By Parker McKenzie
“The first attempt to establish a local newspaper took place at the conclusion of the First War, when Arthur W. Madge, Belgrave chemist, began publication of a paper named The Tourist and hawked copies up and down trains standing in the Belgrave station.”
Story of the Dandenongs (1959) page 142-43, Written by Helen Coulson
Any copies of that first, albeit short-lived, local newspaper were thought to be lost to time, until in a roundabout way, the discovery of the only surviving copy was found through football.
During the 1993-94 football season, Monbulk Football Club began to compile its 100 years of history into a book for its centenary year in 1995.
Armin Richter – then a player at Monbulk – involved himself in researching for the project.
While past players were able to regale him with stories and memorabilia gave him a glimpse into the past, plenty was still unknown.
Aside from discovering that the 1920 premiership was won by Ferntree Gully and not Monbulk like the club claimed, Mr Richter also read about several local newspapers that began in the region in the aftermath of World War I during his research.
“I had found out about the early district newspapers based in the Dandenongs such as The Mountain Tourist, The Mountaineer, The Pilot and The Ferntree Gully News which had operated from just after the end of World War I to the end of World War II,” Mr Richter said.
The State Library of Victoria had copies of the papers except The Mountain Tourist and there was an issue.
“The copies of bound volumes they had in their archives were mostly classed as fragile and were not able to be read on their premises in the secure reading room,” he said.
Historical newspapers from the surrounding areas like Box Hill, Lilydale and Healesville filled in some of the information he was seeking, but only through correspondents’ reports from outside their purview.
Chief librarian Helen Tait told Mr Richter there were no plans to microfilm the papers – a process of copying documents at a reduced size for storage – because of tight funding, but if he was able to raise significant funds the library would help by contributing a similar amount of money.
“I ended up contributing $5000 of my own savings, which was then about a quarter of a year’s wages for me, because I was that keen to be able to access the information in those papers.”
Copies of the Mountaineer, The Pilot, The FTG News and The Free Press dating back to 1920 were preserved, but in the end no copies of The Mountain Tourist were found during Mr Richter’s research for Monbulk Football Club’s centenary.
More than a decade passed and Mr Richter was surprised to discover a copy of The Mountain Tourist from October 3, 1919, in 2017 hanging on the wall of his local RSL.
The paper was kept as a memento by local historian Bob Coleman’s parents because it included a notice about their wedding.
This coincidence insured the survival of the only known copy of the oldest newspaper in the Dandenong Ranges and it was provided to the Monbulk Historical Society following Mr Coleman’s passing.
The Society recognised the historical significance of the 98-year-old newspaper, but not its rarity.
“The paper was seen as a marvellous item by the Monbulk Historical Society and was used as a display item for a historical related function held at the Monbulk RSL when I first saw it,” Mr Richter said.
“However, none of the society members realised what a scarce and valuable piece of history it actually was, as the oldest known paper from the Dandenongs that still existed, although my amazed expression gave them a clue.”
Mr Richter said there are two qualities that make this lone copy of the paper a special piece of local history.
“Firstly, The Mountain Tourist was the first to be published within the Shire of Ferntree Gully, at Belgrave, and was the first local district newspaper,” he said.
“The Mountain Tourist, as with The Mountaineer, also published photos, something which was rare in district papers at this time and generally didn’t happen regularly until after World War II.”
From the paper they were able to discover when it started publishing from the issue number – September 5, 1919 – and from an issue of the Mountaineer when it stopped the presses on June 28, 1920.
The 102-year-old copy of The Mountain Tourist – along with another rare newspaper – will be donated to State Library by the Monbulk Historical Society, which Mr Richter became president of in 2021.
Now the newspapers will soon form part of the digitialisation program and will be made available for the public to read.
Copies of The Mountaineer and other digitally uploaded newspapers can be found at trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/29546108
Mr Richter also hopes the community may be able to uncover more copies of The Mountain Tourist, now its been highlighted as a rare and valuable item of history.