The word legend is tossed around far too lightly these days.
However, after editing the Singleton Argus for nine years, then launching The Hunter River Times during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Di Sneddon has certainly achieved legendary status! Very down to earth, Di would bristle at such language.
As a reporter and then editor, Di is more at ease writing rather than being written about. However, she recently agreed to have a chat with me.
Di, tell me about your family links to Singleton?
I’m a fourth-generation Singletonian. My great grandfather moved here in the late 1800s and owned the haberdashery store. I’ve got four siblings, one of whom lives in Singleton. Two are in nearby Newcastle, and one is in Queensland. I’ve lived in Singleton all my life. I married into a local family. My husband is a third generation Singletonian! All of his siblings live in Singleton. Mum’s around one corner, and my inlaws are around another! My two sons both have children and live in Singleton. I always say when you find the best place in the world, why move anywhere else?
What do you love about it?
It’s a beautiful community where you care about people, and they care about you. If I need to see the doctor, I’ll call up, and they’ll always fit me in. Another example was when my sister came to visit me from Newcastle. She had to go shopping, but she was running a bit late. As we arrived, the lady had shut the shop and was walking down the street. Then she saw me and I waved. She gestured at the door, and I gave her the thumbs up. My sister said, ‘she’s opening the shop for you?’ And she was! That’s Singleton for you.
You’ve had an illustrious career. How did it begin?
After starting my cadetship at the Argus in 1980, I went into dental nursing for about nine years. Then I went back to reporting in 1989 at the Newcastle Herald until 1993. I left after a run-in with the editor and quit on moral grounds. That week, I went to the pool and ran into the Singleton Argus Editor. She asked me what I was doing, and when I told her I had just quit, she asked me to start the next day. The rest is history.
When you were at the Singleton Argus, were there any stories that captured the essence of the Singleton community?
One of the most amazing experiences was in 1999 when Singleton was a Safe Haven to 500 displaced people from Kosovo. Some of the refugees thought they were going to Austria, so there was a tremendous amount of confusion! People were accommodated at the army base in what was, to put it mildly, second class accommodation. It was the first time I’d ever walked into the supermarket and heard a group of people speaking in a foreign language. It was as if the whole town had gone on a cultural exchange!
It could have worked out badly. However, the Argus took a positive role in trying to let people know what was going on. These were entire families, women, men, children that had lost everything and didn’t even know whether their families back in Kosovo were alive. We had many battles with government departments to have free access to the base to get their stories. We’d talk to the refugees through interpreters, and sometimes things got lost in translation, but we got the message across. The people of Singleton couldn’t do enough, especially the local Red Cross team. People donated blankets, clothes, toys, colouring pencils and books. The local soccer and netball teams gave lessons. There were knitting and crafts classes. The majority of people were just overwhelmingly full of love. I was very proud of how Singleton’s community demonstrated community’s compassion and genuine understanding.
After nine years as the editor at the Singleton Argus, then event-coordinating for Singleton Council, you bravely launched The Hunter River Times at the height of the lockdown. What prompted it?
The Argus parent company decided not to print a lot of their publications, including the Singleton Argus. I just couldn’t believe that when our little country town needed community connection more than ever, they wouldn’t have their local paper. There needed to be a conversation happening locally. So Shane Davey and I started up The Hunter River Times. Our first issue was on the 19th of June 2020, and we’ve just printed our twentieth. We come out once a fortnight and cover the Upper Hunter. It was just going to be Singleton and Muswellbrook then Scone people asked if we could cover their events. Now we’re trying to write stories from as far away as Merriwa and Murrurundi, proving the community’s need for a local paper.
And what was the response from the community?
People are so grateful. It’s not until you’ve lost something, you realise how important it is. We’ve had flowers, cards and letters saying the paper is fantastic, but it is because the community is amazing. We do a very grassroots type of reporting with news and sports. There is also an added overall approach to mindfulness and wellbeing. By the end of reading the paper, I want people to feel as if they live in a good place, where good things are happening. Whether it’s a kid going off to the State swimming carnival or people picking up rubbish on Clean Up Australia Day, it’s a celebration of what they’ve achieved. It’s about making people feel good about their hometown. It’s a pretty amazing job.
Photo note from Di: “I am on the left, pictured with Joy Poole who is a real legend. She was also my year six teacher, my favourite teacher who I have admired and respected ever since I first walked into her classroom. We are pictured comparing notes at the 50th anniversary of the Australian Stockhorse Society celebrations last month.”