Tom Gannon became a newspaperman at a young age, when, during WWII his father took him out of St Patrick’s College in Sale to work for him at the family newspaper in Wonthaggi.
When he entered the newsroom to work alongside his father, Tom Senior, he represented the third generation of Gannon newspapermen in Gippsland. His grandfather, Malachy, established the Korumburra Advocate in 1899, and his father took over the Powlett Express in 1912.
The young journalist “became completely engrossed in the profession, learning it from his tough and demanding father”.
When his father died suddenly, young Tom took control of the Express at the age of 22 and kept that paper going, sometimes single-handedly, until 1969, when he sold the masthead to the Wonthaggi Sentinel.
Tom’s daughter, Bernadette, remembers the whole family was involved with the process of getting the paper out each week. “We saw all the ins and outs of the newspaper process. Our house was right behind the small newspaper office. It was the same house Dad was born in. He processed film in our kitchen and washed it in the bathroom then hung the negatives over the kitchen table. The biggest room in the house was taken over by a new printing press and that’s where it stayed. I love the smell of a printing press to this day.”
During his editorship, Tom became known as “a man who hated hypocrisy or pomposity of any kind: detested attempts to bypass unfavourable publicity because of position, friendship, rank or power”.
Consequently, according to an obituary written by his former colleague Brian Blake, he was a man of controversy. “But love him or hate him … circulation soared … for most people were anxious not to miss what Gannon was writing about … His journalism won recognition in the annual awards within the Country Victorian Press Association.”
Gannon was a friend of the revered Melbourne columnist Keith Dunstan and he had the respect of the great editor of The Age, Graeme Perkins, who wanted a man of his talents to come and work for him on the city newspaper.
He didn’t take up Perkins’ offer for not only was he a newspaperman but he was also a Wonthaggi man, a man who could walk into any room or venue and soon be the centre of a crowd listening with rapt attention to his storytelling. He was a large man, an imposing man, with a deep sonorous voice and gift for the gab.
Gannon was also a sportsman who knew about guns and dogs, and a punter. “Tom Senior had not only taught his son to run a newspaper, but had also given him the necessary tips to combine a successful starting price bookmaker’s operation.”
I came across an interesting non-controversial column by T. J. Gannon that illustrates the style of the man. Gippsland’s Greyhound Guide; On And Off The Tracks was written in 1950, about a year after he had taken over the paper. So, he was still a young journalist then with a great responsibility.
“Haydon Hook is not here tonight, but we are all coming up for Easter Saturday night,” said Mr Ree, owner of Roundabout. “I have not stopped talking about the hares at Wonthaggi. They are wonderful. I have told everybody about the track, lighting and observation yard. It is the best track I have been on, but I would like to see the bookmakers’ ring improved. I was not able to get the good price on offer about my dog. The congestion was too great.”
[Editor’s note: One wonders if Tom didn’t instigate that conversation so he could put in a point about the bookmakers’ ring since it was in his own interest. There are times when a journalist will go to great lengths for the right quote]
One of the most popular victories at the Sports Paradise was that of Mr and Mrs Beazley’s dog, Beau Lea. Even the sports that had supported other runners joined in the applause that followed the victory of this dog. With Craigisnow and Beau Lea, Mr and Mrs Beazley have run approximately twenty seconds without tasting the sweets of victory. Now that they have broken the run of outs, it is to be hoped many more winners will come their way.
“Come on, South!” greeted the South Dudley dog, Nestles Micawber, as she was in measurable distance of the post in the second heat of the Tintara Cup. Jumping away with three to spare at the box, the South Dudley representative was never in danger of defeat. This dog was very unlucky in not winning the final of the Tintara. She cleared away from the field at the box and, taking the first turn beautifully, she looked all over a winner. Swinging wide at the next turn, she lost several lengths. Ada Hope, who drew the better box in the final, reached Nestles a few yards from the line and had half a length to spare at the business end of the journey. The next time these two dogs meet, an interesting tussle is assured.
Exerpts from “Gippsland’s Greyhound Guide; On And Off The Tracks”, The Powlett Express, 1950:
The style shows knowledge of dog racing but, more importantly, it shows his attention to the characters involved, the way people thought and spoke about the dogs.
You can imagine him with his pad and pencil, in the centre of things listening and jotting down in shorthand anything with colour and movement in it. It is the style of a man who loved his work and the authority it gave him to listen in whenever and wherever he wanted to.
Information about Tom Gannon is from the article, “Tom Gannon was a Wonthaggi Legend”, an obituary written by Brian Blake, editor of the Wonthaggi Sentinel, for the April 14, 1999 issue of the South Gippsland Sentinel Times, and from the memories of his daughter, Bernadette Miles.