How the Ingham Daily Press went from a shaggy-headed idea to a full-blown on-line newspaper
WHEN Jonny Pearce took his shaggy mop to Tony’s for a pre-Covid chop – he would walk away with more than a slick haircut.
As well as his finely cut crown, he carried an idea that would burn in his mind – an idea that is the root cause of why you are reading this article.
Having just moved to Hinchinbrook from Wulgurukaba and Bindal land in Townsville, he had barely discovered who the traditional custodians of the Herbert River region were (the Warrgamay and Nwaiygi peoples).
But he had been given one piece of advice from a new colleague: ‘Get rid of that mop-top mate – Tony will sort you out’.
So off he trotted with his wife and toddlers to the iconic Ingham barbers.
‘I learnt two things that day,’ he says. ‘This town needed a community newspaper – and you need cash to pay at Tony’s’.
With only a credit card in hand – he was left flush-faced, as he stared in dismay at the beaming Sicilian-Australian pensioner at the till.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Tony said. ‘You can pay me next time you get a hair-cut’.
Knowing that he always left it longer than he should for a chop – but unknowing that a Covid-lockdown was around the corner – an embarrassed Jonny ensured Tony that his wife would be in town to pay the barber that coming Tuesday.
‘No problem at all,’ grinned Tony.
They are a friendly bunch, the good folk of Ingham town.
And if Tony’s paying system is old school – so are his prices.
Fifteen bucks bucks a chop! You pay twice that in Townsville.
Now, during the course of his haircut, Jonny learnt much of Tony’s story.
The school teacher listened as 74-year-old Tony recounted the tales of a life of joy and adventure.
He did ask one question: ‘How long have you been here?’
‘Forty years this year,’ Tony beamed back proudly.
‘Wow,’ said his customer. ‘I bet you got a great write-up in the local paper’.
‘No,’ said Tony. ‘Nothing. They probably don’t know about it’.
It was in that second that the cogs started turning.
‘What a great story – and what a shame it’s not being told.
‘This town needs a community newspaper,’ thought the man in the barber’s chair.
At the time Hinchinbrook had a printed paper, but before the former journalist had time to approach the man who was to turn his idea into a reality, that paper announced it was going out of print.
‘Even though I’d just arrived – I felt the people’s pain,’ says the 39-year-old.
‘I read the comments on Facebook. The community was in despair.
‘Then I thought that we could fill a bit of the void, reporting on local sport, school and community events’.
But without someone who could build a website – it was just an idea.
‘When I approached Ben [Barbi] he was so enthusiastic.
‘I knew he was brilliant at IT, plus, he’s Ingham born and bred.
‘He loves Hinchinbrook. I am just a newcomer who can write.
‘But Ben is as Ingham as the sugar cane.
‘If you cut him, he’ll bleed cane juice – with a high level of CCS’.
Ben Barbi was schooled at Gilroy Santa Maria College and studied a graduate certificate in technology at Swinburne University, which specialises in IT.
He’s been heavily involved with Ingham Football Club over the years and is still a mainstay at the local Air Force Cadets.
‘I loved the idea – but I couldn’t believe the response when we announced it on Facebook,’ Ben says.
‘We got an organic reach of more than ten thousand and over 100 shares.
‘But it was when I saw Jonny’s writing that I got excited.
‘His sport reports make you feel like you’re at the game. We’ve never had write-ups like that.
‘Then he got the ‘Meals on Wheels’ roster and turned it into a story. I couldn’t believe it.
‘He’s a brilliant writer, but he connects well with people. Jonny’s got a great nose for news.
‘We’ve got more community stories than we’ve got time to write’.
The pair’s relationship is co-dependent, as the reporter is self-admittedly ‘useless’ with technology.
‘The website looks amazing,’ says Jonny. ‘So many small town papers have gone out of print.
‘I think we are on the verge of an independent local media revolution in Australia.
‘But we need the community to get behind us. Without the people of Hinchinbrook, we are nothing’.
Ben adds: ‘Hinchinbrook doesn’t want to be relegated to a once-a-week mention in our larger neighbour’s paper.
‘This Shire has its own identity. It’s own history. And its own voice.
‘A local paper is the life-blood of a community – we want people to know we’re here to give them that voice.
‘We’ve built a strong team in a short time. Dr Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui and Ann Vardanega have come on board as columnists – and we’ve got Tony Moloney as our satirical writer.
‘Vera Di Bella’s going to run ‘The Hub of Hinchinbrook’, a weekly what’s on in the region.
‘Paul Hallam’s our bowls correspondent and we’ve had great communication with Ingham FC, Crushers and now Cutters.
‘We still need a few photographers and we’re hoping the team will keep growing’.
So next time you go for a haircut, a coffee or a walk in the park and you have a light bulb moment – don’t let the idea pass.
Make it happen.
Let’s keep Hinchinbrook connected!