The Bulletin was an illustrated weekly that became popular with a national readership in the lead-up to Federation and beyond. Founded by J.F. Archibald and John Haynes, this innovative and influential periodical ran from January 1880 until January 2008, with a string of editors and several different owners. Any full account of the weekly would cover the periods of its numerous editors—certainly up until the Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) era. These editors include: Archibald (1880, 1886–1903), W.H. Traill (1881–86), James Edmond (1903–15), S.H. Prior (1915–33), John Webb (1933–48) and David Adams (1948–61). ACP acquired the magazine in 1960, and changed the format to the news magazine style. This resulted in a boost in circulation back to 1890s levels.
A string of editors subsequently struggled to increase and maintain a viable readership during a period of rapid change in publishing, communications technology and corporate management. These ACP editors included Donald Horne, Peter Hastings, Peter Coleman, Trevor Kennedy, David Dale, James Hall, Lyndall Crisp, Gerald Stone, Max Walsh, Kathy Bail and Garry Linnell. The list of the Bulletin’s owners is also significant: Archibald and John Haynes (1880), Traill (1881–83), Archibald, Haynes and Traill (1883–86), Archibald and William McLeod (1887–1914), McLeod (1914–27) and the Prior family (1927–60).
By common consent, the glory days of the Bulletin coincided with Archibald’s editorship and the run-up to Federation. Perhaps the most oft-cited quote about the magazine is Archibald’s pronouncement, ‘the Bulletin is a clever youth. It will become a dull old man’. Sylvia Lawson astutely characterises the magazine during this formative period as ‘the Great Print Circus’, presenting a lively and witty ensemble of subjects, forms, styles and voices. This eclectic, often contradictory but always energetic mix enabled it to boisterously address a broad, popular and heterogeneous audience, which it provocatively imagined as a fully independent national community. One of the more innovative facets of the magazine was the way in which it encouraged its readers to contribute as writers by telling their own stories of who they were and where they lived. In this way it anticipated the Web 2.0 phenomenon of engaging amateur as well as professional expertise wherever and whenever it might be found.
The Bulletin, however, was neither narrow nor idiosyncratically specialised. Archibald’s weekly was interested in international trends as well as regional differences, and it canvassed issues that it thought pertinent to the social contracts required of a disparate nation. These included a republican Australia, one person/one vote, free secular education, criminal and penal reform, a united, protected, white Australia, and the abolition of titles of nobility and the private ownership of land. The weekly was aggressively racist, misogynist, socialist and republican in the late 1880s and early 1890s. After Archibald’s tenure, it became progressively more conservative, with such formats and opinions this view persisting for over half a century, long after they failed to engage a significant national readership.
The Bulletin of the 1890s was especially significant for a new generation of Australian writers and artists because it paid well, and upon receipt of every manuscript or illustration. In art and letters, it displayed a preference for new forms of realism that were compatible with the New Journalism, although its writers and writing remained eclectic. Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Louise Mack, Will Ogilvie, Breaker Morant and Christopher Brennan all contributed to the magazine’s glory days. Black and white artists Phil May, Livingston Hopkins, Lionel and Norman Lindsay, Ambrose and Will Dyson, David Low, D.H. Souter, Alf Vincent, Frank Mahony and George Lambert contributed to a distinctive visual commentary on a wide range of subjects.
The Bulletin may well have been the ‘Bush- man’s Bible’, but it always built much more than a bush mythology. Literary realism and social satire targeted key social and political institutions: marriage, the church, the judiciary, politics and ‘society’. Art, journalism and literature were put to work as important instruments for the development and maintenance of a modern, egalitarian and democratic society. Blended together, they contributed to a vibrant mix of satire, news, gossip, illustration, sport and correspondence, and in this way the Bulletin became an irreverent, boisterous, argumentative and witty magazine.
The Lone Hand (1907–21) was an illustrated monthly born of the Bulletin Publishing Company and modelled on the London Strand. Its four editors were Frank Fox (1907–09), A.H. Adams (1909–11), Bertram Stevens (1912–19) and Walter Jago (1919–21). The first issue was delayed by Archibald’s nervous breakdown, and he never edited the magazine. The name, however, was his preferred title for the Bulletin itself, and harks back to his formative experiences on the North Queensland goldfields in the 1870s. The lone hand was a solitary and enduring figure: masculine and independent, with a wry sense of the human condition. Though increasing competition saw it decline after the Great War, it participated in modern innovations such as celebrity columns and beauty contests, and from 1909 it pre-empted the Home and played an important early role in the reportage of beauty and fashion.
The Bulletin declined in inspiration, circulation and influence after the Great War, though it continued—albeit in more modest forms—to provide space for succeeding generations of Australian writers. Under the editorship of James Edmond, writers such as C.J. Dennis, (Dame) Mary Gilmore, Louis Esson and ‘John O’Brien’ wrote for the magazine; Prior added Kenneth Slessor, Norman Lindsay, and Frank and Nettie Palmer; Webb established the S.H. Prior Award for fiction, which ran from 1935–45, and recognised writers such as Miles Franklin, Kylie Tennant, Douglas Stewart, Gavin Casey and Eve Langley. The literary significance of the magazine enjoyed a second heyday in the 1940s and 1950s when Douglas Stewart took over as editor of the Red Page, publishing writers such as Judith Wright, David Campbell, Rosemary Dobson and Hal Porter. Although it continued to publish literary luminaries such as Frank Moorhouse, Thomas Keneally and Peter Carey to the end, after Stewart it was never again to be at the centre of Australia’s literary networks.
Donald Horne famously removed the slogan ‘Australia for the White Man’ from the masthead in 1961. In 1962, the Bulletin went on sale in South-East Asia. Norman Lindsay’s memoir, Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965), was followed by The Bulletin Book (1966), a compilation of writings and art from the 1960s.
Following Sir Frank Packer’s sale of the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs in 1972, the Bulletin became the only publication where he could express his political or other views until his death in 1974. Alan Reid continued as political correspondent until his retirement in 1985, and was succeeded by Laurie Oakes. Trevor Kennedy, editor from 1972–80, hired the best journalists and cartoonists in the market, ending his reign with circulation nearing 100,000. Content from Newsweek, the international news magazine, was added in 1984.
The 1987 stockmarket crash diminished the Bulletin’s business readership. City readers vanished under the onslaught of free magazine inserts, including the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age’s Good Weekend. The Bulletin was relaunched with a greater business focus in 1999, but this was not enough to stem the tide. The internet helped to create an expectation of faster news cycles, at the expense of a magazine focused on reviewing events of the past week. The Bulletin’s 125th anniversary issue was published in 2005—but the year also saw the death of its patron, Kerry Packer, who had kept the magazine running despite it having lost money for years. In January 2008, CVC Asia Pacific, which had bought ACP the previous year, closed the Bulletin: its last audited circulation was 57,039.
REF: P. Rolfe, The Journalistic Javelin (1979).