There is nothing quite like experiencing history in the field to gather a feel for a place. Walking the ground provides a perspective for historians that cannot be gained by staying in the archive. Such is my experience of Goulburn. The inland city Goulburn was one of the most important rural centres in 19th century New South Wales.
The world seems to have passed the town by with its eclectic collection of building style – Victorian, Edwardian, Interwar and post-war. Tucked around every corner there is a new surprise – Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals, the imposing railway station, a grand Victorian post-office and an imposing courthouse that would have certainly made a statement about law and order in 19th century Goulburn. Another world away from the present.
Hidden in plain sight in Auburn Street, Goulburn’s main street, amongst this imposing Victorian grandeur are a number of Interwar buildings. Modernism in the 20th century is represented by the CML building and the small office of the local newspaper. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post building at 199 Auburn Street Goulburn was built in 1935. The newspaper office reflected a confidence in the future of Goulburn. A statement about the town.
The Daniels family, who owned the Penny Post, were part of the country press barons who ruled their rural media empires with an iron fist. Families liked the Sommerlads of the New England, the Sidmans of the Macarthur region, the Shakespeare family of the mid-west, the Robinsons in the Hunter, the Parkers of the mid-west, the Musgraves of Wollongong, the Motts of Albury and a host of others.
The newspaper landscape in Goulburn
Goulburn was a vibrant colonial newspaper landscape reflecting a prosperous colonial pastoral economy. While the Goulburn had a literate population it was still a frontier town. Publishers were self-made men, editors as well. Colonial New South Wales was a rugged and robust publishing environment – a boom and bust cycle.
The first newspaper in the town was the Goulburn Herald in 1848. By the 1920s 21 separate newspaper mastheads had come and gone in Goulburn. The Interwar period appears to have been a prosperous time for the New South Wales country press. According to Rod Kirkpatrick’s Country Conscience, there were 238 titles published in 1920, which was only slightly reduced to 221 in 1930.
The first issue of the Penny Post in 1870 was produced under the cumbersome masthead of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post and Southern Counties General Advertiser as a short tabloid (11 x 14 inches) of 4pp. By 1930 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was the last standing.
Goulburn society was driven by its religious zeal and the city even had 3 religious publications. They were: The Goulburn Banner (1848 – Presbyterian), the Monthly Paper (1893 – Church of England) and Our Cathedral Chimes (1920s – Roman Catholic).
A special edition celebrates the new office building
The December 1935 edition of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post that celebrated the opening of the new office building. The edition was 36pp with most of the editorial space taken over by recounting the history of the Goulburn township and area. At the time the Post was a daily, Monday to Friday, which incorporated The Goulburn Daily Herald with a cover price of one penny.
Architect LP Burns
The anniversary edition of the ran an article with headline ‘Inside A Modern Country Newspaper Office’. The Sydney architect LP Burns designed an office building which was described as a ‘fine, modern building’ of ‘distinction’ in a ‘modern’ style.
Burns also designed Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers at 17 Montague Street in 1934. It is described as one of the first buildings in Australia to use coloured polychrome terracotta in its façade which features a fine relief of birds, flowers, leaves and typical Art Deco sunbursts under the windows. The building was designed for wealthy pastoralist FG Leahy.
The front of Goulburn’s Elmslea Chambers was Wunderlich terra cotta polychrome panels and the Building Magazine claimed that ‘Goulburn [had] never before seen a block of offices of such a lavish and commodious nature’. The building interior had Silky Oak panelling with Tasmanian Oak inlay, with chromium light fittings with frosted green glass. The builders were Armstrong and Stidwell.
The newspaper building design
The new building of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was an example of sleek Art-Deco styling. A stripped back minimalism of the realities of the commercial world – a no-nonsense, business-like, functional and matter of fact. Just like the owners and editors.
Art-deco styling was expression of modernism – sleek, fast, stripped back, not frilly like the Victorian frippery, not tizzy – reminiscent of the world of the railways, movies, motor cars, ocean liners, aeroplanes, consumerism, fashions, wireless. The influences coming down the Hume Highway to Goulburn. The building conveys a powerful statement about the Interwar period in Goulburn.
The Penny Post article on the newspaper office made special mention of the beacon with the lamp on top which made it different from other commercial buildings and with the shopfront Carrara glass. The journalist writing the story was keen to assure the readers that the Carrara glass front was ‘pleasing and harmonious’ and emphasised to the readers that using this type of glass could give a ‘creeping appearance of extravagance’.
Carrara glass was developed in the USA. It was a high-strength coloured glass and used globally in Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings. Carrara glass was usually white or blue-gray which resembled the high quality Carrara marble from Tuscany in Italy. The pigmented glass was an acceptable low-cost alternative building material.
The building frontage according to the 1935 press reports was marked by its ‘judicious display’ and ‘would attract attention in any of Sydney’s busiest streets’. The first floor of the building contained the newspaper’s editorial offices and a large strong room where the newspaper archives were kept. The report continued stating that the building was centrally heated by steam including the composing and machinery rooms. This would, it was maintained, be greatly appreciated by the newspapers employees.
The printing presses were at the rear of the building and the newsroom in the centre while the retail shopfront area dealt with advertisers and local folk buying the newspaper. There was a staff of over 20 journalists, compositors, printers, editors, clerical and retail support. These staff were witness to the daily life of the town as it passed through the doors of the newspaper office.
History in plain sight
Today the Goulburn Post building is evocative of a time when print media was king. Walking into the 1935 Penny Post office is like stepping back into the past. Into a world that has disappeared, best illustrated currently by the US movie The Post. The movie explores the buzz of the newsroom at the Washington Post and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers during the heyday of the Vietnam War. When print was king.
While the Goulburn Evening Penny Post was not a large metro daily it is easy to visualize the hive of activity in the newsroom and printing shop. The approaching print deadlines and the smoke-filled rooms amongst the evocative timber paneled rooms throughout the building.
The fabric of the building is still largely intact and retains its integrity, charm and character. The building reveals the layers of history to those who care to take a look. The building has escaped any major renovations and the building structure is as it was in 1935. If these walls could talk they would tell many great yarns of hard-bitten country press barons, editors and journos.
It is easy to image the smell of the printers’ ink; the whir of the printing presses; the buzz of the newsroom; the clacking of typewriters; and babble of conversations at the front desk with advertisers, stock and station agents, and wool merchants. The newspaper was the heartbeat of the town and the ink and newsprint flowed through arteries and veins of the community.
The current Goulburn Post, the offspring of the Goulburn Evening Penny Post, is still is located in the 1935 building. It is the hub for 10 mastheads within the Fairfax Media. Goulburn Post editor Ainsleigh Sheridan says that the newspaper is about creating community history. She would concur with the former president and publisher of the Washington Post, Phillip Graham, who is credited with saying that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history’ in 1997.
The Goulburn Post is a tri-weekly masthead and is just one of the Fairfax Media group that is produced in the building. The Post is co-ordinated in the Auburn Street office and then sent online to Canberra for printing. In the past printing was done on-site in the back of the Auburn Street building. The current building has issues with fire regulations that did not exist in 1935 and the upstairs area is not currently in use.