AS THE DIARY celebrates its 50th birthday, we spoke with those who were there at the beginning.
Founding Editor Cliff Green, former Chief of Staff Jan Tindale (along with her late husband Lee), and Jock Macneish all had an immense contribution to the establishment of our community’s voice.
Earlier this year we had the opportunity to speak with Cliff and his wife Judy Green and then more recently with Jan and Jock.
Cliff was already a celebrated screenwriter and author, so we asked why he felt the need to start a newspaper.
“God knows why!” said Cliff.
“You would not believe it, it was because I wanted something to do here in Warrandyte.
“I could not understand why there was not [a paper] here and if there was going to be one, it had to be special.
“It had to be different because this was a special place.”
Judy reminded Cliff that it all started with the Youth Club.
Cliff said he volunteered on the Youth Club committee, because he had worked as a teacher and wanted to continue to work with young people.
Although, he said he had an ulterior motive.
“I wanted to start a newspaper, I did not tell anybody, I took on publicity officer for the Youth Club and started to report their material.
“We had to pay for it with something, so we decided to take advertising, so we started knocking on doors.”
Judy said Cliff first went to Peter McDougal’s office.
“He asked Peter if he would advertise and then Ron Day came up, and Tom Kirkov,” said Judy.
“And suddenly we had the nucleus of a start,” added Cliff.
Cliff was approached by Peter Lovett, a Herald Sun sub-editor and sportswriter.
“He said ‘I will give you a hand with this paper’, so he came on as Sports Editor, and we were away.”
Cliff said the background to most of the early people who worked on the Diary was journalism.
“We had a lot of professional journalists coming and going on the paper.”
But Cliff also wanted an illustrator to join the team.
“I found out who this guy was that was doing these cartoons for the kinder, and it was Jock Macneish, and I went in and knocked on the door and told him what I wanted, and he said ‘alright I will be in that’, and away we went.
“Once I had Jock, I knew we had got ourselves one of the best press artists there was”.
Cliff said the first edition was 12 pages and they wanted to print 2,000 copies.
“I had been a printer, where I served my apprenticeship, he had started a little printery and I went to him; we had the typeset at Dudley King, which was the best typesetting found in Melbourne really good typesetters.
“The first issues looked really good, because they were designed by people who knew their business.”
Cliff said because the Diary was initially a fundraiser for the Youth Club, the kids were expected to letterbox.
“They folded it — to try and save money we did not get the printer to fold it, we took it flat, and the kids —after an issue or two, I started to see bundles of newspapers going down the Yarra, the kids were chucking them in the river, some of the kids were, so somebody said ‘oh you don’t need to distribute them, you put piles of them on shop counters, people will pick them up’ and they did, it worked beautifully”.
Jock said he was in awe of Cliff for his courage, in taking on the venture of producing a newspaper.
“I learnt a very important lesson from him, which was, if you have a bold dream and you are able to express it eloquently and passionately, whatever support you need sort of materialises out of the ether and he was able to recruit an absolutely huge number of volunteers that would do absolutely anything that he asked them to,” said Jock.
Soon Cliff was joined by Lee Tindale, who worked as an associate editor of Truth newspaper.
“Truth was the biggest ratbag newspaper in Australia and Lee was the biggest ratbag journalist,” said Cliff.
Jan said when Cliff needed to step away from the Diary for other commitments, Lee was reluctant to take over any more work on the Diary.
“We had a meeting at the White House, which was a building next to the old football ground.
“I can remember Peter Lovett insisting on driving Lee home [from the city] that night because he did not want anything to do with the Diary, he said he had far too much to do as it was.
“They had many stops on the way home, Peter had to visit the Kew Cricket Club, where he was a member and have a few refreshment, I think the meeting started about 8pm, and Lee, until he died, said Peter held his hand up when they were looking for a new Editor.”
Jan and Lee ran the Diary for several years together, with Jan often doing a lot of the leg work.
“Any stories Lee would send me out to cover I had to do the ‘What Where Why’ questions and take a photo and Lee would write the story from that.
“Even with cricket and football, sport was his passion, he could write a cricket match from the scores and the time, all you had to do was write down the player’s name, the time he went out and what he made, and Lee would make the story.
“Much the same with football, most of the time he was there.
