, was also a politician.

Thomas took over the paper in 1862, and soon formed a partnership with Archibald Campbell, before selling out to Joseph Hart in 1867. Campbell was the sole owner from 1883 until his death in 1903; he was elected Member for Illawarra in 1891.

In 1888 the Mercury was a tri-weekly of four pages, which featured a weekly serial. By 1901, it was published twice weekly. On Campbell’s death in 1903, his wife, Margaret, assumed control until Shellharbour local Edward Allen purchased the paper in 1905 and improved the news content. He was elected the Member for Illawarra in 1904, continuing a trend.

An Irishman, Standish R. Musgrave, bought the Mercury from Allen in 1911 and ran it until his death in 1943. He assumed the editorship, increased sports coverage and published an edition each Friday. Soon after becoming managing director of the newly formed Illawarra Newspapers Co. Ltd in 1919, Musgrave also purchased the Bulli Times and established the Port Kembla Pilot. By 1932 the Mercury had competition from 2WL, established in 1931. Wilfrid S. Musgrave succeeded his father as managing director and editor. In 1950 he converted the Mercury to a daily, a mark of modernity for a provincial centre, and changed the masthead to the Illawarra Daily Mercury.

The Musgraves were active members of the New South Wales Country Press Association for over 40 years. They mixed with the barons of the country press who sought to restrict competition, and had sympathies with the New England New State Movement and the Old Guard.

However, the Mercury was making substantial losses when it was purchased by R.A.G. Henderson, the managing director of John Fairfax & Sons, in 1959. During the next decade, circulation doubled to over 25,000. In 1968, the Henderson family merged the Mercury with its main opposition, the South Coast Times, and appointed John Richardson executive editor. The following year Fairfax became the major shareholder for a cost of $2.4 million. Under David Lonsdale’s editorship, the newspaper became less parochial and more inclined to take on major community issues.

Peter Newell became editor in 1976, then executive editor in 1978 and finally general manager in 1985. Illawarra Newspapers Holdings Pty Ltd launched a new weekly, the Wollongong-Shellharbour Advertiser, in 1982. The Mercury introduced computer-based story-composition, and in 1986 pioneered the use of colour in daily newspapers in Australia.

Journalists Bill Simpson and Carol Johnstone won Walkley Awards in 1986–87. However, the Mercury was labelled a ‘screaming red-top tabloid’ by James Hooke, Fairfax’s managing director of NSW operations, and in the early 1990s was regularly pilloried by ABC television’s Media Watch.

Innovation continued, with the Mercury producing its first electronically assembled editorial page composed by computer in 1994, and being printed on state-of-the-art printing presses alongside the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review at Chullora from 1999. The Mercury was awarded PANPA Newspaper of the Year in 2006 and Walkley Awards were won by Mercury  journalists in 2003, 2008 and 2010 and photographers in in 2008–09. The Mercury’s circulation in 2013 was 18,229.

References:

  1. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981);

  2. Illawarra Mercury, 15–16 October 2005;

  3. Kirkpatrick, ‘Guts-and-glory, murder and more during the Mercury’s 150 years’, PANPA Bulletin (September 2005).

 

Newspaper Illawarra Mercury 1955Nov16
The front page of the centenary edition supplement of the Illawarra Mercury 16 November 1955.
Art · Attachment to place · Campbelltown · Campbelltown Art Centre · Colonialism · Convicts · Cowpastures · Entertainment · Heritage · Leisure · Local History · Macarthur · myths · sense of place · Tourism

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award

The CHN blogger was out and about at Campbelltown Arts Centre recently on a Friday night at the opening of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award.

A packed Campbelltown Arts Centre was filled with keen supporters of the award. They walked around and viewed the art works that had survived the culling process and made it onto the walls and displays.

Campbelltown Arts Centre Fisher Ghost Art Award 2017
There was quite a crowd the Campbelltown Arts Centre for the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on Friday 4 November.

55 Years of History

2017 is the 55th year of the prize and the finalists had some pretty stiff competition.

There were a diverse range of works. The categories include Open, Contemporary, Traditional, Sculpture, Photography, Primary Students, Secondary Students, Surrealism, Macarthur award for a local artist, Aboriginal, Mentorship Macability award for a work by an artist with a disability.

