The Romsey Rag (Established 1984)

In the early 1980s a photocopying machine was a luxury in a Primary School and in Romsey local news was conveyed via the school’s weekly duplicated Newsletter or in the only local newspaper, located in Sunbury.  Local contributions to that paper were either not printed or heavily edited.  There was clearly a need for a local newspaper.

A few locals were inspired by the “Wallan Whisper” a free community publication and Barbara Rowlands (committee member of the Wallan Whisper) was invited  to explain how the Wallan Whisper operated. Trevor Turnham (principal Romsey P. S.), Beryl Cole, Bev Large and Val Lobb formed the first editorial/publication committee undertaking responsibility for organising content and duplicating a community news sheet that would become known (following a suggestion from Val Lobb) as “The Romsey Rag”, three sheets of A4 printed on both sides.  A humble beginning for a now widely distributed and important community newsletter that has been nurtured by successive groups of dedicated volunteers.  These people have ensured that the professional edition we now get each month reflects our community.

In 1984 a $500.00 grant was made available through  the Victorian Education Department’s “School’s Improvement Program” and on the 15th of August the first edition of The Romsey Rag (Marked “Collector’s Edition) was published.  This edition was made using the black ink and wax stencils on a Gestetner Duplicator.

In the early years the Gestetner duplicator was apt to leave black ink marks on hands and clothing.  Elsie Patterson covered up with  a black apron and other members of the committee took to wearing mostly black clothing.  If the stencil was not creased a reasonably legible copy of The Romsey Rag would be printed, collated and stapled in the top left hand corner.

The first few editions of The Romsey Rag were collated on Beryl Cole’s kitchen table to be later delivered to people’s letter boxes by members of the Uniting Church’s Youth Group.  Soon after Helen Watts formed the Romsey Walking Group; she encouraged members to assist with collation and delivery, a role which continued right up to the end of 2017.  Originally collation was one hour of walking around the table picking up pages ready for stapling, (by 2017 this had extended to three hours!) the group would then deliver to the community.  When Helen left the area Joan Sparkes took over this co-ordination role and continued until late 2017.

The committee felt that The Romsey Rag should feature more than just school news.  Articles on activities by all groups from Romsey and surrounding districts were sought.  This sort off information would not be carried by the local Sunbury based paper.  Articles solicited from local community groups would be dropped off at the Romsey Post Office from where Beryl would organise typing.

The 1984 Romsey community was alive and well.  The first edition listed contact details for 44 groups and clubs within the area.  These included the Romsey Fire Brigade, the Play Group, the Red Cross, the Progress Association, the Scouts & Guides, Windaring, the Nursing Mothers, the Golf, Football, Netball, Cricket, Bowls and Tennis clubs, the Historical Society the youth group and all the local churches.

In the early years regular contributors included The Romsey Rambler (later identified as the Rev Adrian Peglar), Jean Clement, Syd Wheller (who wrote a column entitled “Your Romsey Garden”) and Beryl Cole, whose monthly recipes were eagerly anticipated.

Over the years many people have been involved in the typing, duplicating, collation and distribution of  this ongoing, volunteer produced community resource.  In the early years typing was completed by Val Lobb, Bev Large and Laurel Mills.  In 1989 Margaret Howatson not only became involved in the typing but also became involved with The Rag’s sponsorship and advertising.

Jeni Clampit, the Primary School’s secretary from 1983 to 2004, took over the typing when Margaret left the area.  Sponsors were encouraged to help cover the costs of each edition, their donation guaranteed that their message would be featured on the front page.

Once computers and word processing were introduced to the school the production of The Rag became quicker and simpler.  Local businesses and tradespeople began to advertise their services each month and the “Front Page Sponsorship” became much sought after.

The Romsey Rag continued at the Primary School as each new principal arrived.  After Trevor Turnham retired in 1999 some principals, Barney Healey & Joan Gibbs, provided encouragement and support by acting a proof readers and by organising the traditional monthly contribution of school news.  Robyn Moore (Sec Romsey P. S.) and Gillian Gorrie were tireless workers for The Rag.  They organised content, printing and assisted with collation of each month’s edition.

In recent years, as the school has grown, space has been at a premium.  The room where The Rag was collated was often required for the day to day operations by the school.   On occasions, when volunteer numbers were low (usually winter when the birds fly south) the Gr 5 or 6 teachers might be asked to assist collation by allowing a few children to assist for an hour or two so “Working With Children Card” accreditation became a requirement of anyone regularly attending the school to organise, print or collate The Rag.

The June 2017  edition of The Romsey Rag June edition saw the front page carry this message;

A meeting will be held at the school on Tuesday 20th June at 5:30pm.

We ask that any community members who are interested in leading or being a part of a committee to run “The Rag “and set a new direction for it attend the meeting. “The Rag” needs a committee to love and nurture it. Currently the Rag does not have a committee or board managing the paper and this is desperately needed. If a committee is not established the Rag will need to cease in the next 2 months.

We look forward to seeing community members who want to save or transform the Rag at the community meeting on Tuesday 20th of June.

Kind regards,
Romsey Primary School Council

Numerous locals attended that meeting and a steering committee was formed.  There were many meetings of the steering committee and between the steering committee and the school.  Sadly the last copy The Romsey Rag published at the primary school was the December 2017 edition.  In December of 2017 The Romsey Rag became an “Incorporated Body” with its own Australian Business Number (ABN)

The Romsey Rag had to begin again, we had no home, no money and no machinery.  To assist us to get off the ground we offered “For Profit” and “Not For Profit” memberships as well as one-off advertising.  The memberships provided local NFP groups with a half-page report for five or eleven months each year.

Research told us that many community papers were now printed professionally and often contained at least four pages with colour content.  Newspaper House in Kilmore was approached and they agreed to print and deliver 1,500 copies each month to Romsey.  To cut costs it was decided to cease delivery to individual houses and PO boxes, this had seen numerous people receive two, three or even four copies of The Rag.  For the first six-months of 2018 The Rag was put together with considerable assistance from The Romsey Neighbourhood House, our thanks to the RNH committee and to Sandy lamb who did a lot of work in those early months.  .

The Post Office, IGA, The Service Station and The Library were approached and asked if they would host copies of The Rag each month.  Community members could pick up their own copy from these and other locations within the town.

Gillian left the Committee of Management (CoM) in June 2018 and later in the year Russell Millar, a driving force behind the new Romsey Rag, died after a short battle with cancer.

The 2018/19 CoM was fortunate to have Shauna Martin as Editor and Karen Read as Treasurer.  These two individuals personified the hard work and dedication of so many of The Romsey Rag volunteers who have come before them.

During 2018 work was started on a Romsey Rag website.  The website was uploaded to the web in February 2019.

Each year, in October, the Romsey Rag Committee of Management (CoM) holds its AGM.  These meetings are held in the Noel Shaw Committee Room (or The Supper Room) at the Romsey Mechanics’ Institute (RMI).  We share the refurbished Committee Room with the RMI CoM; it is also available for hire by community groups.

By 2021 Karen Reid had stepped back as Treasurer and Shauna Martin had a new job in central NSW.  The CoM sought assistance from the local secondary schools and from within the community to help with editing the Rag.  Finally, after discussions with Newspaper House, in Kilmore, it was decided that the group who printed the Rag would also be responsible for layout.  CoM members would still edit content and would have final say on each edition of the Rag.  This took a great deal of pressure off the CoM; the professionals at NPH were highly experienced in layout and the most current software and were able to produce a very attractive article, so a win-win situation.