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Panpa Bulletin : February 2006
Take a map of Western Aus- tralia and draw a line north from Albany and east from Bunbury, and fairly close to the intersection of those two lines you will find Wagin, 264km south-east of Perth. The town is part of a rich wool- growing region and is on the Great Southern railway line, which pushed through the district in the late 1890s. Not a decade later, Wagin spawned a newspaper on April 5, 1905, a threepenny week- ly, the Southern Argus and Wagin- Arthur Express. R.S. Sampson was the proprietor and John Mackay the manager. Sampson, like many a newspaper pioneer, waxed lyri- cal in his opening editorial. Sampson planned to make the Argus a "real, live, progressive, pushful paper -- a paper with a voice and a literary soul -- that may be read with avidity and enjoyed as profitable and instructive, and not a mere automaton." He de- nied rumours that the Argus was "the offspring of another country paper." The first two issues were mailed to all people listed on the electoral roll for the district, and town residents received the paper from the newsagents. For all his fine words, Samp- son departed after only a few is- sues, leaving J. Mackay and Co. as the owner. Mackay himself soon needed support. On Octo- ber 2, 1905, Ernest Henry Absolon began a family involvement of 88 years in the ownership of the paper when he took a financial interest in the business, allowing Mackay to buy new equipment and an up-to-date printing press. Absolon became the sole pro- prietor on July 11, 1907, when he bought out Mackay's interest. Ab- solon told his readers the Argus would do the greatest good for the greatest number and advance the best interests of the district. This may sound mundane 100 years later, but these were important sentiments for readers and adver- tisers in country communities a century ago. On October 24, 1924, Absolon gave the paper a more distinctive local name when he renamed it the Wagin Argus & Arthur Dumb- leyung Lake Grace Express, which is a mouthful but certainly not the longest title borne by an Aus- tralian country newspaper. The Wagin title continues today. The Argus grows With advertising growing, the pa- per was expanded to eight pages in 1927. Absolon, an expert sur- veyor, had little involvement in the daily affairs of the newspaper. Absolon focused his energies on surveying roads and land for sub- divisions in Perth and the Great Southern region. He and his wife Agnes had three children, the sec- ond and third of whom became involved in the newspaper. E.H. Absolon died in February 1941. The Absolons lived across the road from the newspaper office and family members were in the habit of calling in after school to help in whatever way they could, whether it was melting lead or folding papers. Among these was second son Austin de Mans- field Absolon, known as Scot, who was educated at Wagin state school and at Bunbury Grammar School. Scot worked full-time at the pa- per during the 1930s and he found himself in charge when World War II began and he was rejected for war service because of poor eye- sight and other problems while other staff members enlisted and were accepted. So Absolon persuaded his sis- ter Jill, who had been working in a solicitor's office in Wagin, to help out at the paper. She gave up her secretarial work and learned to operate the Linotype as well as most of the other machines in the printery. She also did some reporting, especially of council meetings, and provided copy for the West Australian, too. At the time the Argus also pro- duced the Great Southern Herald. Jill worked at the newspaper until her marriage to a Popanyinning farmer, Edmund Parsons, in 1952. Jill Parsons, now 83, recalled that during the war they had a boy to help with melting down the lead and cleaning and folding. Agnes Absolon, widowed mother of John, Scot and Jill, helped out during the war by folding papers and writing wrappers ready for the mail deliveries. After the war, experienced hands Frank Berrill and Laurie Griffiths rejoined the paper. Griffiths re- tired in 1978 after 46 years with the Argus -- typical of the long service given by a string of employees. The Davies years Scot Absolon's stepson, Don Dav- ies, joined the paper in 1956 as an apprentice Linotype operator and showed such skill and a flair for administration that he was put in charge of the printing depart- ment in the mid 1960s. When Scot Absolon died on January 11, 1972, aged 56, Davies became the man- aging editor. He has fond recollections of the days when Wagin's paper, along with the papers in the neighbour- ing towns of Katanning and Nar- rogin, were family-owned papers. The Great Southern Herald was owned by the one family (Cullen- Synott) for 67 years. Whenever one of the papers struck mechan- ical problems, the others would help out. He recalls times when he would do a day or two of typeset- ting for the Katanning paper. The West Australian used to provide a block-making service for country papers so that the small papers could run pictures, he said. His wife of three years, Coral (née Dinwoodie), began work- ing part-time as a book-keeper after her husband took charge. She worked in various capacities and became full-time about 20 years ago. As office manager she Wagin Argus celebrates centenary One family can take the credit for keeping the Wagin Argus going for over a century, writes Rod Kirkpatrick 46 | PANPA BULLETIN February 2006 HISTORY Three staff members of the Wagin Argus in its centenary year: (from left) typesetter Vicki Ball, journalist/editor Veana Scott and office manager Coral Davies