The Torch

Jason Clare, Member for Blaxland

Next month a very special part of Bankstown turns 90: the Torch. When the first issue of the Torch rolled off the hand-operated press 90 years ago, Bankstown was a bush town, silent movies ran at the Empire Theatre, horses were a common form of transport and the going rate for an acre of land was £50. The Torch was started by Les Engisch, a dedicated community man with a flare for sniffing out a yarn. He started what would become a family business, passed down through four generations. Today Les’s grandson John is at the helm. He learnt the trade from his father and in turn has passed it on to his sons, Trent and Christian. Trent is now the general manager and Christian is the web press manager.

The big news in the first edition of the Torch was the installation of a drinking fountain at the corner of Liverpool Road and Hector Street. The local residents were so pleased they sent a letter to Bankstown Council thanking them for their prized new facility. The councillors were so excited by the rare praise, they had the letter framed. Since then the Torch has covered every major event in Bankstown: its proclamation as a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1980; the dismissal of three Bankstown councils; the burning down of the council itself; and the elevation of one of its local sons to the office of Prime Minister of Australia. Bankstown is nothing if not an interesting place.

On 11 April 1955 the Torch itself made headlines when an explosion blew the roof off the building and it was gutted by fire. It was an interesting time for newspapers in Bankstown. The following month the editor and a journalist from the competition, the Bankstown Observer, were imprisoned by the Australian parliament for contempt— the only time this has ever happened. The Observer is now long gone, but the Torch has never gone out.

The Torch does not just write about Bankstown; it is part of it. Les was on the board of Bankstown Hospital for 21 years. His son Phil was also on the board and a great friend of Bankstown Rotary and local sporting teams. His son John has raised more than $1½ million for charity as chairman of the Queen of Bankstown Quest. And now his sons Trent and Christian continue that tradition. They run the Bankstown Relay for Life, and in the past few years they have raised more than $486,000 for cancer research. This would not have happened without the Torch and the Engisch family—they run it, they make it happen. They are as much a part of the history of Bankstown as the Waugh brothers, Bryan Brown or Paul Keating. They have been around a lot longer too—and they still have a lot more stories to tell. I congratulate the team at the Torch on everything that they have achieved in 90 years and I wish them all the best for the next 90.