The illustrated monthly magazine Walkabout was first published in November 1934 by the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA), which was known as the Australian National Publicity Association from 1940 to 1954. Walkabout’s purpose was to promote travel throughout Australia and attract emigrants. However, under founding managing editor (until 1957) Charles Holmes (1891–1981), the magazine was essentially a geographic magazine aimed at a broad readership.
Walkabout’s content reflected its interest in remote and regional Australia. Articles focused on the unique flora and fauna of these regions, descriptions of the livelihoods of those who lived and worked there, geographic information, regional histories, stories about outback towns and cities, and descriptions of scenic wonders. Technological innovation, such as extensive irrigation schemes, was also a recurring theme, as was the conservation of vulnerable habitats, flora and fauna.
Contributors included several of the mid- 20th century’s most popular writers, including Ion Idriess, Arthur Upfield, Ernestine Hill and (Dame) Mary Durack, and naturalists, including Charles Barrett, David Fleay and Vincent Serventy. Illustrating the magazine were black and white photographs (until the 1960s) and the occasional sketch.
On 1 May 1946, the Australian Geographical Society (AGS) was incorporated, and from August 1946 Walkabout became the society’s official journal. Having always claimed in its subtitle to be ‘Australia’s Geographic Magazine’, it was hoped that the link with the AGS would lend Walkabout greater gravitas and boost its sales. To generate additional articles and photographs befitting a geographic journal, extensive expeditions through Australia’s more remote regions were commissioned, but by late 1955, the cost of mounting such expeditions saw them discontinued.
Walkabout’s initial print run of 20,000 copies increased gradually until paper restrictions during World War II forced a reduction in copies printed and pages per issue, but the magazine managed to maintain its high production values. By the mid-1950s, increasing competition and rising costs necessitated subscription drives—1800 schools were targeted—and saw the introduction of full-colour covers (1959) and an annual 24-page colour supplement from 1961. Colour photographs accompanying articles were introduced in 1965. These efforts were rewarded with average monthly sales peaking in the 1965–66 financial year at 46,908 copies. A number of illustrated anthologies appeared in the 1960s.
This was still not enough for the magazine to realise a net profit, and for the first time it had to be subsidised by the ANTA. Hitherto, Walkabout’s net profits were used by the ANTA to support its other promotional activities. Walkabout did not again become profitable, and a change of publisher—to Sungravure—in late 1970, and a change of direction to more explicitly link the magazine to the travel and leisure consumer—including the addition from August 1971 of a lift-out travel marketing section—failed to boost sales sufficiently.
Editorial policy appeared confused in this more competitive and complex market, and a combined June/July 1974 issue was the last published by Sungravure. An attempt was made to relaunch the magazine in 1978 with the publisher Leisure, Boating, and Speedway Magazines. Commencing in August, it published three consecutive issues; however, the October 1978 issue was the final Walkabout.
REFs: Australian National Travel Association and Walkabout Magazine Records (SLNSW).