(From left) Darwen family members Henry, Jim Jnr, Jim Snr, Claude and his son Bill, Roy, Neil Carvolth (son of senior partners) and Stephen (son of Henry).
(From left) Darwen family members Henry, Jim Jnr, Jim Snr, Claude and his son Bill, Roy, Neil Carvolth (son of senior partners) and Stephen (son of Henry).

Behind the pages of the Bowen Independent

INK has run through the veins and stained the fingers of the Darwen family for 117 years, as they have worked at the printing press and out in the community to produce a newspaper that has long been the backbone of Bowen.

It all started on June 13, 1903, when a 28-year-old resident of Bowen, William Henry Darwen, set himself up as a newspaper publisher and printer in a small shop that was part of the premises of the old Grand View Hotel.

He worked to the philosophy that "If you want to run a country newspaper, you have got to get out and work in community organisations. In that way, you not only know what's going on, but can help the community to grow and prosper."

It is clear to see that this mantra has continued to guide the generations that followed in William's footsteps.

William Henry Darwen was the son of James and Elizabeth, who migrated to Australia in 1863 from Lancashire in England.

Fast forward to today and Stephen Darwen still has the ticket that the Darwens arrived in Australia with all those years ago.

After the Darwens arrived, James became Bowen's first professional fisherman but sadly drowned when he slipped and fell overboard while unloading a catch at the jetty steps in 1875.

This left Elizabeth as a widow with eight children and future newspaper man, William Henry, was only one year old.


William Darwen's early careers

William Henry Darwen served as a printing apprentice on the Port Denison Times from 1885 to 1892, which was the oldest weekly sheet north of Rockhampton.

"Plugger" Bill Darwen, as he was known, established the Bowen Independent in 1903 and in the hiatus between the two newspaper roles, he tackled almost every position under the sun.

This included building the first permanent roadway across the black soil section of Newstead with the late Squire Sanders, driving the butcher's cart and growing the first commercial pineapple crop in Bowen for the late Mrs Hall-Scott at Inverdon.

He was conducting a wood supply business from home near the stationmaster's residence when he married Caroline Christofferson in 1897.

Caroline and William Henry Darwen (centre, sitting) with their children in about 1925. Pictured with them are (standing, from left) Henry, Madge, Jim, Ron, Victor, Mabel, Claude, (sitting, from left) Marjorie, Enid, Roy, Bob, Doris and Irene.
Caroline and William Henry Darwen (centre, sitting) with their children in about 1925. Pictured with them are (standing, from left) Henry, Madge, Jim, Ron, Victor, Mabel, Claude, (sitting, from left) Marjorie, Enid, Roy, Bob, Doris and Irene.

Founding the Bowen Independent

William Henry Darwen established the Bowen Independent in 1903, in opposition to the Port Denison Times.

He wrote this story before his death in 1931 about the early years in the newspaper publishing industry:

"The Port Denison Times was founded by Frederick Thomas Rayner, a very clever all-round newspaperman, and for many years battled for the improvement of Bowen, but fate was against him and on his death, the paper changed hands and was conducted on more radical lines and eventually took the side of Labor and was chiefly responsible for the return of the first Labor Member for Bowen (Mr Francis Kenna) to Parliament.

"The more conservative section of the community, smarting under the lash of the Labor organ, encouraged by financial assistance one Mr M. Keane, the founder of the 'Delta Advocate' in Ayr, to come to Bowen and start a newspaper to enable them to have a little representation, and 'The Bowen Record' was established, but on the death of the proprietor a few months afterwards and a life of under two years, the plant was put up for auction."

The bidding for the Bowen Record did not reach reserve, but soon afterwards it was purchased by William Henry Darwen.

The first sheet he ran off the press was the Bowen Independent - on July 13, 1903.

In an obituary written by well-known Bowen journalist of the time A. V. Vennard (Bill Bowyang) after William's death in 1931, he says that taking on the paper was a stupendous task.

"For a man who at that time had little literary talent, but who was faced with the task of making sufficient out of the venture to keep himself and a large family," he wrote.

