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Just a Local Paper

Posted: September 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on Just a Local Paper

The Frankston Standard Leader

‘a journey through history as it was lived’

The front page of the latest Frankston Standard Leader shows local trapshooter, Adam Vella in all his Olympic glory, together with a story that headlines “Bronze for our top gun”. One hundred and fifteen years earlier, the front page of the inaugural edition of the Mornington Standard declared itself  “A live representative journal. Printed and published at Frankston in the interest of the County of Mornington”.

In the intervening years, Frankston grew from a quiet fishing village to a vigorous city, and most of its changes and developments have been recorded, sometimes applauded and occasionally deplored in the pages of its earliest and longest surviving paper. Unlike sharp and aggressive city dailies, regional newspapers developed a different relationship with their readers, and instead promoted local events, told local stories and displayed a greater sensitivity during times of local tragedy, bonding with the population as a real part of it. Today’s major media owners recognise this important relationship as essential to the survival of the regional paper industry. However, back in the earliest days of the colony, the goals were simpler and clearer: the Mornington Standard was to be produced by the people of Frankston, for the people of Frankston.

The colony of Victoria in the 1880s was emerging from the gold rush with a mind to manufacturing and building. Dominating the economy as well as the landscape was the seventh largest city in the British Empire: the fast-paced, ambitious “Marvelous Melbourne”. In less than ten years the population rose 32% and the effects were felt everywhere. The government released vast tracts of land for sale in the hope that disappointed gold miners would become farmers, grow crops to feed the ever-growing metropolis, and with any luck, produce a surplus to counter-balance enormous imports.

Further south-east, on the long curve of the Mornington Peninsula, the village of Frankston saw the ever-expanding colony very differently. In 1889, when the first edition of the Mornington Standard was published, the population of Frankston was a growing 794; the people were farmers, fishermen or trying to start up their own businesses. Frankston was about to boom as a resort town, providing weekend respite for Melbourne residents – along with their spending money – who could travel there in an hour and a half by train. Known for its “fine views” and lack of “hot winds”, such seaside escapes were seen as extremely beneficial to the health of all classes. Unsurprisingly, a century later, the population of Frankston had blossomed to over 84,000, and a true city had developed.

In a town that could boast gas lighting and a graveled main street – but still maintained earthen roads – the birth of a local newspaper in 1889 might have seemed a little ambitious. There were already a number of substantial city newspapers in existence at that time, including The Age, established in 1854 and known as “the people’s paper” for its high ideals and passion for promoting any new radical political movement. Local newspapers too, had already begun to spring up nearby: the Cranbourne Leader,  Moonee Valley Leader and Northcote Leader were all established between 1886 and 1889.

But in 1888, bootmaker Evan Griffith moved from Daylesford to Frankston to set up business and was surprised to find that the district had no locally produced newspaper and therefore, little opportunity to advertise widely. The South Bourke & Mornington Journal and the Dandenong Advertiser were produced 20 miles away in Dandenong with some Frankston content, but neither  paper proved sufficient to the news and advertising needs of Frankston. Consequently, Griffith garnered the support of community leaders and held a public meeting. The Mornington Standard was born, with local identity Bill O’Grady as the Chairman of its Board of Directors and Robert Ewins as its publisher. On 5 October, 1889 the first four page issue rolled off the hand-set printer in Bay Street and went on sale for one penny. While Frankston locals applauded the move, the editor of South Bourke & Mornington Journal bemoaned that “The latest cannot be called a local paper – or indeed a newspaper at all”.

Regardless of competitors’ sour grapes, The Mornington Standard circulation covered the entire Peninsula, north to Mordialloc and east to Phillip Island (In the beginning 1989). Content and audience developed, as did advertising contributions. In an obvious example of an early advertising gimmick, local estate agent, Thomas H. Davey had his advertisement printed upside down in order to attract attention. The ploy may have indeed worked, as there is to this day a Davey Street in the centre of Frankston.

From 1889 onwards, as the colony sank into economic depression, development in Frankston continued unaffected at first. A vibrant social life centered around the Concert Hall, Library and Coffee Palace and the pages of the Mornington Standard were filled with reports of parties and outings. When the newly formed Frankston Fire Brigade needed funds raised, O’Grady used the paper to publicise events to aid this pet venture. There were also reports on horse racing at nearby Baxter, Frankston cricketers’ win over the Mornington team in November 1889, the 28 matches the Frankston Football club won in 1890, and the Frankston Regatta of 1891. The passion for the Standard being truly “representative” was already in place.

However, by the turn of the century and Federation, economic hardship had hit Frankston severely and the population dwindled to 523, with a substantial majority of women remaining behind as their men – including the owner of the Mornington Standard – left to find work elsewhere. The paper changed hands a number of times until 1910, when it was purchased by William Wilson Young, an experienced journalist who had worked on newspapers throughout Victoria and Tasmania. Young turned the paper into a family venture and when he retired, his son, William Crawford continued to hold the reins of the demanding business.

