Act 1: Work experience in the '80s
The first time I sat down at a desk at The Goulburn Post to do some work was 1981. I was in Year 10 at St Pat's at the time, and had asked to do my work experience at The Goulburn Post. I don't know who accepted me, but that's who you should be blaming for anything I did there after that.
Showing up for day one of work experience, I was equal parts scared witless and bouncing out of my skin. It was, and still is, a formidable place. One of Auburn Street's most iconic buildings, there are few others in town that still have the business name carved into the side of the building. It feels like it's just always been there.
So... first day, I'm directed up the stairs and into a compact and crowded newsroom... just a snotty school kid who was doing okay at English and thought he could write a bit... now in a world of people with serious writing skills.
In the editor's chair sat the editor from central casting - Ray Leeson. If you were making a movie about a newsroom you couldn't find an actor who fit the part better.
Ray was working on something in front of him, crossing some lines on the page and making other marks, and I was introduced to him as the work experience kid.
He stopped whatever he was doing, and gave me his full attention.
"Hi!" His face lit up. It was like I was a VIP that had been penciled into his diary.
He stood up, ushered me to sit down and gave me a firm handshake.
"So what brings you to our humble paper?"
Stuffed if I know what I said. His words are etched in my memory, but mine are a blur. At a guess, I probably trotted out some cliche about loving to write, or wanting to tell other people's stories, or maybe I just vomited in my mouth. Maybe I didn't speak at all.
"Well I hope we can show you a few things while you're here. Just take a seat, we'll take you out on some stories. Come and see me if I can help at all."
"I want to be THAT GUY," I thought, clear as a bell.
"One day, I'll be the editor of The Goulburn Post!" [SPOILER ALERT: Didn't happen].
I grabbed a seat in the newsroom. I don't know if experience is something that can be described as palpable, but it felt palpable there. So much writing and reporting experience in one place. John Avery, Leon Oberg, John Thistleton... I'm not sure if Ray Williams was there this time around because I worked with him later and some of it blurs. And there were others too.
I'd never been in a situation where I was the only kid in a world of adults before, and in this room of experts, it was daunting as hell.
Easing the anxiety, one of the younger journos there, Karen McCormick, took me downstairs and introduced me to the compositors and printing staff.
"These guys are the most important people in the building, and they ALWAYS know what's going on around town," she said.
She was right then, and those words remained true throughout my time as a journo.
Over the week that I was there, I was sent out on a number of jobs... mostly with Karen McCormick and John Thistleton... and they were both very supportive and helpful.
I remember one court story I accompanied John on concerning two sisters who had hoarded or maybe shoplifted rooms and rooms full of useless stuff and we got to see the pictures. I was struck by the way journos get a free ticket to see and hear so much. They should always remember what a privilege and a responsibility that was.
Act 2: On staff in the '90s
Anyway, the week ended. Two years later I left school and headed up to Sydney along with about half of my classmates.
Six years later, and I had moved back to Goulburn. Neither fame, nor fortune nor a writing career had found their way to my door, but I still harboured a desire to write, so I started to write match reports for local softball and rugby teams.
This was 1990 and at some point that year or the next, sports journos Paul Gregg and/or Jeanette Kirkman saw to it I got offered the job as the Sunday sports helper. It was four hours every Sunday, and initially, I typed up hand-written stuff. Eventually I got to cover second division league games and other sports, and man, I thought all my Christmases had come at once.
In the editor's chair sat the editor from central casting - Ray Leeson. If you were making a movie about a newsroom you couldn't find an actor who fit the part better.Chris Gordon
We were still upstairs in that same newsroom I sat in nine to 10 years earlier. Most of the faces had changed but the seating was the same. And there were none of those What You See Is What You Get word processing programs (WARNING: old man telling a back-in-the-day story about to begin).
We used writing software that predated the moon landings and which made DOS look high-end and user-friendly. We had to code-in font sizes, leader dots, em spaces and a whole lot of stuff I've forgotten or tried to forget.
In 1992, I got offered a full-time job there as a D grade journo and belted out my "yes please" before someone realised their mistake. Still upstairs in the ever-changing cast and crew of the good ship Goulburn Post but the faces weren't all that was changing.
This was the end of the local printing press and the beginning of sending away reverse negatives (or positives, or clear sheets with words and pictures on them or whatever they called them) to be printed elsewhere. With the press gone, the compositors had to work out of the AMP building putting the pages together while downstairs was remodeled in anticipation of the arrival of the hordes of editorial staff.
Hordes might be a bit strong but compared to now it was an embarrassment of riches. From memory... something like an editor, 10 journos, two photographers and a darkroom assistant. There were three sports journos alone! Mind you we put out six papers a week and there were usually six or more sport pages in each.
Along the wall downstairs were photos of all of the past editors, and I'd look up at them and think to myself "one day I'm going to be the editor here." Still didn't happen, although I was sports editor for a while and that was pretty cool.
Those three years were probably the best years of my professional life. I guess there's just something special about finding yourself in a job you love while you're still kinda young, amidst a bunch of talented like-minded coworkers. We worked hard and socialised a lot out of work (EVEN with those guys in advertising!) and as a group, I think we gave Goulburn a great newspaper.
It was a particularly newsy time for Goulburn.
The Goulburn Bypass was opened as a community wondered if our fair city would become a ghost town. It didn't... in fact the Commonwealth Cycle Classic graced Goulburn's streets several times.
Council intrigue, which is always... intriguing... had a memorable moment when journalist Ian "Smiley" Frazer was asked to break the deadlock in the vote for mayor by pulling a name out of an ice cream bucket.
And, in a world where everything old is new again, it was a time when Goulburn was building a new pool, new hockey fields and in the process of shutting down its existing performing arts centre.
