Since the 1880s the Wingham Chronicle has enjoyed a proud history of keeping its readers informed about events near and far. Here is the inside story of those who made it happen.
One hundred and twenty years ago newspapers were thriving in both metropolitan and rural areas of the Australian colonies.
Radio broadcasts were still forty years in the future. Television only existed in the fertile mind of some creative writers like Jules Verne, the famous French-born science-fiction writer of the time.
The newspaper was the only means of mass communication available at that time, although it varied in form and structure. ‘Publications’ ranged from the popular essay-type writing such as The Spectator through to the single sheet of news items or the public notice attached to a post in the village square. Therefore, in an area of isolated, widely separated settlements, such as would be found in Australia, newspapers were read avidly because of the contact with other people and events that they provided.
The first newspaper published on the Manning was the Manning River News, first produced in 1865 by Horace Dean at Tinonee, and continuing operations until April 1873. The second newspaper to appear in the Valley was the Manning River Times, first published in 1869 at Taree; and it remains in existence today, being published three times each week, claiming to reach more than 12,000 readers every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (quoted from information supplied on the newspaper’s editorial page).
The third newspaper to be published regularly in the Manning Valley was the Manning and Hastings Advocate, beginning in October, 1880 at Wingham. Although vaunted as a valuable addition to the journals of the Manning Valley, the Advocate did not reach its anticipated heights and was sold in 1882, two years after its birth.
By the turn of the century it no longer existed.
The Wingham Chronicle first appeared in the 1880s as the Manning River Chronicle. The proprietor, Edward Rye Junior, opened the paper as a weekly, but then changed it into a bi-weekly in February 1886.
In the period leading up to the end of the century, the paper underwent several name changes, until by May 1897 it was titled as the Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, the name it retained until its initial closure in 1983.
Once established, the Chronicle (I shall use the shortened familiar title, for the sake of convenience) soon became a lively proclaimer of news as well as a means of keeping the politicians and businessmen aware of Wingham and what it had to offer. The colourful and dedicated career of Dr William Kelly in his quarter of a century at Wingham made interesting reading.
The passage through the valley of the North Coast railway in the early years of twentieth century aroused the curiosity of many readers, particularly because of the rugged terrain being traversed and the heavy, demanding earthworks that were required. This debilitating labour created its share of serious accidents and again highlighted the achievements of Dr Kelly.
The Wingham Chronicle surprised the colonies, soon to be a nation, by having exclusive coverage of the capture of Jimmy Governor. He had been the subject of the biggest manhunt in the colony’s history because of his role in the murders of ten people during his rampage between Gilgandra and the coast. The Chronicle had interviewed most of the participants, including Jimmy Governor himself, those making the capture and Dr Kelly, who had treated the weakened and wounded outlaw.
The various newspapers realised the Chronicle possessed virtually all the information that was worth knowing about the Governor incident. The Chronicle’s editor, Edward Rye, was swamped with requests for details and all newspapers received equal access, including such names as the Sydney Mail and the Maitland Daily Mercury.
As railway construction neared Wingham, one of the great pressmen of country New South Wales and one of Wingham’s most distinguished citizens appeared on the scene: Frederick Arthur Fitzpatrick, Editor of the Chronicle for 44 years, 1909-1953.
Born in 1873, F.A. Fitzpatrick was the son of a Police Sergeant who was in charge of Windsor Police Station for 20 years. An older brother, J.C.L. Fitzpatrick was a member of parliament for Rylestone, Bathurst and Orange for 20 years. After his parliamentary career finished in 1904, JCL bought the Molong Argus and F.A. worked for his brother on the Molong Argus until 1907.
JCL sold the Molong newspaper to Frank Hartley after being elected to parliament for Orange. Hartley, however, sold the Molong Argus almost straight away and asked F.A. to go to Wingham, where he had bought the Chronicle. Hartley then unexpectedly sold the Chronicle to a partnership. Gill and Williams decided to also sell their shares to a company, of which F.A. was a share-holding member. So F.A. became a part-owner of the Wingham Chronicle on which he worked.
As Editor of the Chronicle, F.A. wrote feature articles and verse under the name of Fitz o’ Wingham. Under that nom de plume he became renowned throughout the colonies for the clarity and fluency of his writing and the forthright nature of his views. He also wrote as ‘The Wanderer’, and this name also became a celebrated one.
F.A. also wrote the well-known ‘Peeps into the Past’, a series of articles that he and G.A. Buzacott wrote about Wingham and its pioneers. F.A. was also deeply interested in community events.
F.A. retired in 1953 and handed over control of the Wingham Chronicle to his son, J.J. (Jack) Fitzpatrick. F.A. did not have the opportunity to enjoy a long retirement, as he died on May 17 1958, aged 85 years. Jack controlled the Chronicle for about 22 years, but the company and the newspaper were enduring hard times. Australia and its rural society had undergone fundamental changes, and conditions no longer favoured the small country newspaper as much as earlier isolation had done. Better transport, more efficient electronic communications and higher costs had reduced the Wingham Chronicle’s effectiveness as a mass media outlet. The company changed hands twice and then was purchased by Classic Printers, managed by Ralph Godwin. The paper was converted into a free newspaper to be distributed in the Manning and Great Lakes as the Chronicle Extra.
On September 30, 1983 the Wingham Chronicle ceased publication and a century of publishing ended. A week later the Chronicle Extra began publication from the Manning River times in Taree as a free publication.
In 1987 The Wingham Chronicle made a re-appearance as a fortnightly production. The editor was Lesley Penfold, herself a Wingham product. It proved so popular, that within six months the Wingham Chronicle became a weekly publication. By 1996 it was selling 1,500 copies per week. Lesley Penfold had performed well as editor and her reward was a move in February 1997 to the Manning River Times office to organise a North Coast edition of Town & Country Magazine.
In the same week, Bill Green, a long-term employee of Rural Press, became editor of the Chronicle. However by the end of 1999, Marcelle Clarke, another product of Wingham and its schools, had become the new editor of the Wingham Chronicle. Marcelle has been promoted to Editor of the Manning River Times, but also remains as the editor of the Wingham Chronicle. Janine Watson, journalist in charge, manages the day to day organisation of the paper, consulting Marcelle when necessary.
So we see the story of a newspaper that flourished, but fell on hard times because of a changing, social and economic environment. It seemed to have lost the fight to survive, but through adjustment, has continued to surprise us and succeed where others have failed.
Text: Mall Rattray for the Manning Valley Historical Society in 2004.
Photos: Maurie Garland
To-day James Law, journalist, is in charge of the Wingham Chronicle with Lisa Thompson and Leanne Wood, sales consultants.