The Award has a total prize pool of $38000 supported by a range of local sponsors.

Campbelltown Arts Centre is well regarded art institution in the Sydney area under the leadership of director Michael Dagostino.

Camden artist survives cull at the Award

One entrant at this year’s award was Camden artist Sandra Dodds. She survived the cull with her sculpture work Eclipse.

Camden artist Sandra Dodds with her entry Eclipse in the sculpture category of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award on the opening night of Friday 4 November. (I Willis)

Bringelly artist Brian Stratton had his work Shoalhaven Tapestry hung in the Traditional category.

Campbelltown Arts CentreFishers GhostArt BrianStratton Shoalhaven Tapestry 2017
Brian Stratton and his watercolour ‘Shoalhaven Tapestry’ hung at the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award at Campbelltown Arts Centre (L Stratton)

Brian said about his painting:

‘One of my watercolour paintings of Crookhaven Heads on the south coast of NSW.  Over the past three decades I would have painted more than 200 paintings of the north face of this headland.  To me this work has more of a feeling of a tapestry, as opposed to a watercolour; hence its title.’

Award proceedings

The proceedings on the opening night got under way just after 6.00pm with the official announcements around 7.30pm. The announcement of the winners was introduced by a welcome to country by a local Dharawal elder.

The 2017 judges were curator Tess Allas, artist Dr Daniel Mudie Cunningham and artist Ben Quilty.

The full list of prize winners in all categories can be found here.

Campbelltown 2017 FishGhstArt Awd Signage

The Fisher’s Ghost Festival

The art award is part of the Fisher’s Ghost Festival which is held in November each year and started in 1956. The festival is named after the local 19th century legend of Fisher’s ghost.

The festival website states that celebrations are held over 10 days (4-12 November). The major features of the festival are a street parade,  a fun run, a street fair, craft exhibition, foodie festival in Mawson Park, open days and a giant carnival with fireworks.

In 2017 the carnival was held on Bradbury Oval and was in full swing as the art award winners were announced at the art centre.

The street parade moves along Queen Street and has a variety of community, sporting and business groups with floats and novelties.

Each year the festival has a theme and in the past they have included  The Ghost with the Most, The Spirit of Campbelltown, the International Year of the Volunteers, the Centenary of Federation, the National Year of Reading and most recently, the 30th anniversary of the Campbelltown-Koshigaya Sister City relationship.

The Miss Festival Quest, which ran up until the early 90s, was adapted to form The Miss Princess Quest, which has now been running for more than two decades.

Campbelltown Art Centre forecourt on the opening night of the 2017 Fisher’s Ghost Art Award (I Willis)

The story of the ghost of Fred Fisher

The festival is based around the story of the ghost of Fred Fisher.

The story of Fred Fisher is one full of mystery, murder and mayhem. It really shows the dark gothic influences in Australian history around the former convict turned farmer who was murdered in Campbelltown. The Dictionary of Sydney website tells this story and the grizzly demise of Fred.

The ghost story of Fred Fisher is part of Australian gothic literature and the country’s colonial past.   These stories make a statement about the white Australian psyche and the monster within. The landscape is portrayed as a monster in the genry of  Australian gothic now and in the past when the early colonials viewed the bush as evil and threatening.

The National Library of Australia outlines the story of Fred Fisher and the songs, stories and legends that flow from it. They claim that it is the most forgotten ghost story in Australia..

The Fred Fisher ghost story is an apt ghost story to tell around the time of Halloween. Some even go looking for the Fred ghost today.

There are many who swear that there is a presence around the area of Fishers Ghost Creek in Campbelltown. Is this just a lot of rot or is there something to the story?

The story receives the official sanction of Campbelltown Council and its public library where it is told in all its detail.

The Campbelltown History Buff has many interesting stories about Fred and his ghost. One of the best is about the ghost post from the road bridge and the curse that is linked to it. Or maybe not.

The dark stories of colonial times about Aborigines and convicts fit neatly into  the Australian gothic genre, as does Fred Fisher, a former convict.

2017 Fishers Ghost Festival runs from 4 November to 12 November.

The festival website tells the story from the colonial days of Campbelltown and the festival is fitting to remember the ghostly and ghastly past.

The festival celebrates and embraces the Australian gothic.

