George and Margaret Weddell
Publishers of the Craigieburn News from 1972 to 1996
Written by George Weddell
George was born in Liverpool England in 1935. He can remember as a child the sound of air raid sirens and enemy planes flying overhead on bombing missions to the city as his family slept in air raid shelters dug into their back garden. At age 15 he left school and commenced an apprenticeship as a Compositor where he worked until emigrating to New Zealand with his family in 1956.
Margaret is a New Zealander by birth who says she has been 29 years old for more years than she cares to remember! Her father was a Fisherman and her mother was a Registered Nurse who was in charge of a Casualty Ward for sick and injured seamen. The ward which was part of their home was adjacent to the wharfs in Lyttelton. They also had a mortuary in their back yard. To say that her upbringing was unusual would be an understatement and Margaret has many weird and wonderful stories to tell about that part of her life. Margaret worked as a Nurse Aide in hospitals in Lyttelton and Dunedin.
The Couple married in Wellington, New Zealand in 1968 and arrived in Australia the following year with the first of the three children they eventually had. All three had “Paper Rounds” early in life!
Here is George’s story:
My interest in newspapers began when, as a young apprentice Compositor at a small commercial printing firm, I was required to attend Night School. One night at the school they showed our class a film called “The Roar of the Press”. The film had been made at the Daily Express office in Fleet Street, London and it really caught my imagination.
I was fascinated by the hustle and bustle of the Newsroom where everyone seemed to be caught up in a state of extreme emergency, and the sight of the gigantic printing presses where massive rolls of paper at one end of the machine were turned into complete newspapers and churned out at the other end at the rate of about 50,000 copies an hour really had my heart thumping.
It was then that I decided that as soon as my apprenticeship was finished I would seek work on a newspaper. My opportunity came shortly after arriving in New Zealand when I started work at the “Christchurch Press”. I later worked at the “Dominion” in Wellington and the “Waikato Times” in Hamilton. The work I did on these newspapers was as a Compositor on the production side of the paper and I never received any training in the Editorial or Reporting areas.
Schoolchildren watching the typesetting machine in action at the "Craigieburn News".
WE ARRIVE IN AUSTRALIA
Margaret and I, together with our first child Frank arrived in Australia in 1969 with 2 weeks wages in our pockets and little else. Fortunately I had a job to go to at the “Age”, and started working on a new newspaper called “Newsday” which as it turned out had a very short lifespan.
In 1970 we arrived in Craigieburn basically because it was the only place we could afford. After cashing in a couple of Insurance Policies, and borrowing a few dollars here and there we were able to raise the $1000 deposit needed to purchase a new ”home and land” package deal. The total cost for the house and land was $13,400. How things have changed!
One of the first people we met in Craigieburn was the local Chemist, Mr. Ivan Carter. Mr. Carter had approached George Atwell who ran the very first newspaper in Craigieburn called the Craigieburn Post, which was actually the predecessor of the Craigieburn News and had lasted for some time. George, due to his postion in the Police Force was unable to continue with the issues and was approached by Ivan Carter to buy the paper from him. Mr. Atwell informed Ivan Carter that there was no need to do that and he could have the newspaper. George Atwell was the registered owner of the Craigieburn Post and that name could not be used, so thus was born the "Craigieburn News".
We had arrived in Craigieburn in 1970 and it was only a couple of weeks later that the first Craigieburn News was produced by Mr. Carter. We offered help in any way we could and our first job on the newspaper was delivering it to schools in Mickleham, Kalkallo and Greenvale, the Post Office in Yuroke and the Kalkallo and Donnybrook Hotels. Also we delivered to a few homes in the area. From memory I think that at that time there were between 300 – 400 homes in Craigieburn and all deliveries were done by car as they were spread far and wide.
Mr. Carter’s aim was to provide an information and communication service for the area, keeping residents informed of all matters affecting them, whether it was Local, State or Federal Government plans or decisions, the formation of new organizations, services available to residents, or reports from established organizations. These aims never changed over the next 26 years until the Newspaper ceased publication in 1996.
THE “NEWS” IS PASSED ON
Just over a year later in early 1972 Mr. Carter handed over the reins of the "Craigieburn News" to myself, and from then on my wife and I produced an issue each fortnight (apart from holiday periods and one short period when I was unable to work) for almost 25 years.
Mr. Carter had published 12 issues before passing the newspaper on, and deserves full credit for being the Founder of what was a valuable community asset.
The newspaper was financed entirely by advertising, and at no time did we receive any financial help from Council, Government or indeed any other source. This made it difficult at times, and the only reason we were able to keep going was that we eventually started printing the paper ourselves from our home in Alma Street.
