Colourful history of local paper peppered with characters
"AMBITION is not lacking. We do not despair of one day making the Nashville Times what we wish to see it and what it must become if it is to hold its own in this rising community.”
So proclaimed the editorial in the very first issue of what was later to become The Gympie Times.
Of course, little did the first editor, Herbert Rogers, know that a century and a half after penning those words, we would be more than just holding our own - we would be a national and international award-winning publication that has remained steadfast and true to its prime object of serving and informing the community.
Today, as we celebrate 150 years of The Gympie Times, we pay tribute to the small group of printers and businessmen who, loaded to the hilt with expensive and heavy printing equipment, struggled through the hot, unexplored and uncleared Queensland bush from Ipswich to the booming goldfield of Nashville, which would soon be known as Gympie to reflect the area's original name.
Here, in what we now know as Mary Street, the original owners - H. Parkinson, F. Kidner and J.B. Solomon, who had formed the company Kidner and Co - built their premises and got down to the task of printing a newspaper on a wild and lawless gold rush frontier, itself only five months old.
After finding enough advertising to pay for the first edition, those hardy newspapermen set about finding the newsprint and hand setting the type.
And as if they didn't have problems enough, the heavens opened, the temperamental Mary River flooded its banks and the newspapermen found their "high and dry” printery suddenly under water.
To add to their woes, Francis Kidner, who struggled gamely to get the first edition off the press, had his horse stolen.
At this point, the entrepreneurs' heavy investment must have been close to going under, but like all good newspapermen they soldiered on and printed their first edition of the Nashville Times and Mary River Mining Gazette on February 15, 1868.
And how do we know about Francis Kidner's horse? It was in an ad on the front page!
Eight months later, editor Rogers proudly proclaimed a new era for the Nashville Times as it expanded to three days a week from the bi-weekly it had started as.
Even in those fledgling days, Rogers must have been stung by criticism from some quarters as he noted in his editorial:
"The local paper is unreasonably expected to be infallible; it has to fill satisfactorily the triple position of "guide, protector and friend” to all, despite rebuffs and often inadequate support and, if it fails in any way to carry its good intentions into effect, there is a crowd of envious creatures ever ready to misinterpret its failures, and endeavour to create a feeling of antipathy instead of generous sympathy. They are eloquent on the shortcomings of the local paper and pompously assert, "it's a rag, sir”.
How times haven't changed.
After mining started to wane, rural interests and primary produce became a significant contributor to the economy of Gympie and the newspaper's masthead had to change to reflect these new interests.
By the 1920s, The Gympie Times became a paper in its own right, servicing a thriving community bolstered by butter production and the railways that were opening up Queensland.
In the 150 years since the first edition rolled off the press on that wet, trying day in 1868, we've heard the echo of the past repeated with The Gympie Times frequently taken by boat across the swollen Mary River to reach its readers.
But floods, droughts and hard times have never broken the spirit of the prosperous city that grew up around those prospectors of old. And with it - every challenging and victorious step of the way - has been The Gympie Times.
First published twice weekly on Wednesdays and Saturdays - the little hand-operated Albion press producing a staggering 250 copies an hour - the paper changed to a tri-weekly a few years after its birth. In 1979, a Wednesday issue was introduced and, in 1982, we began publishing five days a week, Tuesday to Saturday. Changes in print technology saw black and white photographs introduced in the 1920s and full colour in 2006.
The relocation of the press to the new printery at the Gympie Industrial Estate in 1984 knelled the end of an era for the Mary St premises.
Today, The Gympie Times is printed remotely at News Corp Australia's Yandina press site and, since the sale of the Mary St premises in 2013, the newspaper has called the refurbished former ambulance centre in Nash St home.
These days, of course, computers have eliminated the typewriter and the compositor's trade, and journalists and advertising staff work harder than ever in an industry now driven by online and digital technology, and - love it or hate it - social media. This brave new, 24/7 digital world is giving us the means to "break” news as it happens - something impossible in the past.
For 150 wonderful years, The Gympie Times has faithfully recorded issues relating to world wars, kings, crooks, rail disasters, floods, fires, atomic bombs, the advent of penicillin, man walking on the moon, council amalgamations, street redevelopments, local tragedies and successes, our sporting triumphs, the deregulation of the dairy industry, the Traveston Crossing dam, the Bruce Highway bypass, the revival of the Valley Rattler and the fight against what's fast becoming the scourge of the 21st century - cyber bullying.
And, as we head into the next century and a half, we remain a firm and determined fighter for this wonderful region we all call home.
We have never backed down from a fight when we believed something was wrong.
We have never shirked from saying the things we believe to be right.
But above all, we strive daily to reflect our community's attitudes and beliefs and what it believes is interesting.
While The Gympie Times' 150th birthday is very much about Gympie's daily newspaper, it is more about the history of the region itself. After all, the paper doesn't make history, it records it.
And, in the words of Herbert Rogers, "To conclude - lest the reader should grow weary of our professions - we shall do our best. Whether that will be sufficient to justify public encouragement and support, time will show”.
Long live The Gympie Times.