 

 

Local History · Macarthur · Newspapers · war

The local ‘rag’, the future of local newspapers

The future of local newspapers

This post was prompted by an item in the Oran Park Gazette, an A4 newsletter newspaper. Gazette journalist Lisa Finn-Powell asked: What is the future of the community newspaper?

The local ‘rag’ in our suburb is a free tabloid newspaper thrown onto our front driveway each week. Actually there are two of them, the Camden Narellan Advertiser and  the Macarthur Chronicle. Where I live some of these newspapers stay on the neighbour’s driveway for weeks and disintegrate into a mess. Other neighbours just put them in the bin. So not everyone is a fan of the local ‘rag’ in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

Yet others, including those in our household, devour the local newspaper from cover to cover. More than this I clip the local newspapers each week. I compete with others in the household. By the time I get the newspaper there already a holes in it.  There is certainly a future for local newspaper in this household.

 

The local in local newspapers

In the Oran Park Gazette Lisa Finn-Powell maintains that the community newspaper does have a future. She argues that it provides a way for members of the community to support each other by celebrating local events, anniversaries and traditions. Local newspapers make people feel good about their neighbourhood.

From the journalists point of view Finn-Powell maintains that their readers are in their face. Local journalists are ‘up close and personal’ with their readers. The local newspaper, according to Gazette editor Belinda Sanders, shares local stories with local people who all have a story to tell.  (Oran Park Gazette, October 2017)

While the purpose of the Gazette’s story was to bolster local advertising editor Belinda Sanders has a point about the importance of local newspapers. Her self-interest is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Scholarly literature on newspapers supports her position.

Survival of the local

Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick maintains that community newspapers have survived because of their closeness  to their community,  their reflections of a community’s values, their contribution to its cohesion, their service to the progress and welfare of their local community.

A similar list has been compiled by regional historian Louise Prowse . She maintains that the local newspaper is central to the life of country towns by underpinning social capital, strengthening social relationships, reflecting the town’s values, valuing local history, having close links to the community, and providing a voice for the community.

Local newspapers, especially country newspapers,  tells stories in a different way to the large metropolitan daily newspapers. The country newspaper editor reports in a narrative style and does not obsess about the inverted pyramid. They write feel good articles that are generally not  sensationalist. The local newspaper is less likely to need to put a negative spin on a story. The editor goes for the known and comfortable and readers  might be living around the corner or have personal knowledge of the people and events.

Camden Advertiser journalist Jeff McGill maintains that the local newspaper creates ‘the strong weave in our social fabric’. After working for the large metro daily he decided he did not like writing negative attack style stories all the time, so he went back to his roots and became a journalist in the local paper. There he could write stories with a positive spin for a readership who personally knew him.

 

How different is different?

The essence of country newspapers, community newspapers, or provincial newspapers is the style of reporting practiced by journalists according to Rod Kirkpatrick in his examination of this issue.

Just as there are significant differences between the closed self-contained rural and regional communities  and the large metropolitan areas. There are distinct differences in the practice of journalism between newspapers these two distinct economic, political, cultural, and social landscapes.

Jock Lauterer who wrote Community Journalism: Relentlessly Local says that community newspapers have three things in common:

  1. a readership of less than 50,000,
  2. an exclusive focus on stories with a local connection and
  3. offices accessible to their readers.

 

Community journalism

So what is community journalism? There are handbooks and guides on community journalism. They  provide sections on how to report local council meetings, writing an obituary, wedding or other local celebration. They provide advice about the peculiarities of dealing with local organisations and businesses and other everyday matters. Interestingly Kirkpatrick maintains that city-based journalism would do well to take heed of this style of writing.

Kirkpatrick maintains that journalists on community newspapers need to understand that the daily doings of the community that are of interest to readers. Local celebrations, traditions and events, for example, weddings, funerals, births, fetes, and anniversaries. Few if any of these stories ever make it to the large metro dailies.

The journalist is up-close-and-personal and need to ‘touch the pulse of the local community and fight its battles against’ outsiders. The journalist might find themselves embedded in a small community where they do not have the anonymity of their city-based journalist colleagues.

Civic journalism

Journalist David Kurpius described community journalism as civic journalism. Central to this type of writing is an in-depth understanding of the community that makes up the newspaper readership.

