One man show continues to grow

Don Fitzgerald reflects on his 17 years as one of the driving forces behind the Trader.

In November 1979 Don Fitzgerald started a community newspaper.

The aptly called Emerald Trader came out every Thursday and was advertised as a community newspaper for “you who live in the communities bordering the Cardinia Dam”.

It was run by a staff of three and it was was eight pages. Advertising cost $2 a column, per centimetre, and journalists had to print and develop their own photos.

The paper covered Emerald and the surrounding townships of Clematis and Cockatoo.

It’s been 40 years since Fitzy – as he was known to the community – first decided to publish a print-only community newspaper, and in those days, he was living in Avonsleigh and working full time with a printing company in Pakenham.

He had never considered entering the newspaper industry, but after The Traders Association in Emerald approached him, he quickly became part of a paper that would alter the course of his life.

“The Traders Association in Emerald expressed a desire to start a paper… one that would serve them better than what the free press was providing.”

“The first issue of the Emerald Trader came out in November 1979 and coincided with the anniversary of the Emerald Primary School … we printed that in sepia ink as an old world theme,” Don said.

After the paper’s seventh edition, the traders’ association pulled out from the project. Rather than let the fledgling paper fail, Don took the responsibility upon himself.

“I was really a one-man band then, with two others keyboarding for me.

“On a Wednesday night, before the paper came out, I’d be finishing off the paste-up work, going next door and shooting film and laying plates, then putting them on the machine and printing.

“I’d finish at 2am, but it wasn’t unusual to be working from Wednesday morning right through until Thursday night.”

Despite the gruelling workload and financial difficulties, Don’s commitment never wavered.

It was that commitment that drove the small paper to expand, and by the time the paper reached its 10th edition, emerging journalists, an editor and a designated sales team had all become part of the Emerald Trader family.

“We shied away from chasing headline news and tried to keep as much content in there relating to people in our area. Then we spread our wings a bit and went out a little further and started features like the landowner, or Gus Ryberg’s four W’s.”

“It was an exciting, creative and stimulating time… we’d be out covering community or council meetings, sporting events or openings, and it was thriving.”

It wasn’t all good news though, and Don carries scars from the many personal and financial challenges along the way.

In 1989 the newspaper went bankrupt, and though they came back, missing out on only two editions, Don said it was a trying time.

“At the end of the day running a newspaper is a very stressful thing,” he said.

“When you’re so physically involved in the thing, it takes a toll on you, but, that elation on a Thursday when you got the bloody thing out was worth it … we all got such a lift out getting it to print and then getting it out onto the street.”

Under Don’s leadership, the paper grew in size, and from a mere eight pages in it’s very first edition it had grown to a regular 40 page paper.

In 1996 the Trader was purchased by the Yarra Valley Group, and then in 2002 Pakenham -based Star News Group, owned by the Thomas family, joined the Higgins family in joint ownership of the Mail.

Since then the paper has undergone numerous name changes, but Don said it has still retained its personality and nature as a true community based paper.

“The people of the hills identified the Trader as their newspaper, and that was really the entire motivation behind it – to have a local newspaper. I think it’s kept that sense of community.”