The Blue Mountains Gazette celebrates 60 years of publishing in 2023. Robyne Ridge of the Blue Mountains Historical Society looks back on the last six decades.
"Faith in the Future", the theme of the new free weekly newspaper, owned by a group of Springwood businessmen, headlined the first edition of The Mountain Gazette on Wednesday February 20, 1963.
The Mountain Gazette witnessed the tumultuous 1960s, the beginnings of legal representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the first visit of a US president, Lyndon B. Johnson, and the disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt. Humans walked on the moon and the Beatles were born. Dollars and cents replaced pounds, shillings and pence.
The first Gazette noted the accidents and deaths occurring regularly on Mountains roads, especially at Springwood's "Killer Corner". It demanded safer roads and the Great Western Highway bypassing Springwood.
Readers threatened a "squat" on the railway lines unless the railways increased carriage numbers.
Local organisations like Apex, Lions, Rotary, Red Cross, Scouts and Guides, advertised their activities in 'Along the Highway', the Gazette's community news section that still exists today. The 'Freedom from Hunger' campaign was one of many charities benefitting from Mountains generosity.
The Sesquicentenary celebration of the Crossings in June 1963 and the Centennial celebrations in 2013 provided headlines. Throughout the years, the Gazette continued to support the long-running Rhododendron Festival, the Gnome Convention, the Wool Fiesta, jazz festivals, concerts, art competitions and exhibitions, garden festivals in Leura and elsewhere, the Winter Magic Festival, school fetes and NAIDOC Weeks. The Gazette ensured that readers knew about these local activities.
In October 1963, the Gazette reported that Emu Plains joined Penrith City and that the Springwood Swimming Pool opened. In the following years, it mentioned the loss of two Mountains citizens, Kevin Davis and Eric O'Leary, in the Voyager incident, of February 10, 1964.
Lapstone Railway Station opened on February 24, 1964 and on Anzac Day that year, Matron Sophie Durham, MBE, unveiled the new war memorial at Springwood. North Springwood became Winmalee in 1972. The public library opened in 1974.
The state government's Wyndham scheme extended formal education to year 10 in 1965 and year 12 in 1967. St Bernard's College closed. Winmalee and Faulconbridge Public Schools and Springwood High officially opened. These events were both Gazette news items and fodder for the letters' pages, especially the high school construction delays.
Ratepayers used the Gazette to complain about the high rates, road safety, payment of aldermen, the water supply, swimming pools, timing and crowding of trains and the need for a public library.
Internationally, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries tripled oil prices in 1973 and doubled them again in 1979. The days of cheap petrol ended. Gazette readers complained bitterly about rising prices.
On January 18, 1977, the 6.09am train from Mount Victoria crashed at Granville, creating Australia's worst train disaster. Thirty-eight people from the Blue Mountains were counted in the 80 dead. The Gazette and its readers mourned the passing of relatives, friends and neighbours and praised the volunteers involved in the aftermath.
The environment continued to concern Gazette readers. Bushcare groups were introduced, there was opposition to the proposed crocodile park at Wentworth Falls and the World Heritage for the Blue Mountains campaign was started, supported by the Gazette and its readers for the next two decades.
On August 15 1979, The Mountain Gazette changed its name to the Blue Mountains Gazette.
At the end of 1979, the Gazette reported the resignation of six aldermen and the imposition of an administrator, John James Wickham. The council was restored in 1981.
On January 1, 1980, Prospect County Council took control of electricity in the Mountains. On July 1, 1980, the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board assumed responsibility for water supply and sewerage services in the Blue Mountains.
These changes, along with dogs and train fares continued to keep letter writers active. The building of the Fairmont Resort at Leura divided the community as did the building of Blaxland's McDonalds, but both opened with concessions to heritage and the environment.
In 1989, Varuna opened. In 2023, it still inspires Australian writing.
1990s Australians faced an economic recession. In the Mountains, council attempted to attract other industries, but tourism still dominated employment, as the opening of Lilianfels Resort and Spa in 1992 showed.
A bomb blast in the Katoomba council chambers on March 3, 1993 rocked the Blue Mountains. The perpetrator remains unidentified.
On December 2, 1999, at 8.22 am, an interurban train collided with the rear of the Indian Pacific on the main western line east of Glenbrook station. Seven died and 51 were injured. The Gazette and its shocked readers expressed sorrow for the victims and gratitude to the volunteers.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000 in recognition of its significant natural values.
The 1990s offered First Nations Peoples hopes of greater self-determination. In February 2001, the Gazette reported the 40th anniversary of the controversial Catalina racetrack. After a slow parade around the track, Catalina was abandoned. On May 18, 2002, the Gully was declared an Aboriginal Place.
The 21st century saw the Gazette's letters pages complaining about the slow progress of the new aquatic centre in the Lower Mountains and increasing vandalism. In the first decade of the century the widening of the highway at Lawson dominated the news and the letters to the editor.
Bushfires are always with us. Each decade the fires seem more vicious and more destructive. The Gazette's pages acknowledge the support for, and appreciation of, the work of our paid and volunteer firefighters.
In this final decade, letters discuss Katoomba's Cultural Centre, Springwood's Hub, aerodromes and flight paths, the environment, roads and footpaths, tunnels and no tunnels, empty shop fronts, high rents and unsympathetic absentee landlords, just as they did 60 years ago.
The Blue Mountains Gazette continues to acknowledge the past, record the present, and have "faith in the future".
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