Thanks to our regular advertisers our costs were covered, but the “News” was never a “Business Venture” that anyone would wish to buy. In retrospect, I suppose we were very lucky that the Printing Industry was undergoing a dramatic change in printing methods at that time. In fact it had been undergoing a change since the early 1950s, but by the 1970s the pace of the change had increased. This meant that the method known as “Letterpress Printing” which was the world’s first method and had lasted since the 15th Century was rapidly becoming extinct.
Above: The News' First Printing Press
Because of this change I was able to purchase the machinery and equipment needed to produce the “News” for little more than scrap prices. Typesetting Machines costing $50,000 20 years earlier were being sold by the “Age” and “Sun” newspapers for $200 each. My first Printing Press was bought for about $100 and a really first class machine was bought later for $600. Admittedly these machines were old, but they suited my purpose admirably and had many years of life left in them.
Typesetting the "Craigieburn News".
The Printing Presses I bought were not the massive presses that I mentioned earlier, but were in fact designed for and used in Commercial Printing offices throughout the world. With them I was able to undertake a wide range of Commercial Printing as well as produce the “News”. Up to this point in time I had been working full time for a boss, but gradually my commercial printing work at home increased and in December 1973 the “Craigieburn News” was registered as a Business and gradually I was able to become completely self-employed.
It is worth noting that the “Craigieburn News”, if not the last, would have been one of the last newspapers to be produced in Australia by the “Letterpress” method of printing. Most of the machinery and equipment used in producing the paper has now been scrapped. We do however have a hand-fed Letterpress Printing Press (pictured at left) which is approximately 100 years old, together with cabinets of hand-set type and other old printing equipment. Readers of this article are welcome to come and have a look at this old equipment anytime. Just give us a call on 9308 1696.
WE ENTER A NEW WORLD
Although I felt confident of handling the actual printing side of the newspaper, the reporting and editorial side was a completely new experience for me. Added to that, we had settled in what was a very new residential area with very few services or facilities, after having always lived in well established places where most human needs were readily available. We were now in a “new world”.
To give an idea of the area in 1970, imagine Craigieburn with very few made roads, no sewerage only septic tanks which needed cleaning out regularly, (some of the original homes still had the “Night Man” calling), no medical services of any description apart from one doctor coming to the area one day a week, one train a day in and out of the city, no bus services, some residents having to organize their own water supply from a large water tank in Field Street, no Fire Station, Police or Ambulance. The Council offices were in Sunbury and Craigieburn was part of the Shire of Bulla. The Council Library was located in a house on Hanson Road. Australia’s Note Printing was done elsewhere.
Above: The Large Water Tank in Field Street.
There were no Tennis Courts, Sports Stadiums or Swimming Pools. The only school was the Primary School in Hamilton Street (no longer there), and the first Kindergarten was yet to be built (in Hilton Street). The Community Health Centre was unheard of and Our Lady’s Church was in Walters Street. The Church on Craigieburn Road West was still just a dream. St. Thomas’ Church in Rayfield Avenue was opened in that year and Rev David Stark was the first Minister there.
Football was the only sporting activity in the area at that time. Tennis, Cricket, Golf, Archery, Bowls, Badminton, Squash, Basketball, Little Athletics, Swimming, Gymnasium, Soccer, Auskick, Cycling, Martial Arts, Angling, BMX, Calisthenics and Darts all came into being in later years.
In 1970 Craigieburn had a Progress Association, CWA and a Fire Brigade. Other organizations that formed after that include Red Cross, Art Group, Ceramics, Cathouse Players (Amateur Theatre), Contact Centre, Neighbourhood Watch, Historical Group, Dancing, Toy Library, Dog Obedience, Guides, Scouts, Inbetweens, Senior Citizens, Craigieburn Youth Involvement Project, Apex, Lions, SES and Rotary. The Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Salvation Army and the Craigieburn Learning and Activities Centre are also now well established in Craigieburn.
Above: Craigieburn Apex Club pictured at one of the early Craigieburn Festivals.
THE ROLE OF THE NEWSPAPER
It soon became very clear to me in my new job as Editor of the Craigieburn News that the Paper could play a very significant part in the overall development of the local community. The “News” became a regular means of communication for all residents, which not only aimed to keep the community informed of what other people were doing within the township, but also gave every resident a chance to develop and expand their own particular interests.
