A history of local news in Benalla

By Simon Ruppert

The Benalla Family Research Group has been submitting articles on Benalla's past.

The latest follows the history of local news in Benalla.

The Benalla Ensign began publication in 1857 and was the first paper in the Benalla district.

It was known as The Benalla Ensign and Farmers’ and Squatters’ Journal in 1868.

This was superseded by the North Eastern Ensign in April 1872 and was published under this title until February 1938 when it returned to the original name.

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The owners from 1887 to 1977 were the O'Shea Family.

John Guare O'Shea was born at Kilmore in 1858.

When he was 16 he started his apprenticeship in the printing trade at the Kilmore Free Press office and began his journalistic career under the guidance of a prominent Victorian journalist, the Hon. Thomas Hunt.

Within four years he became editor of Hunt’s paper and not long after, he moved to Tungamah where he was appointed editor of the Moira Independent.

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Following this position he took charge of the Booroondara Standard for a short period and, still unsettled, he made yet another change by transferring his energies to the Despatch at Wangaratta for nearly two years.

It was there that he decided to purchase The North Eastern Ensign, which he ably conducted for close on 37 years, during which period he also purchased the Woodend Star.

John married Mary Ann Mullins in South Melbourne in 1890.

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Mary was born in County Limerick, Ireland, and when a young woman she came to Australia on a trip with friends and relatives.

She returned to Ireland for a few years and then returned to Australia to make it her permanent home.

Following her marriage to John she came to Benalla where she made her home and resided for more than half a century.

During the whole of that time she took a very personal interest in the publication of the Benalla Ensign, and, on the death of her husband, 26 years prior to her own death, she continued its publication with members of her family, namely John and Maie O’Shea.

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John and Mary had six children, the first child, born in 1893, John Guare O’Shea - he only survived for three months.

The following year in 1894 Eileen Guare O’Shea was born. She would become a primary teacher at State School 31 and Benalla East.

Harold Guare O’Shea was born in 1897 and was richly endowed with much of the talent and ability of his gifted father.

He was educated at St Joseph's School, Benalla High School, and later studied Law at the University of Melbourne.

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During 30 years’ association with the Customs Department in Melbourne he was attached to the Investigation Department.

In 1898 Kathleen Guare O’Shea was born. At the age of 28 Kathleen married Jack Green who worked in the Bank of Victoria.

In 1900 twins John (Jack) Guare O’Shea and Mary (Maie) Guare O’Shea were born.

The O’Shea family lived in Cecil St; their home being known as Tara.

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All the O’Shea siblings contributed to the newspaper in various ways, but it was the twins, Jack and Maie, who took control after their father’s death in 1925.

For more than 50 years they were the disseminators of information to the community of Benalla and district.

When John Jr O’Shea died in early 1977, Maie took on the roles of editor and reporter for a short period of time until her retirement later in that same year.

She enjoyed 10 years of retirement prior to her death in 1987.