TAKE A DRIVE up the scenic Waterfall Way from Bellingen, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, towards the university city of Armidale, and when you start to breathe the cooler, fresh air at the top of the plateau you’ll find yourself in the snug town of Dorrigo.
And there, if you walk through the town’s newsagency and out the back, you will find Australia’s last surviving newspaper printed on letterpress.
The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate, as it’s rather mysteriously called, was founded by brothers Herb and Reg Vincent in 1910, is a proudly independent weekly journal of the hot metal days before country newspaper buyouts.
We found published-editor John English seated at a vintage Intertype machine setting next edition’s news in lead, tin and antimony at 288 degrees Celsius.
Grey-bearded John started as an apprentice with the Gazette when he was 16 and has been there ever-since.
The paper serves a rural district of some 2,000 plateau dwellers, with a few copies being sold down the hill in Bellingen’s green valley. John prints the stories on a Heidelberg Cylinder Automatic which was installed new at a cost of 3,270 pounds.
He can still obtain parts for the Intertype, but not for the Heidelberg.
“Someone from Heidelberg came here once and told me it was the third-last machine made in Germany before the start of WWII. It sat crated up until post-war trade got going, and this firm got it in 1951,” John said.
John skillfully clicks the 90 keys of the Intertype, and we watch spellbound as the great lever of the machine tilts and the flywheels spin.
This print shop has a rhythm of percussion and whirring that we haven’t heard for years.
John starts the newspaper on Friday morning, working through the weekend until Tuesday, when he can put it to bed. The Gazette is folded on Wednesday morning, and the editor can take a break until Thursday when he commences commercial printing.
The staple of this line of Gazette work is docket books and the like, and specials such as the Dorrigo Pre-school calendar.
With the machines paid off long ago, low overheads allow competitiveness, and as many Dorrigo folks believe in shopping locally there is always plenty to keep the town’s printery occupied.
As for the paper’s 96-year-old masthead, there are two schools of thought as to the origin of the name Don Dorrigo. One theory says that the name of the area — which from its earliest days was known as Don Dorrigo comes from the local aboriginal word dundurrigo, meaning “stringy-bark tree”.
However, there is a local tradition, subscribed to by John English, that the name was given by a Major Parke who fought with a rebel Spanish general, Don Dorrigo.
The old term lives on in just a few names, such as the Don Dorrigo Tennis Club, and the Gazette, Guy Fawkes Advocate refers to the nearby river that was named by white settlers on a Guy Fawkes day in the mid-19th century.
We watch John line up the metal type from the stick to the chase, block the metal with furniture and tighten it with a quoin key, making the forme for another Gazette page and thus also preserving some of the colourful jargon of a mode of printing little changed since the craft’s roots centuries ago.
We ask the owner of one of perhaps just three independently owned and printed newspapers in Australia if he would consider selling the Gazette to one of the big boys.
The look on John English’s face is all the answer required.