Musician and journalist Frank Povah is famous for singing the blues, but he didn’t think he’d one day consider writing a blues song over the death of one of Australia’s oldest newspapers that he edits.
Still in shock after the announcement Bourke’s famous newspaper The Western Herald will put out its final edition on December 20, Mr Povah is coming to terms with the continued march of digital news into the print arena.
The Western Herald, famous for contributors such as poet Henry Lawson, was started in 1887, when the Herald and the Central Australian Advocate merged.
It’s been independent ever since, proudly fighting off any competition for 130 years.
The Carmichael family were three-generation owners of the paper, before it was bought by a local cotton grower. When he passed away a family trust, Navoc, took control, and last week they decided they could not keep supporting the paper, which came after what some locals say was one of the best editions in a year. Mr Povah admitted sometimes the Herald “made money, sometimes it didn’t”.
Frank, who is famed for his blues songs and harp playing, was shocked by the news that all three staff had been laid off and the last edition would be on December 20.
Frank, 77, says though he is not giving up the fight. He says he didn’t move from Tasmania to Bourke to take such terrible news lying down and plans to start a new newspaper next year if he can get backing. “It’s either that or go on the pension,” he says. “I feel most sorry for the two staff (including journalist Jono Roe) who have lost their jobs and who both have two children. The town is very upset since the news came out and they have been pouring through the door to offer sympathy. It is not good timing I believe, with Bourke about to take off with a new abattoir and outback tourism is virtually untouched. There is a lot of scope to make a paper successful.”
Mr Povah (welsh by heritage), says he hopes some local business people will support a new paper. The Western Herald has been in the same building since it was first published. Henry Lawson contributed to the paper during his brief stay as a rouseabout in Bourke, a period many credit for changing the course of his career from his drinking ways to spurring on his creative output.
Recently the paper unearthed two poems believed to be Lawson works that had not been published before. One was verified as a true Lawson work.
Bourke Shire mayor Barry Holman said the council ploughed $30,000 in advertising into the paper each year, but wasn’t in a position to fund more. The owners of the paper had proposed to the council to enter into some agreement to help the paper survive, but council didn’t believe it should be the only one supporting the newspaper in town.
“With government media and other groups going onto social media this has made it very hard for local media,” Mr Holman said. “Our paper relies on ads and they just weren’t coming though. Maybe if they’d stuck on for awhile when the abattoir opens up, which will provide 200 jobs, things might have been better. Small country papers are struggling to survive though the entry of social media in the changing media world.”
Mr Povah has worked all over Australia in the newspaper industry, having grown up on an island off the Kimberley coast, ending up working on the Manning River Times, the Maitland Mercury and before Bourke in Tasmania. He once edited the journal of the National Pigeon Association of the USA while in the United States.
He was visiting Bourke for the town's Festival of a Thousand Stories in 2016, when he was offered the editorship and said ‘yes’.
Mr Povah is a regular at folk festivals there have been many recordings of his original blues singing, held in the National Archives.
There was strong outpouring of sympathy from Bourke locals after the closure announcement.
One reader said: “Tough news - Bourke without the Herald won’t be the same but it’s a sign of the times everywhere.”
Tony Stringer wrote: “I began my apprenticeship at the Herald in 1956 with the Carmichaels ... sad to hear the bad news ... best of luck.”
Journalist Jono Roe has worked at the newspaper for 12 years and was deeply saddened to hear of the paper’s closure. “People here are very upset to lose their paper,” he said. “We have had a lot of messages of support including members of the Carmichael family who had the paper for more than 90 years.”