Journalists in this environment write stories with a degree of depth and understanding of the issue that are important to the local community. He maintains that the journalist has to engage the readership and have a conversation with them about the values that are important to the community.

The journalist needs to capture the ‘priorities, concerns and perspectives on different issues’ of the citizenry.

This is certainly what Lee Abrahams the owner/editor of the The District Reporter does on a weekly basis. She feels that her local newspaper ‘is different from other newspapers’. She aims to tell the ‘local people about their local area and their stories are part of that agenda’.

Abrahams has stated that she writes ‘good stories’ and leaves out the police and ambulance rounds as they often have a negative line.

Abrahams likes reporting the small and strong and raising public awareness, by informing and keeping public interest. In particular she attempts to cut through the spin from the state government and give the story a local angle. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1, 2011)

This type of difference that can be identified in the country press is not new and is typical of earlier times. One example was  wartime.

A point of difference, the local press and war

This blogger has written about the country press in wartime and examined its crucial role in patriotic volunteering and fundraising, keeping up morale, supporting the war effort and a host of other issues.

I particularly looked at the role of the owner/editors of two local newspaper in a small country town during the Second World War and how these local identities used their influential role on their reportage in their newspapers.

I recently put up a conference proposal for a paper on how country newspapers reported during the First World War.  The abstract for the proposal went in part as follows:

 Country newspapers provide an archive record of the First World War that is identifiably different from the large metropolitan daily newspapers of the war period. The local newspaper has a number of differences that are related to their localness and parochialism, their relationship to their readership, their promotion of the community and their approach to the news of the war. The local newspaper recorded the subtleties of local patriotism and wartime voluntarism and fundraising, the personal in soldier’s letters, the progress of the war and a host of other issues.   

 

Digital disruption – just the latest challenge

Will local newspapers survive in the age of digital disruption?

Rachel Matthews says in her article on the provincial media in Routledge Companion to British Media History  writes that the demise of local newspaper has been predicted on numerous occasions. Matthews goes to outline six historical phases to the development of provincial newspapers over the last 300 years and are:

  1. the local newspaper as opportunistic creation;
  2. the characterization of the local newspaper as the fourth estate;
  3. the impact of New Journalism;
  4. the growth of chain control,
  5. the move to computerised production and the advent of free newspapers;
  6. the provincial press in the digital age.

She concludes that these challenges provide ‘far reaching implications’ for the British provincial press.

Local newspapers in the Macarthur region

I have written about the history of some of the mid-20th century newspapers in the Macarthur region on an earlier occasion. These country newspapers were some of the first to use the regional name of Macarthur for the Campbelltown, Camden and Picton areas.

The Macarthur region is located on Sydney’s south-western rural-urban fringe and is one of the  fastest growing regions in Australia.

The local newspapers in the Macarthur region have changed in recent years as online sites suck up their advertising revenue. Where once our local edition of the Camden Narellan Advertiser might have run to 110 pages an issue they have shrunk to 60-70 pages.

Yet where there was once just one local edition of a newspaper there is now three in this ever growing area on Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

The Advertiser is now published in three separate editions as the Campbelltown, Camden Narellan and Wollondilly Advertiser. A similar thing has happened to the Macarthur Chronicle, a part of the News Ltd stable.

As the regional population has grown so new opportunities have opened up for local suburban newspapers to fill the gap in the market place. The Oran Park Gazette, and its stable mates across Western Sydney, have filled some of these gaps that have appeared in the new suburbs.

Another which has appeared in 2016 was the Independent South-West,  part of the King Media Regional group.

It is interesting to compare the  Camden Narellan Advertiser with the Illawarra edition from the same newspaper stable The Advertiser Lake Times. The Illawarra edition barely makes 50 pages. It has to compete with a provincial daily The Illawarra Mercury. Yet it continues to thrive.

 

Change at the local during wartime

Media historian Rod Kirkpatrick points out that war has had lasting changes on the nature of the provincial press.  He maintains that wars ‘have traditionally been a trigger for the emergence of newspaper or for significant change in their industry’. During the peace politics dominates, but during the conflict the war dominates the stories.

In country newspapers the war is on the front pages. While the First World War put cost pressures on the Australian press the voracious appetite at home for news of the war and sales of metro dailies soared during the conflict.

