Rich printing history of the Bombala Times

As the Johnson family printed the Bombala Times each week, there was a sense they were creating a newspaper for future generations. 

The family owned the paper for 47 years, from 1938 to 1985. During that time, Reginald Johnson and his two sons Jock and Jerry felt responsible for recording their local history.

Jerry Johnson, the youngest son, operated the Bombala Times printing press.

“Tthe first place researchers look is the newspaper, so we paid close attention to events and dates, recording with honesty and accuracy.” Mr Johnson said.

Accuracy was crucial in the Bombala Times newsroom as the newspaper was produced by letterpress print. Every letter of every word had to be individually placed by hand before printing.

“Back then news was slower, but it was more accurate,” Mr Johnson said.

In 1966, Jerry and Jock Johnson took over operations from their father and purchased a Miehle quad crown two revolution press in 1967. This significantly sped up the printing process.

The new press was so large the Bombala Times needed to extend the print room. The press was installed during the renovations and once in place, the rest of the room was build around it.

Despite occasional press malfunction, and threats from rising flood waters in 1971, the Johnsons never missed a publication.

“We were self-taught mechanics, we didn’t have time to get someone in to help us” Mr Johnson said.

When the family first bought the paper in 1938, circulation was only 325. In 1985 it had grown to 1700.

Mr Johnson still buys the Bombala Times every week, but said media is vastly different than what it was when he was in the business.

“Good news doesn’t sell these days, only bad news, especially on TV,” he said.

“But in a small town like Bombala, we couldn’t stir the pot like that.”

On Thursday, February 7, 1985, the Bombala Times was printed by letterpress for the last time. A souvenir edition was printed for the occasion.

Mr Johnson and his brother had sold the paper to the Bradley family, who adopted the computerised method of web offset printing to produce the paper.

The press is now in the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, preserved as a relic of early news printing technology in Australia.

The form of the last Bombala Times still sits in the press.

Mr Johnson still keeps copies of the newspaper.

“Now that my memory is fading, it helps to have these records to remind me what happened”, Mr Johnson said.

And thanks to the Johnsons’ meticulous reporting, Bombala can remember too. 

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