This has been republished with the blessing of Norm McVicker's estate. Norm was a good friend of the Mudgee Guardian and we are honoured to share his work with you. Read more Tales From Along the Wallaby Track at our website.
Originally published December 11, 2006
In last week's Wallaby Track I concluded with a "throw away" line that brought a howl of indignation (or was it regret) from Joel Dickins in the production department. I had written, tongue in cheek, that I had lived under four British monarchs and eight Catholic Popes. What I failed to include was the eight Mudgee Guardian editors since I first began writing for our local newspaper some twenty three years ago. Whether there is any significance in the number "eight" I have no intention of establishing.
To make amends for my indiscretion I dived into the past head first-searching for old times and old ways. Established in 1890 with links to the first newspaper in the town the Mudgee Newspaper and Mining Register the Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser has weathered turbulent times of wars, droughts, floods, depressions and recessions.
It has been owned by families and companies including the Knights (1890-1900), the Cohens (1900-1930), the Madells (1930-1960), a company (1960-1970) reverting to McGregor family ownership in 1970 until John Amati's acquisition immediately prior to the current ownership by Rural Press.
To reminisce about the Mudgee Guardian's past is to delve into the history of the district it serves. The Mudgee Library has microfiche records of all surviving past issues. Look at them today and you can read pages where every single letter was laboriously handset to the mechanical hot metal linotype era. Then through the cut and paste days to the present computer operation of type and illustration.
It has been a long haul! One owner/editor that has been rarely mentioned is C.G Madell who for some 30 years was at the helm. Christopher Gordon Madell started his career as a reporter on the Lithgow Mercury before World War I. In 1930, hit by the depression of that time, having been a successful journalist, businessman, newspaper and theatre proprietor in Sydney, Gordon Madell purchased the Guardian.
During the Madell era (1930 to 1960) Gordon Madell was prominent in local affairs. He was foundation president of Mudgee Rotary, serving two terms 1937-38 and 1938-39. Towards the end of the 1940s, after World War II, his son, David, who had served with the RAAF, joined the Guardian as a sub editor and then as managing editor.
On September 2, 1949 the present Lawson Memorial in Eurunderee was unveiled. C. G. Madell using the nom de plume "Sea Gem" wrote the following verse: 'The cars went out racing Eurunderee way-the road was a ribbon of dust all the day-to a place on a rise overlooking a flat, where Lawson, the budding young poet, had sat and looked at the mullock heaps, yellow and white, where men had been digging for gold day and night'.
'For here near the road, on a gentle slope, they've (just twenty-seven years he's lain in the grave), erected a building to honour his name, a structure of stone as a mark of his fame. It's very enduring and modern (the curse of the age) and, in globo, it could have been worse; but something a little more mellow, I own, would represent better the man we had known'.
'I mind when he last came to Mudgee to seek the home of his youth near Eurunderee Creek. He "walked it" and after a beer "and again", a couple of friends saw him off on the train. He never returned. He was fed up he said. Still folks rushed in hundreds to honour him-dead'.
'But one thing seemed lacking, the spirit of him in whose tardy honour ('twill never grow dim) the day was arranged and the monument set, by people and Ministers he'd never met-And yet, was that true? For in fancy behind the procession a good mile or more, a loose lanky shadow just strolling along and looking for faces he knew in the throng'.
'If you harked now and then (but you had to be quick), you could clearly pick out the sharp tap of his stick; with head in the air and moustache forward thrust, it looked like old Henry but might have been dust. The people he knew were not many. They bowed their heads at the back of the crowd.
But right up in front with their friends and their wives, the lime lighting boys had the time of their lives. As they talked of themselves and the day of the past old Henry was running about second last'. With hindsight it is no wonder Gordon Madell used a nom de plume. You can read between the lines of what he has written of the politics of the day. The late Colin Roderick (the acknowledged authority on the life and works of Henry Lawson) once told me that all efforts to save the Lawson home in Eurunderee had failed because of lack of interest by both Federal and State Governments. Years later the present memorial (with the chimney from the house still standing) was opened.
Everyone thought it was a second best option. Obviously Gordon Madell thought so too but was too discreet an editor to say so hence his use of a pseudonym for the above. His comments about the attending politicians and "lime lighters" would have been dynamite. Can you imagine the headlines that would have been in the Guardian delivered around the town by newsboys on bicycles? I was interested in his use of the word "lime lighters" to describe local officials seeking to be recognised. It no longer seems to be in the Australian vocabulary.
In 1949 when he wrote the poem he was obviously still actively engaged in editorial policy. It is interesting to note that on September 25, 1958 the poem reappeared in the Guardian as part of a letter again using a nom de plume "Oyster Lover". It was captioned "Memory Revived of the Poet and the 'Lime lighters'." This letter was one of a series of letters to the editor (most using pseudonyms) dealing with the same theme-Henry Lawson and his association with Eurunderee and Mudgee, and, without exception all were supporting a local Henry Lawson Festival. That too, fell by the wayside through lack of support. Sad! Following the death of Gordon Madell the family sold the business.
If Gordon Madell was frustrated about the lack of recognition for Henry Lawson in Mudgee I wonder what he would think of the claims of Grenfell, Bourke, Brisbane, Sydney, perhaps Perth, New Zealand and London where Henry Lawson cast his shadow, to name just a few. On April 30, 1877, Louisa Lawson, Henry's mother, gave birth to twin girls Annette (Nettie) and Gertrude. Nettie died in January 1878 and Louisa was moved to write a poem 'My Nettie" that appeared in The Mudgee Independent (Editor: DeCourcy Brown).
The paper, the predecessor of today's Guardian, was then owned by George Henry Cohen. The first four lines of Louisa's poem read: With rapture I gaze,for by faith do I see, The child that my Saviour has taken from me, Secure in his arms, on his bosom his place A radiance of glory, illuming her face. Louisa had been educated at Mudgee Public School by a classics master, J. Webber Allpass.
Henry was given the task of copying out the poem and was stimulated to try verse writing himself. He would have been about 11 years of age at the time and a student of John Tierney at the Old Bark School. The first verse he wrote, the only surviving one, ran as follows: William the conqueror, Was a brave and gallant knight, But he was a cruel and evil king, And his principle was fight. His mother, Louisa, approved. His father, Peter, burnt the poem.
Henry then wrote: Charlie jogged along one evening, After cattle on his mare, Stumbled she the noble pony, Came a cropper fair and square. That was Henry's last attempt for three years. Later he was to contribute verses to the Guardian. In 1887 Lawson had his first poem published in the Bulletin. It was called Song of the Republic.
On publication he said: 'I had to write poetry or burst. "The Bulletin" saved me from bursting.' Soon after publication of this poem Henry wanted to develop his writing skills so he decided to try his hand at writing short stories. His first short story was His Father's Mate. It appeared in the Bulletin on December 22, 1888. Today, it is recognised as one of his best stories. It was set in Sapling Gully, in Eurunderee, just behind the property owned by his Eurunderee school teacher, John Tierney. From then on Henry wrote about what he knew best.
His poor boyhood passed on lonely and deserted gold fields, or of his early youth, and unhappy drudgery during the drought struck summers in the bush. He travelled 'round the country as a tramp, workman, teacher, and journalist. He was a factory worker, a herdsman, rouseabout and gold digger. He hated and loved the country and the people that made it. He wrote about it all as the prophet of the Australian way of life-and became the apostle of mateship.
One day, maybe, the old times and old ways will be recognised for their worth-but one thing is certain- the paper boys on their bicycles delivering the Mudgee Guardian around the town are gone forever.