The first issue of the Opunake Times was published on 3 July 1894. It was started by journalist Michael Brennan (1854-1920), who had previously worked on the Wanganui Chronicle and has established the Waimate Witness at Manaia. His writing was described as ‘forcible and able’ and the first issue of his new paper as ‘well got up, and neatly printed’.
At the time Opunake was a small port town in south Taranaki. It began as a military redoubt, established near Te Namu pā during the Taranaki wars of the 1860s. Although the town was first laid out in 1867, Pakeha settlement didn’t really begin until the 1880s, after the 1881 invasion of Parihaka and the construction of a wharf at Opunake in the same year.
The first newspaper to be published in Opunake was the weekly Egmont Courier and Waimate Plains Advocate, which began in September 1883. This paper was established by Patrick Galvin (1847-1937), formerly of the Hawera Star. It only lasted 6 months, with the final issue appearing on 1 March 1884. Galvin’s final editorial said the paper ‘was a little before its time’ but that he was sure that within 12 to 18 months another newspaper would take its place.
It took a few more years than Galvin predicted but once the Opunake Times started, it ran for the next 55 years. For most of that time it came out twice-weekly, on Tuesdays and Fridays, except for a short period between 1942 and 1946 when it dropped down to once a week. It was delivered as far north as Ōkato and as far south as Hawera and inland to Eltham.
Brennan’s aim for the Opunake Times had been to promote the district and encourage settlement as he believed it was one of the finest pastoral and agricultural areas in New Zealand. As well, although the wars were over by the time the Opunake Times began, many of the prisoners taken at Parihaka were still returning to the area during the 1890s and the paper records some of the tensions that continued to exist in the area.
Over its 55 years, the Opunake Times had a number of owners. In 1895 Brennan formed a partnership with printer George Philip Armstrong. They ran the paper together until 1905, when Brennan decided to go farming. Brennan bought the Opunake Times back in 1908 and continued to run it until his son Arthur took it over. Arthur then sold it to Timothy Hickey (1889-c.1974), a local who had been a farmer before World War I. Hickey subsequently sold the paper to Charles Marcroft in 1930. Marcroft, who had previously worked on the Waikato Times, owned the Opunake Times for seven years before selling it to Charles Rush, who then sold it to Charles Jackson in 1946.
Jackson closed the Opunake Times on 20 December 1949. One of the main reasons for closing the paper was that he’d been unable to attract a qualified tradesman to move to Opunake because of a local housing shortage. Staying true to the paper’s original raison d’etre his last editorial, rather than focusing on the closure, pushed for the community to join together to get some movement on local amenities such as better streets, footpaths and drainage.
Opunake was without a local newspaper until the Opunake News, a free paper put out by the local retailers, started in 1969. It closed in 1982. Ten years later, another newspaper, also called the Opunake News began. A free fortnightly newspaper, its title changed to the Opunake & Coastal News in 1992.