Paper's history and characters recorded

By Otago Daily Times | Posted: Monday October 28, 2019

Dunedin writer Ron Palenski has been indefatigable in writing the history of the Evening Star newspaper, first published in Dunedin in 1862.


Ron Palenski
Allied Press

Palenski, who himself began his wide-ranging journalistic career on the Star, has cast his net widely indeed.

Skilfully, he has devoted much space not only to the achievements of family members who guided the destinies of the Star until its closure in 1979, but also to the newspaper's employees.

Many readers will probably be unaware of the appearance of some newspapers, most not long-lived, which came on to the market before the turn of the century and later; Palenski traces their rise and fall.

But this is a history of the Star and the author is punctilious in recording the twists and turns of Dunedin's evening newspaper which, facing stiff competition from television and radio, printed its last daily issue (No 36,084) on November 3, 1979.

The Star was fiercely family-oriented from its very beginnings. The book gives ample space to their contributions, right up to the time when Sir Julian Smith (then, Mr Smith) and his younger brother, Nick, sensibly declared the newspaper's innings closed, and continued to oversee the fortunes of Allied Press.

A history of the Star would, of course, not be a complete history were adequate attention not paid to the men and women who staffed the paper.

Palenski has dug deep in discussing the characteristics and achievements of a truly rich assembly, both of journalists and other equally essential staff members.

He has not hesitated in providing the reader with a rich array of anecdotes, some of which would almost qualify for inclusion in a "Believe It or Not" column.

Like what Palenski describes as "Another classic tale of Bell and Brokenshire . . ." (John Bell, a close friend of mine, was both a Star director and senior reporter; Jack Brokenshire was first a reporter and then sub-editor).

It "was the night they had been drinking at the Southern Hotel (later the Southern Sports Bar and Grill, which closed in 2015) by the Oval and `borrowed' a tram from the Dunedin City Corporation tram barn across the road for a quick trip home. They managed to get it to cover some of the distance and left it abandoned in the middle of a road."

Bell, son of Percy Bell, also a former Star director and accomplished journalist, was with the 26th Battalion in World War 2. He took pride in being promoted to lance-corporal on 19 occasions and being demoted back to private for various misdemeanours an equal number of times.

A strength of The Star Of The South is the liberal offering of illustrations, both in monochrome and colour.

Palenski has indeed done the Star proud!

*Disclosure: This reviewer and family members are mentioned in the book.

- Clarke Isaacs is a former ODT chief of staff.

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