IF WALLS could talk, much of the chatter from The Northern Daily Leader building would be off the record.
It has grown new floors and extensions, housed an ever-changing staff performing ever-changing tasks in an ever-changing world; hosted two, three and even four generations of the same family as employees; been the meeting place for numerous future spouses; been the launching pad for many a bright career.
Probably like many places where staff work under pressure, toil long into the night, see the best and worst of human nature and have a reputation for dealing with all of this with black humour and a couple of drinks, many discussions and events in the building are classed as “not for publication”.
But from Saturday, it is no longer home to The Northern Daily Leader.
BUILDING ON VISION
The Leader building was purpose-built for the already long-running newspaper in 1925. Former managing editor John Sommerlad said the proprietors had “had great vision for the future”.
“It was built to grow, because the owners of the Tamworth Newspaper Company had a vision that the newspaper industry would flourish, and it did,” he said.
“They added another story on the top of the original building and also built the side section [which housed Fairfax Rural Events and The Land], and that was built to also be added to in terms of additional floors.”
STORIES AND SPOOKS
Every old workplace has its legends and its characters, and one from the NDL is “the man in the brown coat”.
It’s difficult to know how the ghost story started, but one origin tale is that he was a staff member killed in an accident on the presses in the basement.
Most staff members haven’t had so much as a glimpse, but some say there’s more to it. David Ison said he’d had a couple of experiences he couldn’t explain.
“One day I was walking up the stairwell and I’ve opened the editorial door and all of a sudden I just stopped dead, because I felt somebody standing there … even now thinking about it, the hair on my neck is standing up.”
Another incident happened when he was alone in the building working on ad copy.
“One day, at two or three o’clock in the morning I kept hearing these noises, like footsteps on the floorboards - I just stood up and walked out. I left the computer on, paperwork there - I just said ‘I’m done, I’m outta here’.”
Mr Ison said it was “a fantastic building”.
“I love this building, it’s always been my constant for the last 23 years - it’s been my second home. I’ve got some good lifelong friends out of this place.”
Ann Newling – who was twice editor and the only female in the top newsroom job apart from current editor Fiona Ferguson - said the Leader building was also practically the family home to the Skewes boys.
“Bill Skewes and six of his seven children worked at the Leader in various jobs and at various times,” she said.
“Bill's brother Jack is another legend, who chalked up some 44 years there, and then his son Noel, better known as Blue, worked there for nearly 50 years before retiring around 16 years ago.
“The building has also seen plenty of other father-and-son and brotherly mates on the payroll. The newsroom can also boast of two generations of reporters on the staff and the workforce can also trace marriages and partnerships that have endured, too.”
One couple even had an NDL-themed wedding, having met at work.
Steve Young, who started in 1976 as a proofreader and retired 40 years to the day later, said two major stories came to mind from his tenure in the NDL building: the Tony Windsor phenomenon from 1991 onwards and the rise of independents in formerly safe National Party seats; and late 2006, when the relocation of Sudanese refugees to Tamworth became a national story.
“The Leader editor at the time, David Ellery, really drove the issue, to his credit. The controversy generated many pages of letters to the editor and, in due course, Tamworth Regional Council moderated its stance towards the relocation of refugees,” Mr Young said.
Mr Sommerlad said one of the most memorable episodes in his time was the attack on the World Trade Center in New York city on September 11, 2001.
“The staff came together knowing the magnitude of what had happened, and we produced an afternoon edition of the paper to report on the events,” he said.
“That was a good example of the newspaper answering the call as people searched for answers and information, and it was only possible because everybody pulled together.”
START THE PRESSES
Anna Rose, who started her career as a temporary editorial assistant and retired as a reporter, features writer and sub-editor almost 30 years later, said she “used to absolutely love it when the presses were in the basement of the Leader building”, which most recently was used as storage space.
“That was the most exciting time of the day: when you’d hear those presses roll. I used to like going down there of a nighttime when they were doing the next day’s edition and have a beer with the printers at the end of a shift ... the printers were beautiful guys.”
Ms Newling said she also had fond memories of the presses before their move to Lockheed St then Armstrong St.
“I can remember the nights when the presses were running and the old bottom windows opened to the street - and anyone walking along Brisbane St could peer in and watch what was going on.
“In those days, you would see the teams of women who collated the paper and its inserts and sister publications. Plenty of late-shift workers, like ambos and police, would drop in to pick up an early edition around midnight. The presses were moved to a Lockheed St site in Taminda in 1997 - and so far as we know, those basement doors to the outside world haven't been opened since.”