"With rare grit and determination, so characteristic of the deceased, he tackled the job and succeeded, but it was a hard battle, and some months before his death, Mr Darwen confided to me that he would not have faced such an uphill struggle again."

At the same time, William Darwen was conducting a cycling agency, with the help of a boy, and producing a double demy sheet once a week while also continuing to act as secretary for three local organisations.


Jim Darwen Snr, son of William Henry Darwen who founded the Bowen Independent in 1903.
Jim Darwen Snr, son of William Henry Darwen who founded the Bowen Independent in 1903.


Paper changing hands and a merger

After being issued as a weekly for five years, the services of Mr Myles Ferricks, later state and federal parliamentary representative, was secured and the Bowen Independent was published twice a week.

A year later the Bowen Independent was purchased by the Bowen Newspaper Company and for three months was conducted by Mr Myles Ferricks.

However, Mr Ferricks was lured away by politics and successfully secured the seat of Bowen for Labor.

The changing ownership of the paper was not complete, so the Bowen Independent again fell into the hands of William Darwen.

A few years later, the Port Denison Times and Bowen Advocate ceased publication and until 1918 the Bowen Independent was the only newspaper published in Bowen.

In 1918 the Bowen Chronicle was started by Mr McLeod and Mr Chataway of Mackay, but after a precarious existence of 13 months, it ceased publication in December 1920 and was absorbed into the Bowen Independent.


William's community service

"Plugger" Bill's life did not revolve solely around newspapers, he was heavily involved in many aspects of society.

He was Mayor for three years, an active member of the chamber of commerce, he saved the Town Band from folding on multiple occasions with financial assistance, he was a prominent worker on the local Pastoral and Agricultural Show Committee, a member of the Bowen Turf Club (including holding the different positions including president) and was a remarkable athlete with expertise as a cricketer, foot runner, cycling and sailing.

His services to the district did not go unnoticed, as he is the only Bowen resident to ever be honoured with a publicly subscribed monument - the W.H. Darwen Memorial Band Rotunda at Wangaratta Park.

William Henry Darwen in his bicycle racing gear.
William Henry Darwen in his bicycle racing gear.

Sons step up

When William died in 1931, he left a staff comprised of his sons, Victor, Ronald, James, Henry and Roy. They were joined by Claude and Robert.

In the following year Victor left to establish his own paper, the Collinsville Star, on the nearby coalfield.

Jim stayed on as editor and Ron as manager.

World War II saw the four younger brothers, Claude, Henry, Roy and Bob, away in the services, leaving the elder three to carry on and combine to publish the Independent and the Star.

The post-war period saw the passing of Ron and the departure of Roy in 1950 to Blackall, where he had acquired the Barcoo Independent.

This he published for the next 31 years, while serving the mid-western community in many ways including through the chairmanship of the Blackall Shire Council.

In semi-retirement, he returned part-time to his hometown paper and fitted comfortably into his old niche.

Youngest brother Bob about the same time opted for the regular army and other occupations until his eventual retirement from the waterside workforce.

With the death of Ron, the managership of the business, and eventually the editorial chair, was taken over by Henry in 1950.



Henry Darwen gives all

The fifth son of William, Henry was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and at 17, he began his career as a journalist by reporting the visit to Bowen of State Governor Sir Leslie Wilson.

By the time he had reached the age of 72, he was probably the longest-serving working journalist in the state.

He was also a linotype operator and wrote his stories directly on to the machine until 1950, when he became manager and editor.

His service to the paper was suspended for four years during World War II when, with brothers Claude, Roy and Bob, he served in Australia and the South-West Pacific.

But newspapers were not far from his mind.

Even while serving as an infantry platoon sergeant in Dutch New Guinea, Henry edited a battalion weekly paper printed on a duplicator by his battalion headquarters.

The newspaper, however, always held his main attention and in his profession he was a leader and innovator.

His foresight and planning took the Independent in that period from a weekly of 600 circulation and 10 broadsheet pages to the 5000 circulation and 84 tabloid pages of one of the publication's largest issues.

