The making of a new Star

NEW BEGINNINGS: Asher Joel (second from left) looks at the new North West Star printing press.

NEW BEGINNINGS: Asher Joel (second from left) looks at the new North West Star printing press.

The North West Star will be 40 years old next year (2006), but there were two earlier Mount Isa newspapers, and before that a string of Cloncurry newspapers tried to cover the wider district.

The first was the Cloncurry Advocate and Flinders Pastoral and Mining Register, established in 1889 then the Mining News around 1910, the Western Mail from 1915-18, and the Cloncurry News and Mount Isa Record from 1921-1933. The weekly Mount Isa Standard was printed in Brisbane by H.B. Waldegrave from January 22, 1948, until August 19, 1949. A partnership led by political journalist Don Whitington bought the Cloncurry Advocate in 1953 and he and Eric White started a newspaper in Darwin and another in Mount Isa.

Darwin was served by the Northern Standard, a general newspaper and trade union journal. The Department of Information suggested a newspaper be established in opposition because of that paper’s “communist nature”. In 1949, the Chifley Labor government held discussions with Whitington to help him start a paper in Darwin.

He asked the government for cheap freight and access to the existing Standard printing equipment if the Communist union paper was banned. The Standard was not banned, but after the change of government, Whitington, with White’s help, launched the Northern Territory News. The Northern Standard closed in 1955.

White became “sold on the idea” of a new Mount Isa paper after talking to MIM chairman, George Fisher whom White’s firm was giving public relations advice. Fisher promised friendly cooperation, but not much else and Whitington was never optimistic the Mount Isa venture would succeed.

But he bought the Cloncurry Advocate, a month after launching the Mount Isa Mail on June 26, 1953 and incorporated it into the new bi-weekly. The Mail was printed on the NT News press twice a week and the papers were flown to the Isa. The printing of the Mail was shifted from Darwin to Mount Isa from March 1, 1955, and publication reverted to weekly from July 7, 1955.

The Mail presses were in Gardenia Street in the Coal Stage area close to the MIM main gate. Many of the Mail’s customers were MIM employees.

At the end of the 1950s, the Whitington-White partnership did a deal with Rupert Murdoch to buy the NT News.

The deal – which included the Mount Isa Mail – was clinched early the next morning on the runway at Darwin airport. The sale of the NT News to News Limited was announced in that paper on February 19, 1960.

In 1964, Murdoch took full control of the NT News and the Mount Isa Mail. He made the NT News an afternoon daily on February 10 that year and the Mail an afternoon daily from November 22, 1965.

By the early 1960s, Eric White was no longer the public-relations consultant to MIM. Asher Joel now filled that role. Joel developed a close relationship with MIM general manager, Jim Foots.

They were not impressed with the Mount Isa Mail, and so Joel decided he would start an opposition newspaper. He established Carpentaria Newspapers and launched the North-West Star, on May 12, 1966, as a morning daily. Joel grew up as the eldest son of an impoverished Jewish family in Sydney, but was knighted twice by the Queen for distinguished services to the community.

At the Daily Telegraph, Joel went from messenger boy to copyboy, then a journalist, a naval officer, a public relations officer with his own agency, a member of the NSW Upper House and a newspaper and television-station owner. 

The North West Star’s policy was clear-cut and decisive: “the welfare of the men, women and children who have accepted the challenge of the rugged outback to help build new cities and towns, develop new industries and to win for themselves their own particular place in the sun in this vast land of mineral and rural resources”.

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