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Panpa Bulletin : Oct-Nov-December 2007
Few pioneering Australian country newspaper proprietors have told the story of the difficulties they faced and the patience they needed before the newspaper they founded was finally pro- duced, but Port Augusta's David Drysdale (1845-1921) did. Drysdale was the printer of the Port Augusta Dispatch when it began publication as a weekly 130 years ago, but he bought the paper from the Port Augusta Newspaper Company three years later and owned it for 30 years, sold it and later bought it again. Five years after the Dispatch began, Drysdale wrote of how the paper evolved from a dream to a reality. And he placed his reflection in the context of the development over 30 years of Port Augusta from a "mere fishing village" to "the most important Port and mercantile depot in the whole of the North" of South Australia. The town was 260 miles (420 km) from Adelaide and was connected by rail and a twice weekly steamship. Because Port Augusta lacked a railway, business people started to talk about the need for a newspa- per to advocate the wants of the district and draw them to the attention of politicians and the leading newspapers of the colony. But the push for a newspaper stalled. It was only after the town became incor- porated in 1875 that the push for a paper was revived. A public meeting was called, but various obstacles stopped the plan proceeding. In 1877 another public meeting was held and this time action resulted in the formation in May of the Port Augusta Newspaper Company, with a capital of £500 ($1,000). When the first issue was published, on August 18, 1877, "three fair ladies of Port Augusta" performed the press-work; Mrs Brand, the wife of one of the directors, turned the machine, Mrs Drysdale, the wife of the printer, fed paper into the machine, and Mrs Burgoyne, the wife of the editor, did the 'flying'. The printer of the Dispatch was David Drysdale, a young Victorian, who was to be connected with the Dispatch for more than 30 years. He had been a printer for newspa- pers in Castlemaine and Melbourne before joining the team that founded the Dispatch. The editor was Thomas Burgoyne, the first town clerk and surveyor of Port Augusta. He was also manager and secre- tary to the company, as well as sub-editor, reporter, reader, and general contributor in prose and rhyme -- "and had to vary these labours once a week by writing the address- es on the wrappers intended for the few hundred subscribers who patronised this first venture in Port Augusta literature". Burgoyne represented the huge seat of Flinders in the House of Assembly from 1884-1915 and he was a minister in the Cockburn government in 1889-1890. In August 1880, Drysdale bought the paper from the company and made whole changes, or as he put it, "the change was thorough". He bought new machinery and type and said he would publish twice a week, but this did not happen for five months (January 6, 1881). He changed the title to the Port Augusta Dispatch and Flinders Advertiser from August 13, 1880. He effectively changed from tabloid to broad- sheet size on October 1, 1880. The new-style Dispatch said its constant aim would be to "make a name and posi- tion for the Dispatch unequalled by any provincial paper in the colony -- a creditable and powerful local advocate -- a fearless opponent of all humbug and sham -- an out- spoken corrector of abuses (political, social, or otherwise), and a faithful chronicler of events". The subscription list doubled in nine months and advertising increased signifi- cantly. The "extensive additions to the plant, and increased size of the paper necessitated removal to more commodious premises, and an augmentation of the staff". The "unpretentious" demy Wharfedale gave way to a "powerful and admirable" double-royal Wharfedale by Dawson of Leeds. Drysdale was delighted: "This beautiful piece of machinery is fitted with a set of fly- ers, and is capable of running off over 1,000 copies per hour. At present it is worked by manual labor, but in a few weeks an engine will be fitted to drive the press machinery." From October 2, 1883, the Dispatch appeared tri-weekly. The Dispatch ditched its sub-title on October 20, 1884, and added a longer one, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle, on March 18, 1885. It reverted to bi-weekly issue from June 30, 1886, and to weekly issue in January 1889. In its news columns, the Dispatch covered both the farming community and the activities of the port, in such reports as those describing the controversial wharf extensions in 1882, the call to build smelters in the town in 1898, and the behaviour of visiting sailors as represented in the court reports. From January 22, 1892, the title changed to the Port Augusta and Quorn Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle. In explanation, Drysdale said it had long been speculated as to whether the Flinders Ranges really did draw a social line between Port Augusta and Quorn. He had concluded the line was imaginary, but "Quorn" was omitted from the masthead from December 24, 1897. Drysdale launched a new paper, the West Coast Recorder, at Port Lincoln on July 22, 1904, and managed both the Port Augusta and Port Lincoln titles for nearly six years before he sold the Port Augusta title to R.L. Abbott on May 2, 1910. Abbott died on November 7, 1913. From November 14, 1913, Maurice Henry Hill became the printer and publisher of the paper for the executors of the estate of R.L. Abbott. On settlement of the estate, Mrs A.D. Abbott became the proprietor, printer and publisher. In October 1914, Hill became involved in a newspaper venture that was to compete with the 37-year-old Port Augusta Dispatch and eventually contribute to the demise of that paper. James Barclay launched the weekly North Western Star and Frome Journal at Wilmington on August 30, 1912. In October 1914 the Barclay family transferred their printing operation to Port Augusta and launched the Transcontinental on October 24, meanwhile continuing to publish the Star for Wilmington. Both papers were fully set by hand. Hill and John Ernest Edwards bought Port Augusta's many titles were a ected by ownership, competition and railways, writes Rod Kirkpatrick. history 38 PANPA Bulletin October-November-December 2007 Early competitor dispatched
August September 2007