He planned and brought about the changes from hand-fed to reel-fed and web offset presses and from linotypes to computerised typesetting.

As a leading member paper of the Queensland Country Press Association, the Independent was in the forefront of technological change, especially during the period of Henry's presidency of the association.

As a country newspaper, the Independent was the equal of any in the state.

Henry Darwen with the modern high-speed Goss Community offset press that was installed in 1980.
Henry Darwen with the modern high-speed Goss Community offset press that was installed in 1980.

Henry's dedication to community

Like his father, Henry showed great commitment to getting involved in the Bowen community.

He earned an Order of the British Empire for his "30 years of service to the newspaper industry and a remarkable diversity of community service", the citation read.

This included 12 years in local government, 30 years as a harbour board member with 25 years as chairman, 27 years as an Anglican Church warden, 30 years as founder member of the Bowen Legacy Group, many years as Air-Sea Rescue Squad controller, founder and first commodore of the North Queensland Cruising Yacht Club (and life member of those two bodies) founding member and strong supporter of the Bowen Historical Society, working member of the Bowen Progress Association, Bowen Regional Research and Promotion Bureau, the Festival Committee and, in fact, every movement and function aimed at advancing Bowen.

Henry listed three of his main visible achievement as the building of the Anglican Parish Hall, which he canvassed unceasingly for years, and the building of McKenna Hall, when he organised $300,000 for the project.

Henry's third project and "real" baby was the Bowen Boat Harbour, to achieve which he shamelessly used his influence on the Town Council, Harbour Board and Yacht Club to get plans prepared and "sold" to the Department of Harbours and Marine so money was made available.

His influence was also used to secure the ideal site now occupied by the Yacht Club and to encourage the building of this very fine facility and ornament to the harbour scene.

Henry passed away in 1994.


Third generation of newspapermen

The Bowen Independent was sold to North Queensland Newspapers in 1985 and three of the third generation in the Darwen family continued to work at the newspaper.

Jim, the son of Jim senior, was a linotype operator and worked at the Independent for 12 years before embarking on a 10-year break to enter farming.

He returned in 1972 to train up in photography.

Bill Darwen, the son of Claude, joined as a compositor and operated the former duplex press, before becoming a computer typesetter.

Bill retired in 2011.

The third grandson, Stephen Darwen, has continued to work at the helm of the Bowen Independent as regional manager until this day.

Stephen Darwen is the third generation of the Darwen family to work at the helm of the Bowen Independent.
Stephen Darwen is the third generation of the Darwen family to work at the helm of the Bowen Independent.

Stephen's grand contributions

Stephen, the son of Henry, undertook his four-year apprenticeship in the letterpress machining trade in 1974 and has been working with the Independent ever since.

He initially concentrated on the commercial printing and press departments, having taken over as manager of the printing department in 1990.

In 1991, Stephen was appointed assistant manager and progressed to the managerial position in 1996 (but always the hard worker, he still found the time to carry out trade work between his managerial duties).

For the past 5 years Stephen has been the regional manager and offered a steady guiding hand across a wide area, encompassing the Bowen Independent, Whitsunday Times, Whitsunday Coast Guardian, Burdekin Advocate, The Northern Miner and Herbert River Express.

Under his watch, the Bowen Independent has been incorporated into the Whitsunday newspaper region and its content is now published as part of premium website, whitsundaytimes.com.au

Stephen's aim was always to help create a united Whitsunday region, using the Bowen Independent and its sister titles the Whitsunday Times and Whitsunday Coast Guardian, as facilitators of this co-operation.

He has been proud to see the three titles and regions be united in the digital format.


Stephen continues tradition of community spirit

Stephen was awarded Bowen's 2010 Australia Day Citizen of the Year Award for his incredible contribution, serving as a board member on development and tourism bodies as well as working closely with local small businesses and being instrumental in organising community events.

It may have been his grandfather who first pressed the importance of working in community organisations, but his sons and now his grandson Stephen have continued the legacy.