Blue Mountains Gazette's founding editor, Mick Ticehurst, dies

The founding editor of the Blue Mountains Gazette, Mick Ticehurst, died peacefully in Katoomba Hospital on Monday morning, July 3.

A Freeman of the City of Blue Mountains, Mr Ticehurst retired from the paper in 2013, ending an era that saw the Gazette grow from a small paper with a limited circulation into the 35,000+ plus copies distributed every week throughout the Mountains.

Mr Ticehurst’s association with the Blue Mountains began in 1958 when he and his wife Anne moved to Faulconbridge from Sydney. When the Springwood Sentinel newspaper was closed down in 1962, they saw an opportunity to launch their own paper, the Lower Mountains Circle.

In partnership from the start, Anne sold the ads, delivered the papers and looked after the books. Mick wrote the stories, usually at night and on weekends while he continued to commute to Burwood for his full-time job as a linotype operator.

In 1963, the Blue Mountains Gazette was launched by a former mayor and alderman of the council, Jack Powell. It wasn't long before the Gazette suggested amalgamating with the Circle to better compete against two rival publications published by Cumberland Press.

As Mr Ticehurst put it: "Being young and impressionable, we agreed. I was so inexperienced that I didn't bother to find out how much money the firm had owed but thought it couldn't be in too bad a position as it had not been going all that long."

He was wrong. The company had significant debts and it would be some years before Mr Ticehurst and his business partner, compositor Terry Booker, were completely in the black.

In those early days he relied heavily on contributions from the public. "It was real parish pump - we even put in birthdays. It's still the same philosophy today," he said on his retirement in 2013. 

Mr Ticehurst soon realised that, without the funds to employ staff, he would have to teach himself how to be a journalist. He thought a good place to learn would be at the local council.

By watching other reporters and keeping a file of what they wrote, he soon got the hang of what to do and began filing his own stories.

In the mid-1960s, Mr Ticehurst decided to have the Gazette printed at Hawkesbury Press at Windsor instead of in Springwood. It was cheaper, quicker and more efficient and it turned the paper's fortunes around.

Production changed immediately. Out went the two-day process of printing four pages at a time, turning them over and printing another four, putting them through a folding machine and manually inserting the sections inside each other. In came a slick one-day set-up where printing, folding and collating were done in a single operation.

The managing director of Hawkesbury Press, Max Day, could see a future for the Gazette and arranged finance for Mr Ticehurst and Mr Booker to buy a substantial share in Mountain Press Pty Ltd, a new company establish to publish the Gazette.

Advertising grew, the size of the papers increased and he could employ more staff. But it was still very much a family affair. Mr Ticehurst recalled after Anne gave birth to one of their four children, she was released from hospital "in time to do the next issue".

And the kids were never too far from the action, either.

"We used to have a mini-van. They [the children] used to sleep in the van while we were delivering the papers, until we got more financially stabilised and could afford to pay people to do things," he said in 2013.

In 1982, Rural Press bought Hawkesbury Press, giving the Gazette a new partner. 

Ticehurst never used the Gazette to promote his personal political views, not that some of his readers believed that.

"When Bob Debus [ALP] was the member in his early days we used to get an anonymous scorecard under the door nearly every Monday morning telling me how many pictures we published of him in the previous week's paper. When [Liberal] Barry Morris was the member, we received the same criticism,” he said.

But he was happy to use the paper's muscle if it would help the community. In the 1980s, then city engineer John Metcalfe suggested he take the opportunity of an election campaign to try to extract some money from the State Government to replace the dangerous level crossing in Katoomba.

Mr Ticehurst fronted the visiting Liberal candidate who promised to look at the issue. He then approached Premier Neville Wran who, not to be outdone, made a firm promise to deliver the funds. The money came through and a bridge over the railway line was built.

He also supported many community events, business initiatives and festivals, such as the Blue Mountains Music Festival and Blue Mountains Business Awards.

Mr Ticehurst was honoured by Blue Mountains City Council in 2009 with the title of Freeman of the City.

Outside of his passion for newspapers, Mr Ticehurst's loves included rugby league and motor bikes and in his younger days, he was an enthusiastic and competitive swimmer. In 2002, agitating for action on the construction of the Springwood Aquatic Centre, he famously said to a councillor that he doubted he'd be alive to see it finished. He was happy to be proved wrong and was in fact the first person to try the new pool after it was opened in 2004.

He was perhaps most proud of the level of community engagement with the Gazette through the letters to the editor. "In the beginning I wanted to publish every letter; my attitude was of giving everyone a fair go," he said.

Mick Ticehurst is survived by his wife Anne, children Steve, Karen, Tracey and Kerrie, grandchildren - Lisa, Aaron, Mark, Jack, Ashley, Kate, Tim, Mollie and Luke, and one great-granddaughter, Chloe.

He was 79.

A funeral service will be held at St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, Springwood at 11am on Friday, July 7.