Remembering the days when country newspapers told Goulburn’s story

John Thistleton 10 June 2020
From left: John Thistleton, police commander Barbara Galvin, former NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, former NSW Police Force Academy executive Greg Moore at Goulburn Press Club.

From left: John Thistleton, former Goulburn police commander Barbara Galvin, former NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, and former NSW Police Force Academy executive Greg Moore at a Goulburn Press Club dinner in 1996. Photo: Supplied.

Across Australia, country town newspapers are closing or remain under a cloud of uncertainty. The Goulburn Post has been suspended during COVID-19, leaving readers speculating about its long-term future.

I was the editor from 1988, when some remarkable contributors turned the years that followed into a golden era for the paper and our town.

The Post collaborated with the Rostrum Club, especially its most energetic and enterprising champion, Dr Brian Keating. We hosted public meetings and formed a press club which brought national figures to town, including queen’s counsel Lloyd Waddy and author Thomas Keneally during Australia’s republic debate.

Former NSW Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, the English bobby appointed to clean up corruption in the state in 1996, was still on a honeymoon with the public when he spoke to our press club.

Of several notable contributors from the railway, Ken Sullivan, a union representative, became a regular columnist when he ran for the local NSW seat for the Labor Party, and kept local MP and NSW Premier John Fahey distracted from the wider NSW battle.

Sullivan was crucial to Bob Carr winning the 1995 NSW election in a one-seat victory. Fahey held the Southern Highlands, but left later for federal politics. Sullivan’s final column on election eve was a masterpiece. Later, I discovered why. Former NSW Education Minister Rodney Cavalier – now an elder statesman of NSW Labor – had sharpened and polished Sullivan’s prose.

Letters from another union man, Roy Leslie, attacked the paper. He once accused us of targeting train drivers in our court reporting, which was nonsense.

Bike-riding railway man Frederick P Grady was another busy letter writer. Train driver Lindsay Cosgrove wrote about junior soccer for the Post, and helped assemble fellow drivers for a news story on their constant fear of people committing suicide on rail tracks.

en Sullivan (left) and then NSW Opposition Leader Bob Carr

Ken Sullivan (left) and then NSW Opposition Leader Bob Carr (right) in 1995. Photo: Supplied.

From Marulan’s prominent grazing family, Dorothy Brewer breathed life into the Goulburn Show. In 1991, she wrote a book to mark the society’s centenary, and provided a weekly column for the Post.

Arriving in my office upstairs, flushed in the cheeks and breathing heavily, she would fish out her column from her basket and scribble down last-minute thoughts. Reviving the show proved even more remarkable given her failing health. Her husband, Ron, a former Member for Goulburn, never got over losing Dot to a sudden heart attack, and her loss was deeply felt.

Another grazier’s wife, Jane Pockley, bought the naming rights for the Goulburn rose flower. She used the Post to rally the town behind the gorgeous orange rose. Jane clashed with officials who didn’t share her passion for a rose city, and often left me blushing with her brilliant ribald curses.

I suggested, in an editorial, a voluntary effort in handing out roses in Martin Place, Sydney, on Valentine’s Day. After much lobbying, busloads of volunteers from Goulburn with baskets of freshly cut roses handed them out to strangers in Martin Place during the spring of 1996.

John Russell inspired readings of the Post with information drawn from his amazing native garden at Bradfordville, which thrived through winter and summer extremes. So profuse were his flowering eucalyptus, that honeyeaters dropped out of the blossom-laden branches onto the ground drunk on nectar.

Teacher and footy stalwart Geoff Peterson penned a popular column for local punters. Veterinarian Simon Morris wrote weekly about companion animals and wrote a review in the Post of Oz Opera’s performance at St Saviour’s Cathedral, showing he was the maestro of versatility. The opera was Verdi’s three-act tragedy, Rigoletto, which had a cruel twist in the end.

How the next act in the local media plays out is unknown, but in those now long gone days a cast of diverse, passionate contributors helped us capture what mattered most to everyone around us.

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