They don't cover 'murder or mayhem', they track the royals (English and Danish), and they keep it short and sweet. The volunteers and listeners of News on Wheels take Carolyn Millet behind the scenes.
THERE’S a community group in Tamworth that’s been around for almost 30 years, has overheads of just $5000 a year and requires only a modest contribution of time from its volunteers, but has a profound impact on people’s sense of connection with the world.
These days, most of us receive information from almost innumerable sources worldwide: TV, radio, social media, newspapers, magazines, news websites, and good old-fashioned word of mouth.
But when some of those are not accessible – for example, for people with visual impairments or who are isolated – News on Wheels is one more option to keep in touch.
BEHIND THE NEWS
News on Wheels president Suzanne Turner says there are about 18 readers and four technicians who record the news on a rotating basis on Saturdays at St Andrews Village hall.
She says they try to tailor their digests to their audience, who are based across the New England and are largely elderly.
“We try not to be Tamworth-centric [and] the clue with elderly people is not to bombard them,” Suzanne says.
“My ethos is lots of little news articles rather than one big one; read a long article and they’ll fall asleep.
“I try to get at least 34 news articles out of my newspapers.
“We don’t read about murder, mayhem, robbery … that will worry them. We try to keep it lighthearted.
“Of course, we always read about the royals in both England and Denmark.
“We remind people to get their flu shots, warn them about scams targeting elderly people – we try to cover as much helpful information as we can.”
Another reader, who has been involved in the group for 11 years, is Elizabeth Hingston.
She learnt about it after she moved from Attunga to Tamworth and started meeting people.
One of them was Tamworth’s George Nethery OAM, who along with Manilla’s Joe McManamon (both have since died) founded News on Wheels for a friend who’d had a serious road accident that left him with quadriplegia and unable to read.
“Back then, 2006, the recording was done through a machine onto a cassette tape ... George would then take this one recorded tape home with him on Saturday and spend the next day-and-a-half running off about another dozen tapes – in those days it was a pretty full-on job.”
Elizabeth says every pair of readers has their own “personal touch”.
“Not only do the two of us read, but we also have little jokes between the two of us, we make comments on what the other person has read. It’s a very personal and very animated hour.”
She says she’ll continue reading “whilever I’m upright”.
“I shall do that as long as they need me.”
Evrol Keeys has been a technician for five years.
The former Sydney insurance broker retired to Tamworth to be closer to his son and daughter, who have 10 children between them.
“I believe still that News on Wheels is most underrated and underutilised – most people don’t know about it, but it’s a marvellous facility and very, very worthwhile to be involved in,” he says.
These days the readers record onto a laptop hard disk, then a tech transfers that onto one CD and uses another machine to run off 10 more at a time.
Evrol says about 40 CDs go out per week.
“We see ourselves as providing the news in exactly the same way as if a couple of us are sitting in someone's loungeroom, reading the paper,” he says.
“One person will read something then say, ‘Well how about that, Mabel?’ and you have a bit of discussion about it; maybe someone tells a joke.
“It’s designed to be lighthearted and very informal, and we like people to be part of it; we send cheerios out to people.”
Evrol is also a member of Calala Rotary, which supports News on Wheels along with West Tamworth League Club, Tamworth Regional Council and Australia Post.
This means that stallholders and shoppers at the club’s two markets – in Calala and Peel St – indirectly help keep News on Wheels going.
“It’s all a cycle, it’s all a circle and one aspect supports the other,” he says.
“This is one of the things that makes Tamworth a great town.”
KEEPING IN TOUCH
While elderly people make up a large proportion of listeners, there is at least one subscriber who breaks the mold.
Tony Hawkins, 36, receives the service because he’s been blind from birth.
“I suppose [I listen] to learn about Tamworth and my local area,” Tony says.
“I enjoy people stories and maybe what new shops are coming, and when they used to do the letters to the editor and the thumbs up, thumbs down.”
Tony says he’s particularly interested in local history items, and overall the service helps him stay informed as someone who’s involved in the media himself.
He’s been an announcer with 88.9FM for many years, after having done work experience there as a school student.
In fact, Tony’s been a News on Wheels listener since way back then – so long ago that his mum can’t quite remember when or why she signed him up.
Jill Hawkins thinks Tony would have been about nine or 10 years old and studying the news at school.
“It enabled him to have access to a local newspaper, so it was a normality, I guess,” Jill says.
“It just gave him something else he could do without someone having to sit down and read the newspaper to him at home … just something else that he could do independently because he could.”
News on Wheels would welcome inquiries from potential subscribers or volunteers, and Suzanne says the commitment for a volunteer can be just a few hours per month.
Call Suzanne Turner on 6766 1914 or Evrol Keeys on 0414 782 707.