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Local news a labour of love in Dorrigo

The National Drought and Flood Agency’s Regional Recovery Officers (RROs) are in the enviable position of visiting beautiful parts of the county and meeting amazing people who, even though they’re dealing with the challenges of drought, flood, bushfire and COVID-19, maintain a positive outlook and a good sense of humour.

Meet Michael English, owner and editor of the Don Dorrigo Gazette, is one of the people.

There’s a small and cluttered office off a quaint and busy street in the little town of Dorrigo.

An innocuous sign over the tiny veranda set well back in an alley-way reads “The Don Dorrigo Gazette”. It’s in an appropriately antiquated typeface on a yellow background and the doors swing open on to a crowded two-room utility space (a shed really) filled with machinery of a past age.

This is Australia’s last newspaper produced on machines that cast their type in hot metal.

Modern papers publish through the magic of computers and high-speed presses that integrate material and pages in digital ether and through image-based printing.

The Gazette is typeset using machines that age back a century, conjuring the typed copy from two keyboards side-by-side (one in capitals, the other lowercase) as mechanical arms pluck the galleys of characters and arrange them on top of one another. To use these galleys you have to read backwards like Leonardo da Vinci, so proof reading is an art of its own.

Michael English has produced, typeset, printed, proofed and collated his newspaper since taking over from his father 13 years ago. His dad was heart and soul of the Don Dorrigo Gazette for more than 50 years before retiring through ill health.

It’s definitely a labour of love.

Michael’s newspaper has brought the population of Dorrigo and its districts the local news of droughts, fires, floods, sports results, cattle sales quotes, local issues and politics in the quaint type so typical of announcements of war and peace, the clean galleys of the Menzies era and the layouts that hark back to papers that were quintessentially serious about what they portrayed to the reader.

Winston Churchill once penned, “History will be kind to me, as I intend to write it.”

Michael does more than that for his readers – he adds contributions from across the readership, but also spends his week building every edition from blank pages while keeping his antiquated machinery going.

Ten minutes in his company reveals an encyclopaedic knowledge of where parts and spares, ink supplies and paper, geared shafts for the typesetting machines and a thousand other things can be sought – here and overseas – so the Gazette gets out each week.

In some ways, too, Dorrigo is an apt home for this last vestige of news printing.

It lies perched on the edge of the tablelands, now green and lush, with one of the highest rain-day rainfall averages anywhere in Australia. It’s a town built on timber and dairy, for obvious reasons, but it lies smack in the path of the drought that ravaged our east coast and in a district that battled the tough times of unusual climate behaviour and subsequent devastating fires.

There are trout in the streams along the edge of the ranges. Jacarandas line the road to the pearly beaches of the north coast to the east. The district produces some of the finest cattle and highest quality dairy produce in the country. In the midst of it all is a small one-man newspaper with a mystery still unanswered.

Why is it called the Don Dorrigo Gazette?

Ask Michael English – publisher, typesetter, editor, proof reader, printer, distributer and owner – and he just shrugs in his usual engaging fashion.

“It just is,” is his answer.

Like his paper: it just is.