Former Hills Gazette editor reflects on a decade with the paper

Michael Palmer in his Hills Gazette days.
Michael Palmer in his Hills Gazette days.

Michael Palmer worked on the Hills Gazette from 1994 to 2003. He reflects on a decade of his time with the newspaper.

MY first experience with the Hills Gazette was in early 1993, when three months out of university I drove out to what to me seemed to be the country for a job interview.

A university tutor had let me know of a vacancy at the Avon Valley Advocate in Northam, which at the time was a sister paper of the Gazette.

I had borrowed one of Dad’s black jackets and had my best black pants on, wearing what I thought would be suitable attire for an interview – and then-|editor Howard Gaskin greeted me with “you look like you’re dressed for a bloody funeral”.

I was back at the Gazette 15 months later when one of the Gazette’s editorial team – which at the time comprised an editor and three journalists – had taken on a new job and I took up the transfer from Northam.

Over the years I became editor of the Gazette and after a stint at the Midland-Kalamunda Reporter I became eastern region editor, overseeing both papers until I moved on in 2003.

The one issue I remember dominating the news during my nine years covering the Hills still dominates today – the risk of bushfires.

Fires that come to mind include incidents in Darlington, Stoneville and Chidlow.

Before the days of mobile phones and media protocol, my approach was to listen for sirens, look for a plume of smoke and drive towards it. During my time at the Gazette I developed a knowledge of local roads, which put me in good stead when I managed to find myself driving out from behind the cordon brigades had set up to keep people away.

During a fire in Chidlow I found the command post and spent some time talking to firies. I went to drive out, only to be told the fire had cut us off and I’d have to wait until it was clear.

I returned to the office several hours later reeking of smoke and had to call my now-wife, who knew of my fire reporting activities.

Mundaring made the state news in 1996 when Mundaring Weir overflowed for the first time since 1978.

The small school of Mt Helena Primary School also made the state news when it was discovered asbestos was in its roof. Calls to have the roof replaced included parents and students coming all the way down Greenmount Hill and marching around the Education Department’s headquarters at Silver City in East Perth.

On the local front, a proposal from the then-Department of Land Administration to rezone areas set aside as reserves had residents up in arms, with the plan eventually abandoned.

KFC used to stand me in good stead while killing time before going to council meetings but an application from it to erect a sign at its store at the recently-constructed Mundaring Village left a bad taste in some people’s mouths, who didn’t want a “bucket of chips” on the highway. Some months after the sign was erected, several trees that were standing in front of it were mysteriously removed.

I was taken aback when I revisited the area last year and found Hungry Jack’s was now sitting where the Gazette office used to be.

Working at the Hills Gazette was more than just covering the news – it was also about being part of the community. I bought a new pair of glasses from the Mundaring Spectacle Maker, got my tax done by local accountant Ian Cover (to get there I had to walk over a vacant block which later became Mundaring Village), walked down the road to the Mundaring Arts Centre to buy presents, bought a Star Trek Enterprise model kit from the local hobby shop (which I still have today) and had my car serviced at the local servo after cruising down Greenmount Hill in neutral the previous night to avoid it overheating.

Ironically, the Hills Gazette and I were both created in the same year.

I hope that for both of us, the story is not yet over.

Michael Palmer is currently chief sub-editor at Community News.