Editor Roma Dickins last week penned a powerful column about her memories of covering the murder of Bargo schoolgirl Ebony Simpson, a quarter of a century ago.
“I was a reporter working locally when Ebony disappeared and no story before or since has affected me so profoundly,” Roma wrote.
I felt for her. In this job, you can’t help but get emotionally involved when dealing with families of victims, and all the harrowing behind-the-scenes information.
I don't want to dwell on that sad stuff. But Roma and I have been mates since the 1980s so most of our memories are shared ones.
Another young reporter from those big hair days of the ‘80s was Mandy Perrin, now editor of the Chronicle, and between the three of us there’s a combined century of local news experience.
That can’t help but sink into the DNA, and because I’m turning 50 in September am feeling painfully nostalgic.
The late, great mayor Greg Percival once told me about the simple pleasure he got from driving around Campbelltown and thinking, “I had something to do with that” – from Fisher’s Ghost Festival in the ‘50s to the Koshigaya Sister City sister city relationship in 1984.
I think local newspaper editors feel the same.
When I go to Dharawal National Park at Wedderburn, I often recall being removed by police from a koala protest in 1990. When I find myself in an embarrassing moment (often) I think back to when mayor Gordon Fetterplace swallowed a fly midway through a speech, with hilarious results.
And, every time I’m invited to St Patrick’s College I think about how I quit my reporting job on the Daily Telegraph in 1987 and returned to the local papers (a decision I have never regretted).
The trigger for that move was a story I penned for the Tele about an ethical protest that St Pat’s students were holding over a government policy, and my article highlighted their sincerity and social engagement. Until it appeared in print, changed by a sub-editor who added a line suggesting the girls should have been more interested in pop stars and fashion, than dabbling in politics.
I was horrified at the misogyny and quit. St Pat’s still has a special place in my heart as that turning point.
My affection for Wollondilly comes from my days driving from village to village in the late 1980s, reporting on interesting people – such as Frank McKay, who ran the council with an iron fist. I remember asking him about the big Union Jack that hung in the chambers: “Hey Frank, have you ever heard of this thing called Federation, it was in all the papers?”
The shire, he replied, was too traditional to embrace “trendy modern ideas”. Trendy? Modern? Made me laugh. Council has since entered not only the 20th century, but the 21st too.
One of the new Wollondilly councillors in the 1980s was Phil Costa, who just happened to be one of my old teachers from Campbelltown East Public School. Weird. Phil went on to become an MP and I become an editor. We agreed that I never wanted to be an editor-in-chief and he never wanted to be a premier. We’re both now happy “has-beens”.
It’s often those personal relationships. Like the wonderful robustness of Camden Mayor/MP Liz Kernohan. We’d have a snarly interview over some controversy but then, when finished, become old friends again. “How’s the kids?” A rare breed.
In 1994, I was covering Camden Council and Councillor Gary McMahon got to his feet and declared, “the information superhighway is coming!” I turned to the other reporter on the press gallery – Roma Dickins – and whispered: “What the hell is the world wide web?”
Now, 23 years later, that just seems bloody stupid.
But perhaps the weirdest thing is, that today I drive past the Frank McKay building in Picton, and Liz Kernohan Drive in Narellan, and Gordon Fetterplace Swimming Centre in Bradbury, and Greg Percival Library in Ingleburn. To me they were friends. Now they’re signs.