New letters praised the boys as ‘‘sons of loyal citizens’’ whose brothers had served in the Great War and dismissed the whole affair as a practical joke.
The boys were let off, paying £5 to repair a car, prompting one wag to write a poem about a judicial whitewash.
That newspaper, now called Heidelberg Leader, has survived for 123 years, but News Corp announced on Thursday that it was one of 36 titles that would close.
Another of those mastheads, the Northcote Leader, is even older: it first appeared in 1888.
More than 70 other News Corp papers will go digital-only in an attempt to cut costs.
Heidelberg Historical Society secretary Janine Rizzetti is among those mourning her local paper’s loss.
She said the whitewash story and others like it reported ‘‘how people actually lived’’.
‘‘The big events might be reported by the major newspapers but not the events that capture everyday life,’’ she said.
Today, ‘‘social media captures some of it, but it’s so fragmented and ephemeral that historians of the future will find it really hard to pin things down,’’ Dr Rizzetti said.
In future, councils might no longer be reported on, so people ‘‘might be unaware of changes until they happen’’.
Leader’s former head of news Nick Miller, who worked with the newspaper group for 31 years before leaving in 2017, agreed: “It’s sad in that you’d have one or two reporters covering each suburb or each council area, and that has gone,” he said.
“Nobody can do that anymore, in terms of holding those councils to account.”
Dr Rizzetti said local papers were vital channels for historians, with obituaries that spoke of resdents’ youth in early Melbourne; weddings that might tell you what the bride wore; sport reports and accidents.
Or even ‘‘plans for things that didn’t happen’’ such as a 1920s push for trams to Heidelberg.
Camberwell Historical Society president George Fernando said he was sad to see the end of his ‘‘local rag’’ of 50 years, the Progress Leader, formerly the Progress Press.
‘‘I never failed to read my Leader paper, put in my letter box once a week, with all the local news that was so important to us.’’
Aside from council issues the paper also covered storm damage, water pollution and profiled local people. ‘‘Whatever concerns the wellbeing of a small community.’’
Royal Historical Society of Victoria president and La Trobe University Emeritus Professor Richard Broome said the newspaper closures were ‘‘very distressing’’.
Professor Broome said they were ‘‘the heart and soul’’ and ‘‘social cement’’ of communities and help give them an identity.
He described the impact on historians as ‘‘disastrous’’.
Writing a history of Coburg, he found that local papers put faces to the facts, such as drownings, court cases and calls to close Pentridge Prison, in a way that national media or council minutes didn’t give him.
‘‘You get that local colour from local newspapers that you don’t get elsewhere.’’
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.