The man who made the Mudgee Guardian into the town’s premier paper was George Cohen, an experienced newspaperman and the source of the name of Mudgee’s Cohen Street.
Cohen’s file in the archives of the Mudgee Historical Society describes him as a “pioneer pressman”.
"His was the master mind in the evolution of the 'Mudgee Guardian' from the position of an 'effeminate' country newspaper to the rank of power & affluence," says the society’s file, compiled with help from Cohen’s granddaughter.
"Mr Cohen was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, nor had he the advantage of a higher education. Yet, he rose to a position of prominence in the business sphere of journalism [and] had been a silent force in western progress and northern development."
Born at Burrendong in 1858, George Henry Cohen was the son of Robert Abraham Cohen, a Jewish Londoner who had come to Australia in 1821 and was drawn west by the gold rush.
The family settled in Mudgee, where Cohen senior established a hairdresser’s shop on Church Street, and Cohen Junior, at the age of 14, took up an apprenticeship at the newly established Mudgee Times.
The Times changed owners in 1875, and the 17-year-old Cohen partnered with Edwin Richards to start the Mudgee Independent in the premises of the “Beehive Stores” on Mortimer Street.
The Independent published My Nettie, the first poem by Louisa Lawson, who would go on to edit The Republican and establish the suffragette paper The Dawn. Local legend said George Cohen was also one of the first to publish poems by a nine-year-old Henry Lawson.
In 1878, D W Campbell took over the Independent, and George Cohen left for Walgett, where he established the district’s first paper, the Walgett Mail.
He worked with Edwin Richards again at the Lithgow Mercury and established The Sporting Life with Richards in Sydney, before returning to Mudgee.
On March 24, 1890, Charles Knight put out the first issue of the Mudgee Guardian, and a few years later Cohen and Richards became joint owners and publishers of the paper.
The paper grew into one of New South Wales’ largest rural papers in the decades that followed, publishing twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays.
Cohen married Charles Knight’s sister, Mary, and their sons Robert, Cyril, Horace and Clarence all worked a time on the presses, with Robert taking over the management of the paper and its staff of 40 in the 1920s.
The Guardian pressroom also printed district papers including the Gulgong Advertiser, the Coolah Advocate, the Rylstone Western Express and the Kandos Star, all of which were later incorporated into the Mudgee Guardian.
With the depression looming and debt growing, the Cohens were forced to sell the Guardian to the Madell family’s North Western Newspapers in 1930.
The Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh wrote, “If the veteran and his clan are retiring, their successors will have a task ahead of them to maintain the traditions of the Cohen family; they were part and parcel of the life of Mudgee. As a newspaper proposition, it should be one of the best in the land. The paper has a great clientele, the district is healthy and the people of the best.”
Mere months later, the Muswellbrook Chronicle announced the family’s new venture with equal enthusiasm: “It is stated on good authority that a new paper will shortly see the light of day in Mudgee. It will be controlled by that veteran pressman and late proprietor of the ‘Mudgee Guardian,’ Mr. George Cohen, and will be known as the ‘Mudgee Mail.’”
At 84 years of age and still working as proprietor of the Mudgee Mail, Cohen received a public testimonial at the Mudgee Town Hall in 1943, where he was presented with “an illuminated address and a wallet containing £164, which was handed to the veteran pressman by Hon. W. V. Dunn, Minister for Agriculture, on behalf of the subscribers”.
George Cohen died at home in Mudgee in 1947, and Robert Cohen ran the Mudgee Mail until his death at the age of 83 in 1964.
Information from June Joseph, youngest daughter of Robert Cohen, and research by Mudgee Historical Society.
“Mudgee Guardian” in the Gilgandra Weekly and Castlereagh, Thursday January 29, 1931, and online at trove.nla.gov.au
The “Mudgee Mail” in the Muswellbrook Chronicle, Friday June 26, 1931, and online at trove.nla.gov.au
“Local and General” in The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser, Monday March 29, 1943, and online at trove.nla.gov.au