“Most of the time our stories were created from me doing that – and also Smokey Joe, we would sit down at night as a family, and the kids and he would ask what happened today, and you would find an awful lot of them were to do with the High School,” said Jan.
Cliff recalled Lee’s literary alter ego, Smokey Joe, fondly, however his column did tread a fine line sometimes.
“A brilliant creation but we had difficulty keeping us out of the courts and so on, but it was great stuff”.
“Smokey Joe, was keeping people honest, always very light-hearted,” said Jan.
Jock said the journalists loved volunteering at the Diary.
“They loved the Diary, they loved it with a passion, because it was absolute freedom.
“Cliff was a wonderful editor, trusted people endlessly, so the journalists just flocked to the newspaper.
“That was an interesting dynamic because there were professional journalists working with the Diary, they were able to help train the cadets in the subtle skills of journalists which are difficult to acquire in any other way, in those days you certainly could not go to journalism school.”
There were many volunteers, both professional and amateur, who emerged over the years to help out in the newsroom, many taking on the role of Editor for a time.
Sandy Burgoyne, Val Polley, Stephen Reynolds, Scott Podmore, Bob and Trish Millington, Ken Virtue, Jan Vagg and Judy McDonald have all played pivotal roles.
“David Wyman was a very good municipal affairs reporter,” recalls Cliff.
“You could thank David Wyman largely for what this place is now like, why it is zoned, why you cannot put up blocks of flats here and so on,” he said.
Jock said the Diary embraced the people of Warrandyte’s concern for their environment, in a major way.
“Those who saw the Diary as a propaganda machine for the green revolution totally misunderstood the fact that the Diary was representing the views of the people who read it, not pushing its views onto its people.
“That in a way meant that the Diary had the support of just about everybody in town, there was never any question as to whether the Diary was going to survive or not survive or be taken over by somebody else.
“I think the success of the Diary is measured in the conversations, I have had many times, with people of Warrandyte saying ‘do you know what they should put in the Diary, they should put this particular story in the Diary’, and it is the fact the people of Warrandyte have a right to say what is in the Diary; they do not phone up Mr Murdoch and say, this is what you should be putting in your paper – it is their paper, the Warrandyte Diary – it is Warrandyte’s paper.
“It is that sense of ownership that is fantastic,” said Jock.
He said in the early days there was a lot of discomfort felt by the local politicians.
“There were Council and State politicians who were horrified to find this ‘Roneo newsletter’ held such power, politically, in terms of people’s opinions.
“The major thrust in the early days was to either shut the thing down or to get some sort of measure of control over it: ‘Who is financing this operation?’
“When they discovered that no one was financing it, and there was no way they could get any influence over it whatsoever, over a period of over ten years they started to change their tack and be a bit more open and considerate and courted the Diary, in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to get the idea across that they were wonderful people doing a great job for the community, which was not always the case,” said Jock.
Cadet journalists, these days called “Junior Reporters”, have always been an important part of the Diary, with Cliff taking many early cadets under his wing.
Jock recalls: “Cliff had a passion, not so much for the world as it was, but what he could foresee coming into being, so his focus was always on the future, how the village could be improved, how the lives of the people could be enhanced, and how the skills the young cadets could learn and contribute and watching the young cadets grow from basically school children into mature capable journalists was just a joy”.
Some of the stand-out cadets who have been through the Diary’s newsroom are remembered fondly by Cliff:
“Clinton Grybas, he was fabulous – at 14 he was doing the sports pages, brilliantly.
“Rachel Baker became an ABC Cadet and succeeded and became the ABC representative in Adelaide.
“She was typical of the young people who came through,” said Cliff.
Spirit of community
The Diary has changed its appearance, it has changed its size, it has changed from black and white to colour.
But Jock Macneish said despite the outward change, what has not changed is that it is still the voice of Warrandyte.
“It still concerns itself with the lives and the business of the people that live in Warrandyte and it reflects and shows the people of Warrandyte who they are — who they are to one another and who they are to the world,” said Jock.
Cliff said he was proud of the fact that the Diary exists.
“That it survived, and it did well, and it caught the heart of the community.”
His advice to the current team at the Diary, and one that the current editors take to heart, is the importance of keeping the paper close to the community: “Not having a them and us, but very much an us”.
Thank you to Warrandyte for your support of the Diary for 50 years.
We look forward to entertaining and engaging you for the next 50 years – Eds.