The year should not be allowed to pass without mentioning the 40th anniversary of the Perth Sunday Independent, a weekly newspaper that was founded in the glow of a mining boom and died in ignominy.
The Independent was a dream of Western Australian mining entrepreneurs Lang Hancock and E A Wright, who imagined it would be slammed down on the desks of quaking Canberra moguls on Monday mornings. Said moguls would immediately wake up to the potential of the West, repent their east-coast-centric ways and give Sandgropers the recognition they deserved.
Who did Hancock and Wright choose to set up this mighty organ? None other than Maxwell Newton, first editor of Murdoch’s The Australian. He moved to Perth and set up office behind an old petrol station in Adelaide Terrace, opposite where the Sheraton Hotel is now located. Newton hired the cream of Perth journalism and some from further afield. The first issue came out in April 1969.
It was not difficult to get good writers. So many on the West Australian were frustrated from years of unexciting, establishment biased work. They included Duncan Graham, John Slee, Peter Ellery, Peter Beck, Don Lipscombe, Lloyd Marshall and Vincent Smith. Later, Geraldine Willesee. Good photographers, sports reporters and sub-editors followed. Newton had his own people in Canberra contributing. Unfortunately, almost all of these bright sparks contributed views and pet stories they had been saving up for years. In many cases, there were good reasons why their former employees had not run their pet stories.
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The paper was printed offset, quite radical in those days. It smelt and felt odd. Worse, the register was always slightly off, deliberately, we were told, because it made pictures look 3D. The things we believed. I was a junior contributor to the paper. It was fun, if erratic. Type was produced via golfball typewriters. Advertising staff worked their arses off trying to sell space in an increasingly sceptical retail market.
It’s probably safe to say the Sunday Independent never made money — but that was never the intention. It would have struggled to reach a circulation of 150,000 at its best. Wright’s son, Julian, ran the place for a while.
By 1973, under the weight of R F X O’Connor and the Whitlam government generally, Hancock and Wright decided to go daily. That would scare those Canberra bastards. They hired seven more reporters to take the paper from a once-a-week issue to seven days a week. The Age supplied foreign news — until the West Australian told the Age to stop. It did and the Independent Sun folded after about 29 issues. By this time it was run from a sub-standard prefab-type building in the industrial suburb of Welshpool. The building is now home to a farm newspaper.
Newton departed ignominiously — he ended his career running a brothel in Melbourne — within a few months of the paper’s start, followed by most of the other stars. There was a succession of personalities around the place. Staff turnover was high and sackings were common. I worked there in 1969 and during the daily newspaper period. We hated it, but, looking back, I wouldn’t have missed it.
The Sunday Independent was the first major newspaper in the state to use colour extensively, and the first to go to computer typesetting: “What’s that little green square flashing in the corner of this black screen?” “That’s called a cursor.”
Some time in the early ’80s the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch and shifted to the Sunday Times building in Stirling Street, central Perth. It faded away. There was a reunion of former staff in the late 1980s, where somebody crept up behind a former editor and set fire to his jacket. It was that sort of place.