HomePeoplePrince of the press

Prince of the press

When the residents of Burra heard the clip clop of a big chestnut horse named Ginger plodding through the quiet streets every Tuesday afternoon in 1936, it could only mean one thing. The Burra Record was out. Riding the horse was an eight-year-old boy with a hessian bag brimming with the town’s weekly paper. From house to house the lad and Ginger would go selling papers for two pennies each. Such a quaint scene belongs to another era, but remarkably that same little boy is still involved in today’s fast-paced newspaper game at the age of 93.

Norman Marston, the publisher and managing director of The Courier has come a long way since those early Burra days.
And, although there have been many radical changes in the newspaper industry, some things have remained just as they were when he and Ginger methodically criss-crossed that Mid-North town all those decades ago.

This year marks Norm’s 70th year working at what he proudly calls the “Bible of the Hills”.
He laments the declining influence of country papers caused by online competition, but firmly maintains the existence of a local newspaper makes the community it serves stronger and more cohesive, just as it did in Burra.
“There is still a need for newspapers,” he says. “There will always be a paper around.
“There have been several mastheads close across regional SA in recent years, particularly during Covid, but in many instances new ones have opened in their place.
“Papers at Mt Gambier, Naracoorte, Cleve, Millicent and Penola have started to replace those which the previous owners closed.
“But the competition for advertising dollars is very tight.
“It’s a tough game these days.”

Norm working on a Linotype machine in his early years at The Courier.

Norm was destined to enter the newspaper industry – both his father, Frank, and grandfather, Earnest, were publishers of the Burra Record and the nearby Eudunda Courier.
“When I left school, I went to Roseworthy Agricultural College,” he says.
“But after a year I knew it would be impossible for my family to even put me on a farm, so I came back and worked for Dad at Burra.
“I was a rouseabout. I did everything.

“We did a lot of commercial printing in those days and he taught me the lot.
“Everything was done manually, he taught me from the word go how to feed a machine by hand, nothing was automatic.”
To broaden his horizons and achieve a dream of becoming a Linotype operator, Norm moved to Broken Hill and began working for the now defunct Barrier Times in 1949.
“I learned to spell in Burra and drink in Broken Hill,” he laughs.
“They were good days.”
Three years later his father Frank saw an opportunity to sell their Mid-North papers and buy The Courier in what was then a quiet dairying town close to Adelaide, and his eldest son was called back to the family fold to start work at Mt Barker.
And so began Norm’s love affair with the Hills.
“I remember when I first started, The Courier had a circulation of 928 and it was eight pages,” he says.
“The original office was in the main street and Dad, myself and my younger brother Peter put everything into the paper.
“Peter and I would take all the sports photos on the weekend, and we’d do all the events at night.
“The Courier was a vital part of the community.”
As the community grew so did the paper’s size and circulation and in the early 2000s it was almost 100 pages with almost 15,000 copies rolling off the printing press behind the new, larger offices just a few hundred metres from the original building.
“We did pretty well in the ’80s,”
he says.
“We had good paper sales and advertising revenue.
“They were the golden days of print.
“We won a lot of National and State awards for our photography, journalism, layout and advertising.
“We had good, loyal staff and I loved them all very much.

“Their efforts have been a big part of The Courier’s success over the years, and I have enjoyed watching them progress.”
The wisdom of Frank Marston’s move to Mt Barker became obvious as the family’s previous papers in Burra and Eudunda died slow deaths with the Record closing in 1977 and the Eudunda Courier in 1981.
Their communities were shrinking while Mt Barker’s was booming.
The opening of the freeway tunnels saw the region’s population explode and once productive agricultural farmland is now home to new residents or has been subdivided into hobby farms and lifestyle properties.
“I’d say there’s a fair chance that Mt Barker will one day be considered a suburb of Adelaide,” Norm says.
“It now has independent State and Federal MPs in what was once a very conservative community.
“That has been very interesting and the best thing that could have happened.
“Things have changed a lot.”

Norm believes the most important role of a regional paper is to reflect the aspirations of its community.
“Of course, we’ve been there for all the big stories like the two Ash Wednesday disasters and other bushfires, floods and all the other significant issues,” he says.
“But we’re also there for the little stories.
“It is wonderful to be able to give recognition to people’s achievements and efforts that would not normally enter the public domain.
“That’s a huge part of what we are all about.
“We’re the people’s paper.”

Courier general manager Norm Marston.

While much of the day-to-day operation of The Courier has been delegated to other staff, the employees look forward to their old boss shuffling into the office each morning.
“I still go in most days, have a look at the papers, be a part of it and say ‘good morning’ to everyone,” he says.
“And that’s all I have to do these days.
“At my age you go to bed at night and wonder if you’ll wake up.
“Then, I wake up in the morning … and go to work.
“That’s the routine I’m in.
“You’ve got to keep your brain working and exercise every day and I’m not about to change that now.”

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