For example many organizations were set up originally after I was approached by someone usually new to the area who found that his or her interests were not being catered for at that particular time. An article would then appear in the following edition of the paper calling a meeting for anyone interested in forming a new group, and usually if there was enough interest shown, a brand new committee would be formed there and then. Specific jobs would be allocated to members and before the meeting was over fund raising ideas had usually been discussed and set in motion.
Over the years I found that groups and organizations which appeared to succeed the most were those who continued using the Newspaper to keep the rest of the community informed of their activities and to recruit new members. Quite a few groups have disappeared through lack of membership, I believe purely and simply because they failed to promote themselves within the community.
The most notable example I can think of regarding the lack of communication and the actual value of the “News” to meet that need, was during a period when I was running a regular column in the Paper on behalf of the CYIP helping unemployed people in the area. A young man contacted me seeking work as a Motor Mechanic. In the column I asked if there were any employers who could help. The young man started work shortly afterwards, but the ironic thing about this, was that his employer was also his next door neighbour!
ORGANISATIONS WOULD SEND IN REPORTS
As a very small Community Newspaper we were never able to employ journalists, so basically it was left to individual people or organisations to keep me informed of their own activities, and then through the Newspaper I would pass the information on. Clubs would usually appoint someone to keep me up to date.
Through this regular personal contact with a very wide and always expanding cross section of the community, my wife and I developed what was I believe a unique knowledge of local affairs. We were aware of the aims and objects of all local organizations and we kept a regularly updated list of contacts within these organizations. A large Calendar which also included these lists was printed and distributed to all homes for about five years.
Most of the people on our lists we knew personally and we regarded them as friends. Business People, Councillors and Politicians were also regular visitors to our home because of our involvement with the Newspaper.
As a result of this knowledge our home became somewhat of an “Information Bureau” and we would get all manner of queries regarding the community from within the Township as well as from outside areas. If we did not have answers ourselves then it was a pretty safe bet that we would know someone who could help. Perhaps the most unusual call was from Telecom who wanted to know the telephone number of the Caravan Park on the highway. We gave it to them!
One failure though was when a notorious criminal was captured by police just north of Craigieburn. We started getting calls from newspapers and radio stations all over Australia asking what was happening. I’m sure they were dumbfounded when I told them that I didn’t have a clue and had no intention of finding out!
On the positive side, I could have told them when the next Sausage Sizzle was being held at Craigieburn Primary School, that we were due to get a new street light on the corner of Hanson Road, that the local Bowls Club would be holding a Working Bee on the following Saturday morning, or that the Lions Club would be continuing their weekly “Meat Raffle” in the Craigieburn Mall. Somehow I doubt if they would have been interested in these pieces of valuable information. Different priorities I suppose.
THE ROLE OF THE VOLUNTEER
Probably the first thing that I became aware of when becoming involved with the “News” was the work of volunteers. Mr. Carter had asked me to visit the Captain of the local CFA, Arthur (affectionately known as Artie) Lee who lived with his family just north of Craigieburn on the Hume Highway, and to find out what the local Brigade had been up to recently.
A “Volunteer Fire Brigade” was something unheard of by me before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I soon learnt that being a Volunteer Firefighter involved much more than grabbing a hose when there was a fire. I was invited into the kitchen of the Lee household where Anne, Arthur’s wife had the CFA radio all set up.
Craigieburn didn’t have a Fire Station then. Anne was the Brigade and District Communications Officer and as well as her very important work during fires she had to make sure that the radio was always in good working order. Weekly contacts were made with all other Brigades in the District by Anne on the Radio.
It is worthy of note here that Anne was later awarded the National Medal for her Community Work, and “Artie” had the high honour of receiving the Queen’s Medal. Artie also received a Brigade Medal for 45 year’s service. Unfortunately he is no longer with us. He died in April 2001.
Country Fire Authority 1981 (Arthur "Artie" Lee far left)
I eventually found out that many hours of training were needed before anyone could attend a fire, and that in fact our “Volunteers” were all highly skilled. (I remember volunteering myself once when coming across a fire in Konagaderra Road. I was told very politely “thanks, but no thanks”). The fact is that untrained personnel are a dangerous handicap. Apart from the training involved and the firefighting, brigades were required to raise money themselves for necessary equipment.
As the years passed, I became more and more aware of the work carried out by volunteers within the community in order to provide a valuable service to all residents. Organizations like Red Cross, Apex, Lions, Rotary, State Emergency Service and CADAC all helped enormously to improve life in Craigieburn. And all the hours put in by members of these organizations were completely voluntary.
