In June 2012 Alan Brown decided to take over Bass Coast. It was for our own good, of course. Rates were too high. The executives were paid too much. He put a team together. They weren’t allowed to speak to the media and he was to be mayor.
Everyone knows Brownie: former Wonthaggi mayor, former MP, former leader of the Victorian Liberal Party, former Victorian Consul General, current property developer. Most of us would wonder whether it’s a good idea for a developer to control a council. Not our local newspapers. They couldn’t get enough of Brownie. It seemed to be a done deal.
Everyone I knew whinged about it, but what could you do? The papers were free to publish what they wanted.
I cobbled together a few stories. My finger hovered over PUBLISH for several seconds. Did I really want to do this? It sounded too much like work. Too late now. The Post was in the clouds but suddenly, on June 23 2012, it was also a thing.
I sent a link to a few friends and asked them to send it to their friends. And I pestered my friends to write for it. They tried to avoid me but I was relentless. No one escaped. The plumber only had to say “I was down the street …” and I would suggest he wrote a story for the Post.
Our list of contributors grew week by week, as did the readership. If nothing else, Alan Brown got us interested in local politics again. A record 26 candidates stood in the election. As it happened, Brown didn’t win. I may be self-deluded but I like to think the Post played a small part in the result. Had he succeeded in his grand plan to take over the council, I think Bass Coast would be very different today.
I had set up the Post to provide a fair election forum for candidates and voters. By the time the election was over, it had grown like Topsy. We had a gardening column, a bird column, a botany column. We had local history and arts sections. I decided to keep going for a few more months.
I wasn't paying much attention but suddenly the Post is 10 years old. This is edition 329. At an average of eight stories an issue, that’s over 2500 stories. A mlllion words, say, enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Laid end to end, they’re reach to the moon and half way back.
Ten years after we started, the Post has around 1400 subscribers. It’s not the Washington Post but I like to think it’s read by the people who matter: residents who take an informed interest in their community.
I say “we” but it’s an editorial we. Early on a councillor told me the Post had to have an editorial board. I said I could attend meetings or I could publish the Post but I couldn’t do both. A couple of other people demanded to know who I was, which made me laugh.
I run it as a benevolent dictatorship. I’m just one of many writers. I’ve counted 42 regulars and there would have been well over 100 occasional ones. I won’t name anyone but hover your mouse over Writers on the Home Page and you will find some distinguished names. Amazingly some have been here for the entire 10 years. There is only one rule for writers: try not to be boring.
It can be hard work. Then I get an email from a new writer with something interesting to say or a new surprising way to say it. Or someone says “I love the Post.” What, really?!
I know I’ve been a little soft on the council, mainly because for decades the local press was so relentlessly anti-council it would have felt like bullying to pile on with them. A young council worker told me she and her colleagues dreaded Tuesdays when the local paper came out because they knew there would be another front page story about council excess and bloated bureaucrats. “It made us feel worthless.”
One of her workmates suggested she subscribe to the Post. She described the relief of reading reasoned discussion of issues and initiatives and thanked me with tears in her eyes for some pretty standard journalism.
Initially I’d thought of the Post as an online news hub. Though we’ve had a few scoops along the way our forté is the essay: natural history, local history, profiles, commentary. These days I call it an online magazine, which excuses me from having to cover the “news” of the day.
It’s fair to say that most of our writers are left-leaning, and so presumably are most of our readers but the Post itself has no political leanings. One of my biggest battles is to stop it turning into the Bass Coast edition of the Green Socialist Weekly because that would be boring for everyone.
Sometimes I think if I gave it up I could do other things. I don’t mean brain surgery or writing the great Australian novel. I’m thinking more of floating down the Powlett on a lilo and finally learning the names of birds. Then I think “But what if I got really angry and HAD to write something?”
The ideal would be for some bright youngish thing to take over the Post, add some bells and whistles, and I could be an occasional contributor. Tell me if you know that person!
In the meantime, please tell your friends about the Post. Read us; even better, write for us. Everyone has a story to tell. And the more you write, the less I have to.
The Bass Coast Post is celebrating its first 10 years on Sunday, June 26, 2-5pm at the Gurdies Winery. Friends of the Post are welcome!