One of the best NRL players of the '80s, Gavin Miller, had come home to play out his career in his home town, and Michael Diamond was beginning his run at the Olympics.
I guess there's just something special about finding yourself in a job you love while you're still kinda young, amidst a bunch of talented like-minded coworkers.Chris Gordon
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to branch out from sport... into general news, politics... even a weekly "he said, she said" column with Vanessa Barden (now Toparis) that was for me a highlight of every week and probably the single thing I got most feedback about.
It wasn't all beer and skittles, though.
I remember a violent ex-boyfriend of a staff member who threatened to drive to The Post from Sydney to kill us all, and who was subsequently apprehended by Police at Governors Hill that day with a boot full of weapons.
I remember being sent to Coventry by the Gladiators (rugby league team) for a while after I wrote a piece about a solid bit of biff between players at a pub one night.
And I remember the room falling quiet the day Saideh Nehme took the call from Police to tell us that hockey players Nathan McPherson (who had literally just been called up to play for Australia) and his mate Trenton Blay had been killed in a car accident on Crookwell Rd.
Mostly young journos who knew them, we ploughed on and did the job. I particularly remember having to call a friend, Rick Buckley, and pass on the news to him. Rick's daughter was dating Nathan and Rick regarded him a bit like the son he never had.
"Hey Gordo, you're good with words. How do I tell my little girl that her boyfriend is dead."
I had nothing. I also struggled 18 years later when it came time to eulogise Rick in the pages of The Post.
I think of these stories when I think about the job of the local journo. The people you write about, you know. You feel for what people in the community are going through, because you're one of them. If you criticise, you have to front up.
While many people today deride "the media" and say they tear things down, local media do a lot more building up. The local paper is the parish pump. You build things up, get involved in community events. I can't think of a better way to do journalism than at the local level.
This time at The Post came to an end for me in 1995. While I had learned everything I know about news-writing and brevity and structure from the editor John Thistleton, we didn't always get on so well, so headstrong as I was, I walked away from the job I felt I was born to do.
Act 3: 2010s and the digital age
And that could have been that, but there was a third act to the story. In 2010 a spot opened up at The Post for a digital journalist and I took a nervous leap back to the place I'd left 15 years earlier. And it felt eerily familiar.
The pictures of the editors were still there along the wall, and I thought to myself... well, you get the idea. And I STILL didn't get to be editor although I became digital editor for all the Fairfax papers in southern NSW and that was pretty cool.
The same compositors and print guys were still there, many of the admin staff, and the hardest working photographer in the business, Darryl Fernance... and bugger me dead if they didn't plonk me back at the same desk I sat at in 1995.
But for all the 'sameyness', again, I came along at a time of change. Getting stories online while we were still trying to make a dime from selling the print edition was fraught with... fraughtiness.
They (Fairfax/Nine/ACM) never really came up with a workable formula (and frankly no-one in the world has) to monetise online news when people do all of their advertising on Facebook et al and some news sources are still giving it away.
As a result, Gerard Walsh (the editor and one of the best design and layout guys I've worked with) and I didn't always see eye to eye but we achieved great things with our online coverage of news and I think provided one of the best rural news websites in that time. Any time, night or day, if something happened in or around Goulburn, we had it online.
During the 2010s, the Highland Source Pipeline came to Goulburn (as did Lazenby... George Lazenby... not once but twice). A new pool and a new performing arts centre were back on the agenda and Bunnings, Target and a new brewery set up shop in town.
The Post also covered a lot of breaking news in that time.
The day a parachutist fell to his death, on the same day a bus filled with ADFA cadets rolled near Tarago - Louise Thrower and Darryl Fernance were quick on the scenes with stories online within the hour.
We provided thorough coverage of elections, and candidate debates, including crucial advice about the best polling booth cake stalls and the best place to buy your democracy sausages.
And one day when I was working on the national desk, a siege began at the Lindt Café in Martin Place and it fell to me to cover it across the day thanks to digital staff across the country feeding me rolling updates.
Still, The Post wasn't just about breaking news and maintained its local focus. Some fantastic detailed research, commitment and determination contributed to many important stories.
I've never been prouder of a journo than I was of Louise Thrower for the painstaking hours and personal effort she put into bringing to light the depravity and evil of the rapists and abusers who preyed upon students at St Pats.
I got to know and work with many other passionate digital editors across Australia, along with the incredible talent that passed through The Post and I take great pride in seeing the careers and achievements of my former workmates who've kicked on.
I haven't liked a lot of the changes to the paper over the years.
I didn't like it when it changed from six days a week to three and I don't like it now that it's one.
I didn't like it when they sent sub-editing offshore or when they closed down a bunch of Fairfax publications.
I didn't like it in 2016 when they deleted the position of Digital Editor across the company and offered me (and others) redundancy.
I don't agree with a lot of the things the various companies that have owned The Post do BUT I support The Post (and The Crookwell Gazette, and all the other papers that now sit in limbo).
I support the fairness of paying for news (both in print and online) and I support the journos who are under-resourced and forced to work longer hours than ever, only to be routinely criticised by the public for their trouble.
It nearly didn't happen, but SOMEHOW the Post has survived for 150 years. All of the many hundreds of staff that have worked there in any capacity are part of a continuous chain few other local businesses can claim... and a chain that has made a difference.
READ ALL OF THE GOULBURN POST 150 STORIES HERE
The Post has recorded Goulburn's history, has contributed to its future and keeps us informed on the day to day things we need to know.
Personally, it provided me with a creative outlet, some direction and purpose, and introduced me to many of the best friends and best humans I know.
I think my story with The Post is completed, but I hope The Post lives on for many, many years to come. Happy Birthday, old girl.
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