With a mix of sadness and a sense of anticipation for what comes next, I have decided to step away from the role of editor at the Westender. It’s a role I have loved over the past four years since giving up paid work and taking over from publisher Kerrod Trott. It has been satisfying to see the Westender grow significantly in readership and community participation.

I came to citizen journalism when volunteering for Margo Kingston’s No Fibs during the 2013 federal election. The project led me to doing some writing for the Westender, and eventually to taking part in a community correspondent project with ABC Radio in Brisbane.

I learned a lot about hyper-local independent media from those experiences. Margo Kingston told me that the idea that journalists are not participants “is ludicrous”. The idea of objectivity, she said, is a lie, and the way to get trust is to acknowledge that you are personally involved and are subjective.

“You are not detached. You’re in it. You’re part of the community. And it’s one of the reasons people give you an interview.”

Margo was right; being local is important. The Westender has been a local print and later online journal since 1992. Kerrod says the Westender is the oldest community news site in Brisbane. Yet, it has never employed a journalist and has always been happy to accept stories from local members and journalism students. So, I am grateful for the opportunity.

In recent years, we’ve seen an erosion of independent media across the country. Increasingly, mainstream media sites are behind paywalls or are subscription-based. It’s difficult now to read a story about our own community in any of the mainstream media in Brisbane unless you pay for it.

The Westender, over the last four years at least, has been ad free, and has always been freely available.

As enjoyable as it is, writing for independent media has its challenges. You have to do your research, find your contacts, find your images or take your own, and often upload your stories and post to social media. People may have noticed the odd typo – some are kind enough to alert me. But knowing when to press the publish button can be a test of confidence, even now.

Westender stories over the past four years have covered such topics as development proposals, especially the controversial Temporary Local Planning Instrument for the Kurilpa sustainable growth precinct (TLPI), green space, green bridges, climate change and the environment, and community responses to the housing affordability crisis. There have also been profiles of community services and West End identities, and, of course, local politics.

West End has experienced significant impacts and changes, not least climate change and floods. We have lived through COVID-19 and all that meant for residents and our businesses. We have experienced ongoing development and a burgeoning population and we are seeing the direct results of a nationwide housing crisis. Over the same period, we have seen a shift in voter allegiances from Labor across all three levels of government to The Greens as people look for solutions for housing affordability, over-development, and climate impacts.

We have celebrated with Westenders recognised for their contributions to the community; Jo-Anne (Jo) Bragg, General Counsel at the Environmental Defenders Office, was awarded a medal in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2022. Last year, Fiona Stager of the much-loved Avid Reader, and Mark McDonnell, the founder of West End’s Community Friends, were both awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

And we mourned the passing of notables, Uncle Sam Watson, Norma Morgan and Donnie ‘Blind Dog’ Burke.

The strength of the Westender model has been enabling collaboration between experienced writers and community-based contributors. As I move on to a new venture, I would like to thank our readers for your support, and all those who have written for the Westender over the last four years. They have included journalism students who now have jobs with mainstream media, including the ABC. Thanks especially to Ned Hammond and Jade MacBeth, who contributed ideas and stories, also to Brooklyn Self, Scout Wallen and Emily Lowe.

I would also like to thank our local schools, community groups and services for their engagement with the Westender. Members of Kurilpa Futures, and West End Community Association president Seleanah More, have always been available for comment on issues that matter to the community.

Writers over the past four years have included experienced journalists and local community members, some doing one-off stories, others writing a series.

Arts writer Ian Were has entertained us with his arts and film reviews. Kery McGovern and local journalist Rose Lane have also supplied local stories and theatre reviews.

Phil Vanderzeil penned a series of delightful profiles of prominent Westenders and our iconic businesses, from Peter Marinelli’s Swiss Deli, to Shay Shoes, and King Ahiram café, which was lost to fire in 2022.

Mary Maher contributed news on climate and the environment, and Rachel Gallagher recently provided a wonderful series on housing and planning, and why zoning matters.

Award winning filmmaker Christine Schindler started a segment on independent documentaries before she left to expand her journalism career. It was lovely to work with Brisbane State High student Austin Chen who told stories from the perspective of younger people in our community. West End local Ben Powell, who works in the renewable energy sector published a series of stories about adapting his Queenslander home to be more energy efficient.

Amongst other contributors have been Maeve Cunnington, sociologist Peter Walters, Dick Bennett of Brisbane Seniors Online, former Mayor, Tim Quinn, business owner Kaz Kelly, the wonderful, Kylie Deen and other staff from West End Community House, and urban planners, Phil Heywood and Laurel Johnson. Thanks also to Anna Campbell of Queensland Walks, historian Anne Monsour, and Elizabeth Handley of Brisbane Residents United. Dr Bronwyn Fredericks wrote a personal plea to us to support the Uluru Statement from the heart. I am grateful for contributions from Dave Copeman of QCC, David Carberry of Shock Therapy Productions, local history blogger Paul Granville, writers Stephanie Dale and Steve Capelin, Sebastian Vanderzeil of Resilient Kurilpa and WECA, planning and environmental law expert Philippa England, Belinda McCartney, Vikki Uhlmann, Hannah Schuch, John Mongard, Emma Bacon, Michael Tansky, John Jiggens, Sally Dillon, Jess Wallis and Paul King.

Apologies to anyone I have missed.

Of course, none of this could happen without people agreeing to comment and to be interviewed; it is a testament of trust that they have agreed to sit down with us.

Thank you to our elected representatives for their availability over the years: Terry Butler, Helen Abrahams, Jackie Trad, Jonathan Sriranganathan, Amy McMahon, Max Chandler-Mather and Trina Massey. I have always enjoyed our conversations and I continue to hope for a local politics characterised by the contest of ideas, rather than by party tribalism.

This year, I embark on a new venture, a work in progress. Keep an eye on your socials for updates.

The Westender’s legacy is an archive of our shared community experiences, so I am excited to watch its continued growth from the sidelines.

Kerrod Trott will resume the editor role, and you can contact him at info@westender.com.au.