Newspapers shrunk and reportage of stories became terse and condensed. This contrasted with the convoluted narrative reporting style of the pre-war years.

The future in a digital age

So is there  a future for the local paper in the digital age? I think so.

There is a craving for the authentic and personal to people can connect with their neighbourhood, even in the suburbs.

The internet is impersonal, the local newspaper is not. The local newspaper still has many challenges to meet especially around monetising advertising in the age of Google and Facebook.

With creativity and persistence the local newspaper will meet these challenges and be a part of the media landscape into the future.  The local newspaper has changed in some communities to that it is an A4 newsletter newspaper.

 

Profile of the Oran Park Gazette

The Oran Park Gazette, a free monthly A4 newsletter newspaper which boasts on its banner heading that it is ‘your community news’. It is published on the first week of each month and distributed to the new suburbs of Oran Park, Harrington Park, Gregory Hills and Harrington Grove. It started publication in November 2015 with a circulation of 3,500 and is part of a stable of five mastheads  in the Flynnko Group.

 

Profile of The District Reporter

The District Reporter is a free weekly tabloid of 16pp with a circulation of 17,000 across a footprint of 37,000 homes published by Wombaroo Publications in Camden. The newspaper started in 1997 in the Austral area by Lee Abrahams (editor) and Noel Lowry (sales). The masthead is blue and green to reflect the rural landscape of the sky and grass. They filled a gap left by the demise of the Camden Crier. The Reporter circulates in the Camden and Wollondilly Local Government Areas. (Camden History, vol 3, no 1)

 

Profile of The Menangle News

The Menangle News is a free monthly newsletter newspaper of 4-6 pp. It is published in the Menangle village by husband and wife team Sue and Brian Peacock. It has a circulation of 218 and distributed throughout the village. It started life in 1980 as a duplicated news-sheet run off on a Gestetner copy machine. It only carries stories from the village which as a population of around 1200. It is truly local. (Camden History, vol 4, no 3)

 

Profile of the Independent South-West

This is a free tabloid that has been published twice since its launch in November 2016 in Camden. The Independent South-West is published by King Media Regional in Bowral, and is part of a stable of four mastheads. The 20pp tabloid is printed in colour on glossy paper. Editor Jane King states in Issue 1 that the paper will serve the local community and employ local people. The initial print run of 10,000 was distributed throughout the Camden LGA.

Read more

Free newspaper on the rise as traditional media declines in regional areas. ABC News 21 January 2016

 

Cobbitty · festivals · Macarthur · sense of place · Tourism

Out and about at Cobbitty Markets

On a frosty Saturday recently the CHN blogger attended the Cobbitty Markets. The carpark was covered with a light shade of white while the thermometer hovered around zero degrees.


The markets have been on Cobbitty Public School site for what seems likes for ever. The stalls are tucked around every conceivable corner. In the front yard. In the building courtyards. Every part of the school yard is filled with stallholders displaying their wares.

The markets have a tradition of attracting stallholders with their own genuine wares. Hand-made goods of all sorts. Not the bric-a-brac of the trash-and-treasure markets that you get around the place.

For the foodinistas. The school canteen will sell you an egg-and-bacon sandwich for $4 and an instant hot coffee for $2. Enough to satisfy any appetite. If you want to go gourmet then that is catered for as well. Great cappuccino if that is what you desire.

The frost covered car park at sun-up at the Cobbitty Markets looking out across the Nepean River floodplain (I Willis)

There is the ever popular plant stall attracting one of the largest crowds. Ever before the stallholder has set out all the plants for sale. Sales were hot in the cold. The stall sells tiny seedlings to not so-small seedlings. And even bigger plants.

The crowd at the ever popular plant stall at Cobbitty Markets (I Willis)

There are the fruit and vegie stalls. Stalls selling honey and other organic goods. Cut flowers to make any room pretty.

Lots have artwork of various types. From painting to any type of creative work you can think of including authors flogging their books.

The knick-knack brigade are catered for with candles for the mood creator, and other smelly and feely-make-you-feel-better stuff. Lots to choose from. There is even pottery and lots of other traditional crafts.

Funds raised go to the Cobbitty community directed by the hard-working market committee in their purple shirts.

To learn more go the Cobbitty Village Market website