On Saturday the presses will roll out the final printed copies of the Bundaberg NewsMail, ending more than a century of service and tradition.
Two former employees Graham Gardiner and Wayne Heidrich have reflected on a time when the local newspaper was as important as bread and milk to everyone’s daily diet.
Both men served apprenticeships at the NewsMail in the 1960s as Hand and Machine Compositors.
Graham and Wayne commenced their apprenticeships in the days when linotypes and hot metal production was the manner in which the newspaper was produced, all within the noisy confines of the composing room.
“Today is a rather sombre day for those of us who enjoyed what really was a family atmosphere at the NewsMail during the bulk of our working lives,” said Graham.
“There was a great deal of skill, fun and camaraderie in an industry producing a publication that served the community six days a week.
“When I started in 1963 there were 34 tradesmen and apprentices employed in the composing room. In 2020 the pre-press area – as it is now called – doesn’t exist,” he said.
Wayne said the intervening years had seen the closure of the NewsMail press site in the Industrial Estate, a contraction in both advertising and journalism staff and the transfer of accounts department offshore.
“The News Mail was once a powerful employer in the community but advances in technology certainly peeled away those work opportunities.”
Graham said the impact of technology was becoming increasingly apparent in the 1970s with the NewsMail switching from tradition hot metal to cold type or computerised production.
“We shed our overalls for dust coats as production moved away from ink and metal to paste up.”
Long association with newspapers in Bundaberg
The Gardiner family, through Graham’s grandfather and father, has a long and proud combined 141-year association with the newspaper industry in Bundaberg.
Graham maintains an extensive collection of memorabilia from his days at the NewsMail including newspaper mastheads from different eras and remains an active member of the Australian Newspaper History Group.
“Unfortunately a digital publication is not everyone’s cup of tea,” said Graham. “There is an older demographic in this region who simply like a hard copy of the newspaper.”
Wayne Heidrich recalls the first day he walked into the NewsMail office in Targo Street to commence his apprenticeship.
“I was a few weeks short of my 15th birthday when I started at the NewsMail on January 9, 1967,” he said.
“The smell of the place hooked me immediately and I still get goose bumps when I recall it.
“They used to print the newspaper on site and the warmth created by the running of the press mixed with that unmistakable smell of ink and newsprint was just overpowering, almost intoxicating.
“The apprentice naturally did all the boring work like hauling the heavy lead ingots around to each linotype machine to feed the molten lead pots which enabled the casting of each line of type. As an apprentice, you addressed a tradesman as ‘Mister’ unless you were invited to use their first name.
“I started on a take-home pay of $17 a week. $5 went to the bank, $5 to my Mum for board and I lived like a king on the other $7. A pie with peas was just 13 cents. A tradesman earned around $65 a week.
“There’s no doubt working in this environment shaped my life. In 15 years at the NewsMail I had a shot at any job associated with the newspaper industry,” said Wayne.
“This stood me in great stead when I started the Isis Town & Country newspaper in Childers in 1982 and ran it successfully until my old bosses at APN (later News Corp) purchased it in 2006.
Both Graham and Wayne and many of their former workmates agree that over the years it has been disappointing to witness the demise of the newspaper industry.
“The wonderful attributes staff at the NewsMail were able to bring – because for most is was a job for life – was knowledge – local knowledge. This particularly applied to the journalists,” said Wayne.
“Video may have killed the radio star, but technology certainly killed the traditional newspaper industry,” he said.
Mayor urges support for digital news
Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey said he's disappointed printing of the NewsMail has ceased and become a digital-only publication.
He noted the same transition is occurring in the News Corp regional business across Australia including Hervey Bay, Gympie, Sunshine Coast, Gladstone, Mackay and Rockhampton.
“I’m sorry because it’s the end of an era and some jobs are being lost,” Mayor Dempsey said.
“It continues a trend of media decline over the past decade with publications and newsrooms closing down or becoming smaller.
“It’s why Council established Bundaberg Now — to future proof the Bundaberg Region against further cuts in traditional media. We are providing a platform for news to be shared online from Council, community organisations and businesses,” Mayor Dempsey said.
“There will always be a need for external scrutiny of governments, which is why I hope the digital version of the NewsMail goes from strength to strength.
“I have a subscription to the NewsMail online and encourage others to do the same. It’s a practical way we can support local jobs.”