Celebrating 125 years - Newspaper of choice during the war

KEIR TUNBRIDGEAlbany Advertiser

The Albany Advertiser may not be the go-to source for comprehensive worldwide war reporting these days, but that wasn’t always the case.

The paper’s long history means it has been around for just about every major war Australia has been involved in, from the 1899-1902 Boer War onwards.

For a long time Albany residents relied on the Advertiser almost exclusively for up-to-date coverage of what was happening to the troops overseas.

Albany historian and author Douglas Sellick said the Advertiser’s early war coverage was first class, and was usually the first world news available in the town because of the delay in delivery of The West Australian to country areas.

“The West Australian used to come the day after the Albany Advertiser so by the time The West reached Albany the news was at least 12-18 hours stale,” he said.

“From the Boer War onwards there was quite comprehensive war coverage, which included lots of news and information.

“In fact, World War I was covered in the Advertiser so well that a lot of other papers copied. It was one of WA’s most significant papers.”

The Advertiser’s war coverage began in the lead-up to the October 14, 1899, edition, which carried the headline THE TRANSVAAL WAR, WAR DECLARED BY THE BOERS, following escalation of hostilities between Dutch settlers and the British in South Africa.

Likewise, extensive coverage was provided in the lead-up to, and during, World War I. Interestingly, the most famous and significant link between Albany and the Anzac story — the departure of the first convoy of 36 ships from Albany to WWI — was not reported in the Advertiser for a full three weeks.

The first coverage was on Saturday, November 21, 1914, the delay due to censorship “for the safety of the troops”.

The article concedes the huge event could not have been missed by locals and was “ancient history” in Albany by the time it was officially reported, but may have been news to the rest of the world. “Such a sight has certainly never been seen before in Australasia, and no man or woman breathing today will probably live to witness another spectacle in any way approaching its magnificence,” the report reads.

Incidentally, the now famous panoramic photographs of the first convoy were the subject of a bitter legal dispute six years later involving the Advertiser, when the photographer, A.G. Sands, took the paper to court claiming it had infringed on his copyright by publishing and selling a booklet containing the pictures.

Unfortunately for Mr Sands, the judge ruled in favour of the newspaper after the photographer was deemed a “very unsatisfactory and unreliable witness”, according to a lengthy court report published in the Advertiser on August 21, 1920. The editions which followed the end of the war on November 11, 1918, carried coverage of the joyous reaction in Albany and the region.

Following confirmation of the armistice, the Albany Advertiser took “immediate steps” for the news to be known and arranged for the St John’s Church bells to be rung and an announcement to be posted in front of the paper’s York Street office.

York Street quickly became a “seething mass” of people cheering wildly, before the “largest and most spectacular procession ever witnessed in the town” was held to the delight of all.

The war popped up again from time to time, for example on November 22, 1934, when a letter from a Kiwi ex-Digger by the name of Louis Deventner was published prominently. Mr Deventner wanted to express his sincere thanks to Albany for its hospitality in entertaining the first Anzacs about 20 years earlier.

The outbreak of World War II immediately affected the Advertiser, with the number of pages temporarily reduced from six to four until the fate of newsprint consignments on order was known. But coverage continued unabated during the war until its end in 1945.

On November 10, 1949, the Advertiser commemorated 50 years since the first Australian fighting force to leave the country departed Albany for the Boer War aboard the Medic.

With the advent of more easily available sources of world news, especially the internet in recent years, the Advertiser has moved towards becoming an exclusively local newspaper.

However, there are often Albany links to our major conflicts which we still report on from time-to-time.

One of those was Narrikup farmer Harley Webb’s terrifying brush with death during the Vietnam War in the now-legendary Battle of Long Tan on August 18, 1966.

Private Webb was shot during the battle, but he and 128 fellow Australian soldiers somehow pushed back about 2500 Viet Cong.

A few days after the battle the Advertiser reported Private Webb’s parents had received word from the Army that their son was receiving good care and recovering in a “big Saigon hospital”.

Two years ago the newspaper revisited Mr Webb, who was still living on the family farm. Mr Webb reflected on the battle and his time at war in a feature story published on April 21, 2011.

More recently, space has been devoted to Albany’s preparations for the Anzac Centenary.

Lest we forget.

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