Born in a thriving Outback ghost town in the 19th Century, The Betoota Advocate newspaper remained virtually unknown to outsiders until bursting onto the Internet in 2014. Since then, this independently owned and operated news publication has confused and befuddled as many Australians as it has entertained and informed.
“We had an intern come in as part of our new internship program,” explains Editor-at-Large Errol Parker. “I can’t remember her name but she recommended that we put our newspaper out onto the Internet and social media, and ever since then it’s garnered a following from outside the Diamantina, and around the world.”
Major news outlets quickly pilfered the paper’s quirky and unusual articles for their own morning chat shows, sometimes neglecting to mention the source. Queensland’s Diamantina region – named not for the 1977 Little River Band album as some might think but for the mighty, albeit often dry, river that drains into Lake Eyre – breeds them tough. The Advocate’s editor Clancy Overfell has been voracious in making sure that his publication gets the recognition it deserves for breaking important stories, unafraid to back down when confronting the big networks. In some of these battles too, the ABC’s Media Watch program has been a staunch ally.
“We got an exclusive news story that was lifted and basically plagiarised by the Nine Network,” Parker says without any malice about their story, of parking officer Stephen Branks accidentally booking his own car, making morning tabloid TV. “Their Today show basically stripped our news article and published it and barely gave us any credit for breaking the story. Then the good folks there at Media Watch came in to bat for us and really made sure that Channel Nine got their plagiaristic noses rubbed in it.”
Since then other supposedly savvy media outlets have had their noses rubbed in prime Simpson Desert dust by the intrepid Overell and Parker. Brisbane radio station 4BC was another victim when they aired a discussion about a septuagenarian former boxer who beat the crap out of a group of home invaders, a story the Betoota boys had broken.
“[Overell] spoke to 4BC about that piece of news, and that got picked up by Media Watch as well,” Parker says.
Of course, with today’s 24-hour news cycle and revolving door Prime Ministers, the Advocate is never short of something to write about. Whether it’s their current obsession with Bill Shorten’s popularity, the plight of crytocurrency investors or the coming war on Christmas by the Left, there’s always a story on the boiler.
“Each time there’s a shooting in the US, we publish a story about Australia having another peaceful day under our oppressive gun control regime,” Parker remarks. “There’s been a smorgasbord of big issues that have happened [this year]: the ball-tampering, the cataclysmic demise of a deputy Prime Minister, and then you’ve got this constant merry-go-round in Canberra that happens every two weeks. The possibilities are endless.”
Unlike other newspaper that claim independence, The Betoota Advocate is still a family-owned business that’s been handed down since the 1800s. There aren’t, as Parker puts it, “any overlords in their harbourside mansions telling us what we can and what we can’t write,” so they publish whatever they like. It’s important to their small-town beginnings, and there’s no smaller town in Australia than Betoota.
“The style of news we write is very popular out here in the Queensland desert,” Parker says from a landline cleverly disguised with an inner-city Sydney phone number, “and we aren’t about to change the way that we do it to appease some inner city types, so I think we’ll keep on going the way we’ve been going.”
The Advocate, which is based in southwestern Queensland but has a lyrebird on the masthead for some reason, will be on the road in November and December. Parker and Overell are doing a 13-date national speaking tour to explain to other struggling media barons how to keep a newspaper profitable in the digital age. And maybe some other stuff.
“You can expect us to go really in depth in how we do the things we do,” Parker promises, “and you can expect a great insight into one of the best and fastest growing towns in Queensland, and you can expect to be entertained and informed and have a good night out. I don’t really want to give too much away at this point.”