By Ivor Jones
Back in the early 1990s, a media battle for supremacy in the print media in the Hills broke out between Dawson’s, Fairfax and Rupert Murdoch’s Cumberland Newspapers.
Dawson’s were the publishers of the leading newspaper, the “Hills News”, which claimed to be “Ahead of the Times” and to have 30% more readers in its masthead than the “Hills Shire Times” published by Murdoch’s Cumberland Newspapers, whilst Fairfax’s “Hills Mercury” was way behind.
As mentioned in the last edition of this magazine, the “Hills News” was originally published by Ron Stettler as the “Parramatta & Hills News” before being sold to Warwick Dawson & Jim Holmes in 1984. The “Hills Shire Times” was a successor to the well-known and popular “Farm & Garden” newspaper.
The “Farm & Garden” was a creation of Earl White who established Cumberland Newspapers at Parramatta in 1936. Earl White established a newspaper called the “Parramatta Advertiser” in 1933, a four-page free newspaper and three years later bought the “Cumberland Argus & Fruitgrowers Advocate” combining the two papers to create Cumberland Newspapers.
Earl White had worked at the “Cumberland Argus” in 1917 and later joined “The Sun” newspaper from which he was retrenched during the Depression and that prompted him to start his own newspaper. After WW II he decided to expand the company by establishing newspapers in areas that he felt were growing as migrants and refugees flocked to Australia from war torn Europe.
He asked journalist Geoff Herbourne to launch the “Farm & Garden” in the Hills district in 1952 and leased the paper to Gil and Brenda Parkinson. The “Farm & Garden” was also a four-page publication but was increased in size when it acquired the “Shire Clarion” in May 1956. By that time Rupert Murdoch purchased Cumberland Newspapers in 1960 to give him a base in Sydney. Cumberland had a chain of 28 newspapers. Rupert Murdoch had a daily newspaper in Adelaide called
“The News” but had no papers in Sydney and the purchase of Cumberland was to give him a Sydney base. Murdoch went on to purchase other newspapers not only in Australia but also in the UK and USA including the now defunct “Daily Mirror” in Sydney, an afternoon paper and later the Sydney “Daily Telegraph” which he purchased from Sir Frank Packer.
He was motivated to gain control of his father’s newspaper empire which was based on the largest newspaper group in Australia, the “Herald & Weekly Times” group in Melbourne which he also purchased.
Meanwhile Fairfax, who owned the “Sydney Morning Herald” and “The Age” in Melbourne and was lagging well behind in the weekly suburban newspaper market, decided to expand their “Parramatta Mercury” newspaper into the Hills by publishing “The Hills Mercury”. Fairfax had also purchased a number of small suburban newspapers including the business of S Richardson’s of Campelltown which gave them a virtual monopoly in the Macarthur region.
I joined Ron Stettler not long after he had sold the “Hills News” and started the “Toongabbie & Hills District TV & Entertainment Guide” Late in 1992, Harvey Grennan who was an aggressive and forceful editor of the “Hills News” and who wrote editorial columns under the name of “Fearless Fortescue” announced that he was vacating the position of Editor of the News.
Dawson’s then approached me to write for them which I did for a few months, however the new editor wanted me to do investigative work which I was not qualified for so I quit. The newspaper was later acquired by Fairfax and the “Hills Mercury” folded.
The Hills-based Stettler family also printed or published a number of other papers and publications including the “Galston News” in which I also contributed a column. This paper continues to be published as the “Galston, Glenorie & Hills Rural Community News” as part of the same group as the “Hills to Hawkesbury Community News”.
Other Stettler printed publications included the “NSW Greyhound Weekly”, “Square Dance Review”, “Thompson’s Corner News” and the “Ballroom Gazette” plus a newspaper covering Toongabbie the name of which escapes me for the moment.
So I guess that there is only one survivor of the media battle for the Hills of the 1990s and that is the “Hills to Hawkesbury Community News” first established in 1984 as the “Toongabbie & Hills District TV and Entertainment Magazine” and continues to be printed today whilst all the others have either disappeared on only appear as online publications. “Hills to Hawkesbury Community News” also appears online.