‘Life was never dull and I’ve got no regrets’
ON the day I was finishing work at The Gympie Times after almost five decades, a former work colleague and friend sent me note which said “when you walk up that ramp and out that door don’t look back, only forward”.
Since that day it has been my mantra but the imminent closure of The Gympie Times as a printed newspaper has had my mind harking back at the many years of work the paper did for the Gympie region as a recorder of its history on a daily basis.
I started at the paper in 1966, as an apprentice hand and machine compositor, the paper was a broadsheet produced tri-weekly (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday), printed on site.
Two shifts produced the paper, day shift five days (8am-5.15pm), night shift starting 10.15am, finishing 1.30am (unless you were on roster to wrap papers for mail distribution on the press) then it could be 5am.
It was hot, hard but rewarding work, Linotypes using molten lead and hand set type for headlines and special needs. The editorial team, led by editor Terry Ramsey, also worked similar hours.
The paper was also a commercial printer and book binder.
As the region grew so did the paper, four days a week then five, the page format changed to tabloid as did the presses.
Computers arrived in the early 1970s, very antiquated by today’s standards, punch tape through a computer reader which printed it onto a film. The paper was then cut and pasted to again go under a camera before the page negative was made into a plate for printing.
Time moved fast, photography changed, production changed and The Gympie Times grew.
The paper went from being owned by a group of Gympie businessmen, sold to public listed company Rural Press. I became a camera operator and a printer in charge of shifts on the offset press line, on which I initially worked with two engineers to install.
A new press facility was built at the Gympie industrial estate, Country Life and Fairfax Sydney papers were printed there and the press line rolled almost around the clock, more than 100 people, permanent and casual, working there at its peak.
Changes were never ending. I left the production side to cross to what was termed the dark side to become a reporter, night sub-editor, sports reporter, rural reporter producing On The Land and later Rural Weekly. General reporting, courts, council meetings, news stories and the list goes on, all a learning experience as was the study I undertook.
I was offered the deputy editor position, which I accepted and the paper’s ownership again changed, this time to to APN.
All issues were still covered, without fear or favour, whether it be the good or the bad, floods, fires, droughts, elections, Gympie show, vehicle crashes and some events that still remain vivid in my mind to this day (13 deaths on our roads in eight weeks).
The gun debate and legislation after the Port Arthur massacre, one faced threats from people on an almost weekly basis.
Council amalgamations brought out the good and bad side of many in the community.
Friendships were forged and some enemies made but it all came within the working territory of the newspaper, the voice of the Gympie community.
Many campaigns were mounted on behalf of the community, some which could have had major repercussions.
The battle to save Inskip Point from massive development and retain camping areas.
Dairy deregulation was a vexed issue for the rual community and despite the protests the federal government pushed it through.
It cost many farmers their livelihood and brought the industry very much to its knees. The Mary Valley and Gympie region went from having about 125 dairy farms, providing employment to the region and spending millions of dollars a year in Gympie to less than 20 in a very quick time.
The Bruce Highway became a death trap, mainly the result of development and increased traffic and resulted in the loss of many young lives, the paper erected large billboards to warn motorists of the danger.
A committee was formed after a public meeting in the Civic Centre, to put recommendations to the government. I was voted on to this, we met a number of times then recommendations went forward. Subsequently, a number of these have since been adopted by the state.
The highway’s stone mastic road surface seal, then the need for an upgrade resulting in a design that went through new residential areas on the Southside.
The Gympie Times called a public meeting and mounted a concerted campaign on the design issue, the residents turned out and a committee was formed (I was again on this) to consult with designers and the government which subsequently resulted in a new design and the highway being shifted to where two sections have been built and the last section is now underway.
At the same time, the paper was involved in a battle with the residents railing against the proposed Traveston dam fiasco.
At the same time I was appointed editor of the paper, after applying for the position when then editor Michael Roser moved to Toowoomba.
After a number of years, this issue was put to bed by federal minister for the enviroment Peter Garrett, when he knocked back its approval, but in the meantime the MaryValley community and their towns were decimated as the state bought up land. This had a massive effect of the region’s economy.
There are many stories some funny, some hea
rt breaking, from murder scenes to interviewing others who put their own lives in danger to save others. I met prime ministers, state premiers and cabinet ministers, millionaires to paupers, from all walks of life, they all had a story to tell.
Life in the newspaper was never dull, from being one of the printers’ devils leading Gympie’s centenary parade in October 1967, to dressing as Santa Claus for a front page Christmas photo, it was a great time and there is no point in having regrets, my memories remain with me.
The print edition of The Gympie Times will be sorely missed by many in this community and its recording of this region’s history may never be the same in these days of instant news.
by former Gympie Times Editor Nev McHarg