After a move to new premises in Wells Street in 1922, The Mornington Standard and the News Company of Moorabbin were amalgamated to become Standard Newspapers Ltd. Frankston’s local paper was renamed simply The Standard. Regardless of these changes, the paper continued to represent the community in its pages – especially with issues that affected everyone. One of the longest-running, and most important disputes in Frankston’s history centered around Kananook Creek. Since the first white settlers had pitched tents at Frankston, the creek had been an important shelter for fishing vessels as well as a source of fresh water. But without proper sewage, the creek swiftly became a health hazard and numerous attempts by various governments failed to find a solution. Nevertheless, locals continued the campaign, which was frequently represented in the pages of the Standard – from a visit by the engineer for Ports and Harbours in 1889, through 1918 when Councilor W. J. Oates wailed that the creek was “the stinkpot of Frankston”, to recent studies by Frankston Council for final management plans.

When Young died in 1928, at first his widow, Anna then his daughter, Nancy joined the board of directors. Nancy went on to become Chairman for over thirty years, unusual in an industry dominated by men.  The paper’s name changed again in 1949 to The Frankston Standard (In the beginning 1989) and in 1961 another local paper, the Post, founded in 1913, was bought out by Standard Newspapers.

It wasn’t long however, before the age of major media ownership made its mark on the regional newspaper industry. By 1982 Standard Newspapers was owned by The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd., and then in 1986 The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd bought the Leader Newspaper Group. The combined circulation of regional papers within the group stretched from the western suburbs of Melbourne to the tip of the Peninsula. Later that year, The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd was acquired by News Corporation and became a part of News Limited Suburbans, a dominant force within the suburban newspaper industry. On the heels of these substantial changes, The Frankston Standard was renamed again in June 2001, to The Frankston Leader – but that didn’t last too long as another masthead alteration was recorded on 5 December, 2001 to The Frankston Standard Leader.  In 2003 the population of Frankston topped 138,252, while the readership was 104,000. Though it had become part of a group supplying more than a million newspapers across Melbourne, The Frankston Standard Leader remained very much a locally focused publication by maintaining a dedication to putting the people of Frankston first.

From the very beginning, the Standard strove to tell community stories, of sports heroes, of regional passions, and of course, local disasters. In May, 1892 the Mornington Peninsula’s biggest single tragedy struck when fifteen young footballers died as they traveled home on a calm sea. In October 1931, the paper published a history of Frankston written by 70 year old Robert Cabdy Wells. His family came to Frankston in 1858 and the street which bears their name still sits at the centre of the city. His history was published in weekly parts stretching across four months, and covered such subjects as local buildings, famous crimes – including the district’s first suicide in 1861 – and the story of a local fisherman being taken by a shark in 1881. He covered local events, races, plowing matches and ballet performances together with a fascinating description of local flora and fauna, and for perhaps the first time, Frankston’s unique identity became a matter of proud record.

By 1946  the Standard had grown to become an eight page broadsheet sold for twopence. On the first front page of the year were stories of the previous week’s Christmas and New Year festivals and events, including the Mornington Athletic Association’s first annual carnival with 198 attendees. Proudly noted is the appearance of national sprint champion L.W. Sprague, who ran a number of races that day, and won the Gift, valued at £52, together with a sash worth £5.

Ten years later when Frankston’s population hovered around 20,000, the Standard was sixteen pages and cost threepence. That was the year of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, which touched Frankston and its residents in a very real way, beyond the gloss and hype we know today. The Standard launched an appeal to raise money for Hungarian athletes, witnessed sightseeing in Melbourne in their training tracksuits, as they did not have sufficient funds to buy other clothes. Residents were asked to help the Hungarians, who had been “mown down in their thousands, fighting for the freedom and liberty we have always enjoyed.” Donations received totaled £31/14/6 within the first few hours and within two weeks, £285/15 had been raised.

But perhaps the most touching words came from Editor and Managing Director, E. J. Tait in his editorial, “Fair Comment”. After touring the Olympic village, he was deeply moved by the manner in which athletes from around the world composed themselves when only a few years earlier, so many of them had been enemies at war. Like many others before and since, Tait saw the Olympics as an instrument by which peace could be brought to the world, and he believed that, as the first real Olympics since WWII, Melbourne should be able to provide a unique service in this regard. He went on to lament the prevalence of war-hungry politicians, and asked the age-old question: if people really thought for themselves, would there ever be another war – or would we look around us, as he had done at the Olympic village, and see that all mankind are our brothers.

The front page of the 6 July 1966 edition shows the unglamorous yet important picture of a ditch digger commencing work on the long-awaited sewage reticulation program for Frankston. The paper now had a potential audience of  40,000. Shortly after this, the Standard lost its price tag and became a free publication, relying solely on advertising for income. And in October 1989, the Standard published a gold-bound centenary edition thanking readers for their support over the decades, and promising to continue in the role of serving the local community for the next century as they had done for the last.

Today, such sentiments are still strongly held by current editor, Peter Strachan. In the role now for two years, Strachan is proud of the very strong editorial direction from senior management that local news be covered irrespective of advertising. During his time at the helm, Strachan has overseen a number of enhancements to the paper, including pages dedicated to the interests of the growing teenage readership. Additionally, the paper itself has grown to 168 pages, by far the largest of the Leader group, which has an average paper size of 46 pages.

Strachan sees the future of The Frankston Standard Leader resting firmly with its ability to listen to the community’s needs and respond accordingly. This is nothing new to this paper, but rather a continuing tradition begun more than a century before, under the watchful gaze of Robert Ewins – and generations of citizens whose history was recorded each week in the pages of the Standard. In doing so, The Frankston Standard Leader has developed and maintained a unique relationship with its readers, the cornerstone of its survival.



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