GAWLER, Saturday, September 5, 1863:
Beneath the nineteenth-century dignity of colonial Gawler ran an undercurrent of excitement. Somewhere in the mildness of the spring afternoon an antiquated press clacked out a monotonous rhythm with a purpose never before known in the town. Then the undercurrent burst in a wave of jubilation - Gawler's first newspaper, "The Bunyip", was on the streets.
In the annals of the Australian Press it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a more intriguing or picturesque event than the birth of this newspaper. It would also be difficult to find a quainter or more picturesque editorial staff than the Honourable Fraternity of Humbugs who penned and published the first issue of "The Bunyip," which was almost as quaint as its authors.
"The Bunyip" - or Gawler Humbug Society's Chronicle, Flam! Bam! ! Sham! ! ! No. 1-Price 6d. " This was the sum total of the wording of the first masthead - a masthead which has remained essentially the same for over 120 years, acquiring through the years the prestige of a known reliable organ-a community institution - to add to the irreplaceable tradition endowed by the Humbug Society. The publication made its first appearance under the management of Mr. Wm. Barnet and editorship of Dr. Nott. Its columns breathed of the wit and satire of some of the members of that illustrious group, the Humbug Society. So pungent was the comment that a libel action arose out of the first issue. This was heralded by the Editorial of October 3 which announced: "A Dr. William Home Popham, of Gawler, has through his solicitors, Messrs. Hardy and Cooper, first sent us, (or rather the publishers ), a letter, threatening legal proceedings, and followed this up by a writ, to which Mr. Barnet, the publisher, has very properly put in an appearance . " The result - a fine of one shilling. One issue-one libel suit, was not an enviable record, but this has been relegated to one libel action in 121 years, so it can be seen that "The Bunyip" learnt a fast lesson.
As E. H. Coombe, one of the editors of "The Bunyip," put it in his History of Gawler: "The founder and his allies, nothing daunted, continued their course to the delight of the townspeople and many other colonists, and the enhancement of the literary reputation of Gawler." (Known as "the Colonial Athens," it was a cultural centre even before Adelaide ) .
"The early numbers of "The Bunyip" literally gleamed with satirical coruscations and flashes of wit, and between the lines one can discern the genius and culture of such men as Dr. Nott, E.L. Grundy and Geo. Isaacs ('A. Pendragon' ) . "
"The Bunyip" was issued as a monthly in pamphlet form until January, 1865, after which it appeared as a bi-monthly broadsheet. With its more frequent publication it became less of a satirical organ and more of the orthodox, sober chronicle of passing events and developing opinions. In January 1866 it became a weekly and the price was reduced to 3d. per copy until January 1885, when its price was ld. In February 1885 disaster struck. Fire gutted the premises as well as those adjoining, irreplaceable records were lost for ever, machinery and equipment destroyed.
No such business could rise again from the charred ruins of that particular building, so "The Bunyip" had to find a new home„which it did in Jones' Buildings. The founder, Mr. Wm. Barnet, (see photo, above) lived for 32 years after he brought out the first issue, and after his death in 1895 the managerial position was taken over by his son, Mr. R. H. Barnet. His brother, Mr. F. L. Barnet, later took over as manager until his death, when his wife took the reins until her death and the return of her son, Mr. Ken Barnet, from war service. Mr. John Barnet took over from his father as managing editor in 1975 after eight years' experience on daily newspapers in Adelaide and Sydney.
As noted earlier the Bunyip was founded as the Chronicle of the Society, the choice of this name is of interest, being as follows:-
"Why the Bunyip? Because the Bunyip is the true type of Australian Humbug! Go where you will in Australia, the poor benighted blackfellow, if he wishes to astonish you with unheard of marvels, or strike you with supreme terror, raises before you the shadow of the mysterious Bunyip - ever near - ever promising to appear - but ever eluding sight and grasp (ed note like Vapourware!) - true type of Humbug."
Or a more likely derivative of the name-
"It (Bunyip) is used by the aboriginals to describe an amphibious animal, the existence of which they implicitly believe in, but which is regarded by the white man as something rather mystical. Probably it may be the old Bogey of the Blackfellow. The paleface considers it as a sort of land sea serpent. The only probable explanation that can be attached to the native superstition is that at some time or other a species of the alligator, or American cayman, may have inhabited some of the inland swamps, and as ignorance is very imaginative been magnified into something very dreadful as the bunyip."