The Nepean Times Newspaper 1882-1962
Up until the establishment of a locally produced newspaper, Sydney and Parramatta newspapers, such as the Evening News, Cumberland Mercury and Sydney Morning Herald circulated in the local area and carried local news reports. At each Council meeting a table and chair were provided for a reporter although the relationship with the press was not always a congenial one. At the 1 February 1872 meeting, Mayor Riley denounced an Evening News report on Council as a ‘tissue of falsehood’, advising the newspaper reporter to in future ‘be careful to report strictly the truth alone’.
It was not until the Penrith Argus and the Nepean Times were circulated that the local community were serviced with news of their district from Rooty Hill to Springwood, Castlereagh to Bringelly. The Cumberland Times and Penrith Advertiser provided some local content and was possibly only published in the 1870s. Although circulated in Penrith and St Marys, most of its content was Parramatta based. Penrith Council meetings were recorded and Alfred Colless had a substantial advertising space for his general store on the corner of High and Station Streets.
The first newspaper published in Penrith was the short-lived Penrith Argus which commenced in 1881. Newspaper proprietor, William Webb, who was born in the district, had by the 1880s established a number of country papers. He set up his apprentice, a young William Shannon Walker as editor, and William Rhodes as printer.
The Nepean Times published by Alfred Colless was the second known newspaper to be published in Penrith. After the Nepean Times appeared on 3 March 1882, the Argus lasted a few months, subsumed by October into the Nepean Times. By this time Webb was working in Penrith as auctioneer and commission agent. He was given a column in the Nepean Times, maybe as part payment for the Argus. As stated by Colless, the Nepean Times was ‘An independent organ of public opinion’.
Colless became the master of local opinion, producing a newspaper which ‘contained leading articles on prominent questions of the day, latest local news and telegrams, humourous extracts…and latest Sydney commercial news’. Published initially every Saturday the ‘popular independent organ for the people’ sold for threepence for the eighty years of its existence. Rhodes moved across to work for Colless and remained its printer for many years. Walker left the district, returning in 1898 to take over his father-in-law’s bakery.
First issue of the Nepean Times
Colless sent out the first edition of his paper to his contemporaries, publishing their positive reviews on 17 March. His aggressive newspaper reporting and editorial style saw a war of words played out between the Nepean Times and other circulating newspapers, especially the Cumberland Mercury. Colless criticised the reporting integrity of (possibly John Price) the Cumberland Mercury, who in turn made literary swipes at the Nepean Times reporters. The Cumberland Mercury also accused the Nepean Times office of editorial bias against those who chose not to use the printing facilities at the Times Office.
Colless established himself as an auctioneer, with a store and stationery business on the northwest corner of High and Station streets where he first published his newspaper. A few months later, the business transferred to the new Besley building further east along High Street. Thirty-year old Colless was Mayor of Penrith when he commenced the Nepean Times. He had been elected to Council in 1876 and remained until 1883. In that time he served as Mayor from 1880 to 1882.
On 28 May 1891, amidst much fanfare, George Nichols published St Marys’ first local newspaper, the St Marys Gazette. Nichols was the grandson of the colony’s first postmaster, ex-convict Isaac Nichols and Rosanna Abrahams. Nichols had practiced as a solicitor as well, at Moss Vale in the 1880s, but following his bankruptcy in 1888, relocated to the new Llandilo estate, near St Marys.
Although the newspaper’s birth was announced with enthusiasm by the Nepean Times, competition for readership and for the local Council’s advertising and stationery business soon emerged. By September, Colless launched an all out attack on the credibility of Nichols’ journalism and his ‘literary piracy’ in reporting local events.When St Marys Council rescinded their decision in favour of Colless in 1894, it must have spelt the end for St Marys’ independent newspaper. Colless purchased the St Marys Gazette in 1895. Nichols retired to his store at Llandilo and in November 1896 took over the post office.
Alfred Colless died at the end of 1920. The Nepean Times reported on 1 January 1921 ‘With the concluding days of 1920 came the close of a life that figured prominently and honorably in the history of the Nepean district’. Colless was born at Emu Plains in 1851 and was involved in every public event in the district’s history, either as an official or reporting each event in his newspaper. Businessman, journalist, and auctioneer, Colless led an active social and business life in the Nepean district. His lively editorials and his skill in recognising the important moments in the district’s history, stirred his reading public’s consciousness like no other could do.
Indexing of the Nepean Times has been a labour of love by Penrith City Library staff and volunteers since its copies were microfilmed in the 1960s. These indexes can be located in Penrith Library’s Catalogue.The Nepean Times, with permission from the Colless family, was brought into the 21st century when Penrith Library funded the digitisation of the newspaper for uploading onto the National Library of Australia’s Trove site – http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/title/350.
At the 2004 Makings of a City History Conference hosted by Penrith City Library, local historian and Library volunteer Sue Sewter presented a paper on the Nepean Times.