'Anarchy' with no print papers, says former Whitsundays proprietor

Readers have come to rely on the weekly Guardian and neighbouring Times, in print for the towns of Proserpine and Airlie Beach on Australia's Whitsunday coast.

Famously, an edition of the then year-old Guardian was even printed on brown wrapping paper when the week's supply of newsprint failed to make it up the river from Mackay.

And Peter Lewis has no doubt what will ensue when News Corp Australia ends a print tradition this month by switching the local weeklies and more than 100 others to digital-only publication.

"It'll be anarchy," he says, "if people come to rely only on their social media feeds for news."

Lewis still lives in town, around the corner from the print works at which I visited him in 2000 for GX Report, and is firm in his belief in print, even as News charts its demise.

He had been at Nudgee College when his cane farmer father wrote to say he had bought the local paper in partnership with one of the workers there.

Former councillor Bernard Joseph Lewis (known as 'BJ') wrote for The Bulletin, after gaining a love for writing from an army career in signals, where he received for a group of officers, a Reuters message reporting the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

His son Peter, now aged 75, apprenticed to the Proserpine paper as a hand and machine comp, married, and 12 years later joined with his wife Cynthia to buy out his father's partner.

A succession of print-related technology developments followed. The Guardian was the first country newspaper north of Brisbane to introduce "cold-typesetting" and offset printing, taking advantage of a 1970s government investment incentive to update technology, and when I called in 2000 was printing the mono centre of the paper on their own News King press to insert in a Bowen-printed colour outer.

There, the slightly-older Bowen Independent - which also ceases print production this month - had been acquired by News through Townsville Bulletin publishing unit the North Queensland Newspaper Co. in 1986.

Looking back from his Proserpine home last week, Peter Lewis told of the succession of visits and offers as would-be purchasers of the Guardian circled, Cynthia readily putting her hand on letters from (Mt Isa) North West Star publisher Sir Asher Joel - who subsequently set up the short-lived Northern Leader in competition, with his son Michael - and the Melbourne Truth. In the end the Lewis family capitulated to APN News & Media in September 2014, following the death of Peter Lewis's mother in 2010 and his 93-year-old father the following year, two days after compiling his last editorial.

The much-newer (1981) Whitsunday Times with offices in the Airlie suburb of Cannonvale, went with the (Mackay) Daily Mercury to APN and thence to News Corp Australia in 2016 when the ACCC waved through the whole APN acquisition, "because no one cares where they get their news anyway," as Crikey put it at the time.

All of the above-mentioned mastheads - with the exception of the daily Townsville Bulletin - lose their print editions at the end of June. "Local people are not at all happy with the News closures," Peter Lewis says, "and many have suggested I start up a newspaper."

Peter Coleman

Pictured (from top): Peter Lewis with the News king press in 2000; Peter and Cynthia Lewis; the three mastheads are among more than 100 which will cease printing

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