CANBERRA’S FIRST NEWSPAPER

THE FEDERAL CAPITAL PIONEER – CANBERRA’S FIRST NEWSPAPER

The first newspaper published specifically for the ACT (then the Federal Territory) was, on 3 December 1924, the self proclaimed “unpretentious” Federal Capital Pioneer.

Printed by the already established Queanbeyan Advocate printer, A. M Fallick and Sons, the Pioneer’s editor was Alexander Kenneth  Murray of Sturtville, Eastlake.

Murray was no relation as far as I can tell of the famous Sir Terence Murray, former owner of what is now Government House in Canberra, as well as most of the rest of this area. Sir Terence was the son of Captain Murray, the first known European to explore Port Phillip, Victoria. Nor can I find a link to the bus company.

Murray had to advise his myriad readers to take care not to address communications to Sturtville, Canberra, albeit the correct address, because the missive would be first taken to the Acton Post Office, adding a day before he would receive their precious thoughts.

The editor promised a “bright, breezy and seasonable” Christmas number. We will check the validity of the claim in due course.

Appropriately enough, the political capital’s Pioneer kicked off with support for the assertion of the new Prime Minister, Captain Stanley Bruce, that he would govern for all Australians.

Similarly appropriate are featuring the apparent visionary brilliance of the then no-longer Prime Minister, W.M.Hughes, MHR; and a clarion call to “somnolent politicians” not to overlook the spreading of the subtle propaganda of the Communist Party (respectfully featuring capitals, before less respectfully identifying their views as “claptrap”).

The unpretentiousness goal was shaken a bit by “Billy” Hughes’ prediction that “Australians will speak of the ‘Pioneer’ as do the Americans of the first paper printed in Washington.”  Further undermining unpretention was Billy’s assertion that the Pioneer was “ the leader of the vanguard, the banner-bearer of the new order of things.”  The Pioneer repaid the favour with what any reader would term ingratiating fervour, but which we were assured was “not fulsome flattery, nor a eulogium”, just facts.

Like all good parochial journals, the Pioneer sought to educate the readership as to the state of their federal territory.

The Territory was then, and has been until the contemporary Strathnairn foray into State territory, 940 sqm in size and already had about 3000, probably largely unwilling, inhabitants.

Striking was the information that the five miles of the Main Sewer was almost completed – it not being clear if it was in use, albeit not completed. The soon to be ‘bush capital’ already featured 1.5 million trees planted. The soon-to-be famous Cotter Weir was already containing 380,000,000 gallons, and allowing an average flow of 70m gallons. Those impressed by the stated fact that there was 6 miles of 3ft 6in gauge railway, will be further pleased to know, mirroring the incompetence found nationwide, there was also 6 1/2 miles of 4ft 8 1/2 inch gauge.

John Gale, then a 94 year old Queanbeyan journalist of great repute, was acknowledged as the “Father of Canberra, the Federal Capital”, in recognition of his pivotal publication supporting the eventual site of Canberra over the then favourite, Dalgety. Those who have been to Dalgety, especially on windy winter’s day, and with all due respect to the many lovely people who do choose to live there, will be forever thankful. The brilliant description of Canberra’s wind in the wonderful Federal Capital Commission’s April 1926 publication “Canberra. General Notes for the Information of Public Servants”, which was aimed at enticing people to move here, was “the prevailing wind, which in winter is westerly – being snow-laden – is shrewdly searching.” In my experience, the wind in Dalgety doesn’t bother with the shrewd bit.

The first call for government action by the Pioneer, apart from waking up to deal with the insidious spread of communism, is to replace the bland names of the uninformed American designers, which “absurdities…disfigure” the map of the future national capital, with the names of the (European) men who explored and opened up the country.

Notable, because I have just bought a painting of it by a local Canberra artist, is the reference to the Australian Christmas Bells, the Blandfordia, which was the name given by Marion Mahony Griffin to what is now Forrest and, ironically, Manuka – the Pioneer would have blanched no doubt at replacing an Australian plant with a New Zealand tree.

Billy’s hope that the Pioneer would live a long life didn’t eventuate, it being wound up just a few years later, not saved by a change in name to the Federal Capital Pioneer Magazine.

The likely disappointment for those desiring a long life for the Pioneer was perhaps foreshadowed by those awaiting the “bright, breezy and seasonable” Christmas number – not only were those epithets inappropriate, so was the term “Christmas number”. It was 1 January before the next edition appeared, adding a call for a cemetery to those ongoing pleas to destroy communism before it ate all our children. More on 1925 publications in another article.

Michael Monaghan

May 2021

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