The “News” was always kept well informed about Local Council decisions affecting Craigieburn, through Cr. Bill Sorraghan in the early years and later on Cr. Alan “Ollie” Matthews, and Cr. Phil McMahon. All these men put in a lot of time and effort writing out reports specifically for publication in the “News” and this was something extra which they were not obliged to do. They were also deeply involved in other community work apart from their roles as Local Councillors.
I believe every club and organization normally has a very hard working committee who put in a lot of extra time on behalf of their members, and here I would like to pay a special tribute to those volunteers who provide activities, training or coaching of any description to young people in Craigieburn. Without the efforts of these people I am sure Craigieburn would be a very unpleasant place to live. I hate to imagine what it would be like if all young people in the area were left entirely to their own devices to fill in their leisure time!
As the providers of a local communication service, Margaret and I gained a great deal of satisfaction knowing that we were playing a fairly significant role in the development of Craigieburn, and we were proud of the work we were doing in being able to help so many public spirited residents.
Although the Craigieburn News never had the excitement, the sense of urgency and the glamour I had envisaged as a boy while watching “The Roar of the Press”, nevertheless it provided us with a great deal of overall “job satisfaction”. It also gave us an insight into many peoples’ lives and we made many friends over a long period of time.
With the practical experience and knowledge I had gained through my involvement with the newspaper over the years, I had the idea that perhaps this knowledge and experience, with the help and support of other people in the community, could be passed on to our younger generation of residents. I had seen how adults in the area had worked together to cater for their own specific interests, and I saw no reason why, with a bit of help, encouragement and guidance from these same adults our teenagers could not do the same. With this in mind the Craigieburn Youth Involvement Project was formed in 1985.
There had always been some anti-social problems associated with a small percentage of young people in Craigieburn, and the reason believed by most people was that “there is nothing for them to do”. As a person deeply involved in the community and fully aware of the efforts being made by many volunteers in the area to provide activities for young people, I never fully agreed with this theory, but I agreed that as the population was growing, a much bigger variety of leisure activities were needed.
The Youth Involvement Project was never intended to be a Youth Club. Primarily it was aimed to help and encourage all our young people to become involved in regular, time consuming activities that were already available, or if their interests were not being catered for, to work with the young people themselves to introduce such activities into the Township. Exactly as the adults in the area had done for themselves a few years earlier.
THE FIRST DEBUTANTE BALL
In response to a request from parents Craigieburn’s first Debutante Ball was organized by the CYIP and held in August of 1987. Thirty Debutantes and their partners were presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke and Mrs. Hawke together with our own Local Federal Member, Neil O’Keefe and Mrs. O’Keefe. Neil O’Keefe had been greatly impressed by the concept of the CYIP, and was instrumental in arranging for the Prime Minister and Mrs. Hawke to attend the function as Guests of Honour.
The Ball proved to be an outstanding success, not only as a complete “family” social event, but also as a fund raiser. A Deb Ball Committee was formed within the CYIP and the Ball became an annual event. The CYIP started working towards a “Multi Purpose Youth Centre” for Craigieburn and the Deb Ball committee organized Balls in other areas towards this end.
The Debutante Ball has been mentioned specifically in this story because ultimately, a controversy within the community concerning the Ball was the major factor in the demise of the CYIP and the Craigieburn News. It also ended the desire of Margaret and I, together with several other members of the Deb Ball Committee to be involved in community work of any description.
Training for the Debutante Ball
Without going into detail, the controversy over the CYIP attempting to run an alcohol-free Deb Ball virtually split the community in two, was reported on in major newspapers and Radio and resulted in me being taken to court to answer Defamation charges. I lost the case, but more importantly I lost the desire to carry on with the work I had dedicated myself to, involving the CYIP and the Newspaper.
Shortly after the Court Case which devastated us, a breakdown on the printing press was enough for me to “throw in the towel” and that was the finish of the “Craigieburn News” as a newspaper. We have kept our Business name and now publish a local “Advertiser” which contains advertising only.
It is a sad fact of life that a newspaper serving a single community like Craigieburn, can play a significant part in the development and everyday life of the area, but is not a viable commercial proposition. That is why truly “Community Newspapers” are virtually non existent today, having been replaced by the larger suburban newspapers.
Apart from the final few months, publishing the “Craigieburn News” had always been a very satisfying experience for Margaret and I, and we cherish the memories of our involvement and having been able to assist in some way, the efforts of so many hard working and community minded people.
Craigieburn Inaugural Debutante Ball, 1987
Guests of honour: Left to Right
Neil O'Keefe MHR, Mrs. Hawke, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Mrs. O'Keefe.
"Photo by Classic Studios"
GEORGE AND MARGARET WEDDELL 2007