A week back, The Armidale Express Facebook page carried a staff photo from the paper’s earlier days. That caused me to cast my mind back to the paper’s earlier days.
On Friday 12 April 1929, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the formation of a new company, the Armidale Newspaper Company Limited, to purchase two Armidale newspapers, the Armidale Express carried on by P. C. G. Hipgrave and J. B. McKenzie and the Armidale Chronicle carried on by A. Purkiss.
This announcement marked another stage in a change process transforming the Northern press.
At the start of the twentieth century, even small towns had their own independent newspaper to press the interests of town and district. Many had several. Then the development of new and costlier technology with growing competition from the metropolitan dailies began to threaten the financial survival of the country press. Papers started to close or merge, while a number became dailies.
The new country dailies were aggressive. In the North, the Grafton Daily Examiner and Northern Daily Leader combined with the Lismore Northern Star and the Murwillumbah Tweed Daily to form the Associated Northern Dailies to compete for city advertising. In 1931 the Maitland Daily Mercury would join the group.
Competition from the Northern Dailies increased the pressure on the other newspapers still being published on a tri-, bi- or weekly basis. In the New England, the combination of train and truck allowed the Northern Daily Leader to reach towns from Tamworth to the border in time for breakfast.
Mind you, the competition was not all one-sided.
Following a bad train crash, Northern Newspaper’s Ernest Sommerlad wrote with glee to fellow director David Drummond in September 1926 that the Glen Innes Examiner had “got a good one on Tamworth yesterday, in connection with the rail smash.” “Armidale passed the word on that Tamworth were sending a special edition up, to arrive about 7pm”, Sommerlad explained. “I got busy & made a fine display of stuff in the short time available. Then hired a motor-bike and sent 350 copies to Inverell, having rung Knapton to get a dodger out in the meantime. The street was blocked with people waiting for copies & we made a great sale - & a great scoop.”
Despite such successes, the pressure on the smaller papers grew. Then in 1928, a financial adventurer, William John Beckett decide to launch a chain of newspapers around Australia. Armidale was mentioned as one of the key centres in the Beckett proposals.
Realising 'that at all costs Beckett must be prevented from getting a foothold in the North', Sommerlad agreed with Albert Joseph (the founder of the Northern Daily Leader) that the Tamworth Newspaper Company and Northern Newspapers should jointly sponsor the merger of the two papers. In Sommerlad's view, this intervention was necessary 'since the two Armidale proprietors were so mutually jealous there was no possibility of the amalgamation being brought about except by an outsider.' This view was supported by Drummond, now member for Armidale.
Tensions between the parties led the Tamworth Newspaper Company Board to refuse to participate. Northern decided to continue.
On 10 April 1929, The Armidale Newspaper Company Limited was formed with Dr. R.B. Austin (Chairman), E.C. Sommerlad (Managing Director) and Colonel H.F. White as initial directors. W.S. Forsyth, the main Armidale promoter, wrote happily to Sommerlad that he was 'pleased with the entire outlook.'
Drummond and three others were appointed to the Board at the first directors' meeting, and then, on 2 September 1929, the first edition of the merged paper appeared. The twentieth century Express had been born.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 17 October 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012 (Belshaw's World), 2012 (History Revisited).