After 40 years of working for NewsCorp suburban newspapers, journalist Di Bartok was farewelled by friends and colleagues at a rousing event at Parramatta’s Albion Hotel last Friday. The Lord Mayor of Parramatta, John Chedid, left, and fellow councillors with state member for Parramatta Geoff Lee all paid warm tribute to her skills and professionalism. Past and present editors, journalists, photographers and staff laughed and reminisced about their shared experiences. Many of Di’s senior colleagues were instrumental in assisting Artswest to flourish as a monthly supplement to the nine then Cumberland (now NewsLocal) weekly papers across western Sydney, from 1985 to 1988. The supplement had a combined monthly circulation of 482,000 and gave a huge boost to arts and cultural development in the region. It continued as a weekly column for another decade after that.
Di was always encouraging. She recorded our local success in advocating the building of the Dundas Community Centre in the 1970s and encouraged us to believe in similar success in our lobbying for a theatre in Parramatta. As a local, she knew the value of easy access and quality venues close to home. Left, Steve Stickney farewells Di on behalf of the NewsLocal team. Di and other senior people present constantly referred to those earlier years of editorial freedom, warm friendships and deep loyalty. “We had the best years, then. It’s not like that now,” they said. Management left editorial staff to make their own decisions. I vividly remember more than one occasion on which an editor decided to ignore an instance of arson and vandalism to mosques and temples. Reporting them would simply have encouraged other attacks.
Times have changed. A few days after her farewell, Di responded to a friend on Facebook, ” . . . one of the reasons NewsCorp was driving me crazy was because of its anti-Muslim stance. And whipping up that fear is behind most Aussies being unsympathetic to asylum seekers. Most don’t even know the difference between asylum seekers and refugees.”
More information about Artswest can be found in my book Passion Purpose Meaning – Arts Activism in Western Sydney, Chapter 13 “Artswest – a Venture in Journalism 1985″.