An early history of Moss Vale, written by prolific district historian AVJ 'Jack' Parry, was serialised in the local Southern Mail during 1948. Selected extracts continue here.
"Newspapers, be they small or mighty, play an incalculable part in the progress of any community, and particularly was this so in the early days of the Berrima district, as elsewhere, when the pioneers of provincial journalism, often under great difficulties, worked long and arduously, not only to disseminate news, but also to further the interests of their localities. So, this week, I deal with such details as have been preserved by the journals which have been published in Moss Vale, and those who produced them.
In County Monaghan, Northern Ireland, 98 years ago, was born William McCourt, who was later indelibly to set his mark on both the politics and the journalism of NSW. In 1852 he came out with his parents to the Wollongong district, and was educated in a State school. Young McCourt served his apprenticeship at the printing trade with the Illawarra Mercury, and, after, as one report vaguely put it, studying 'for higher things,' on April 9, 1874, at the age of 23, started what has been generally described as the first newspaper in the Berrima district - the Moss Vale Scrutineer. This was after he had, according to one report, taken over the Mercury when Thomas Garrett, proprietor in his apprenticeship days, retired, and later sold to Hart and Campbell.
Whilst it seems that the Scrutineer was the first paper of substance in the district, research by the late Hon H Lamond, published in the Mail on December 31, 1937, included reference to the Burrawang Times, which was registered on August 13, 1863 by TH Corcoran, with E Dreeman and JR Murphy as bondsmen. Unfortunately, no copies have been preserved, nor are further details available regarding this journal. When CC Gale, one of the town's earliest legal men, went to Moss Vale in March 1879, McCourt was, himself, printing the Scrutineer, only journal in the district, on a hand press.
According to the Bowral Free Press of June 20, 1900, the Scrutineer turned out to be a phenomenon in country journalism. To Mr McCourt it was a perfect little gold mine, and he remained proprietor of it until 1886, when the tempting offer of £8000 induced him to part with it.
Previously, McCourt had turned his attention to politics. He was defeated at his first attempt, in 1880, but subsequently elected for Camden electorate (which then returned two members), with Mr Garrett, on December 2, 1882, and took his seat in Parliament for the first time on January 3, 1883. He did not stand at the 1885 election, but was again returned on February 11, 1887, and June 25, 1894.
Because of an alteration of electorates, he then became Member for Bowral in the State's 16th Parliament, from July 17, 1894. He was returned as member for Wollondilly, by another rearrangement, on August 6, 1904, continuing until his death in June 1913. He became ninth speaker of the Legislative Assembly on June 13, 1900, holding office until November 4, 1910. It is written of McCourt that 'he was popular on both sides of the House, allowed a good deal of latitude in debate but was firm when occasion demanded' and 'as a private member he was brief and to the point, a fearless critic as well as a courteous debater'.
McCourt was president of Berrima and District Hospital for a lengthy period, for a time worshipful master of Bowral Masonic Lodge, and lived in one of Berrima's oldest houses. His wife was a sister of FH Galbraith, one-time police magistrate at Goulburn."
Parry's 1948 article also included details of the Scrutineer's owners after McCourt. In 1899 it was bought by Edmund Hewison and, from 1918 through to 1948, his daughter Ada Jane Hewison published it, continuing the paper's unbroken association of almost 75 years with district journalism. By 1949 it had ceased publication.
Parry also mentioned other papers that existed for a time at Moss Vale including, from 1888, The Argus and The Moss Vale Record and, from July 1929, The Moss Vale Post later renamed The Berrima District Post.
Much later, from February 1974, Parry himself was editor of the Southern Highland News until his death in December 1975.
- Berrima District Historical & Family History Society - compiled by PD Morton. Part 6 of a 6-part series.