Part of News Limited’s regional media holdings since August 2003, this is the oldest newspaper in Victoria and the second oldest in Australia after the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Advertiser started as a weekly on Saturday, 21 November 1840, serving a population of 400, and moved to daily publication in 1849. The Advertiser has maintained continuous publication ever since, with 2013 circulation of 21,291 on weekdays and 37,654 on Saturdays. Now a tabloid, it was first published as a free, four-page demi-folio weekly, printed on the second-hand press Melbourne businessman John Pascoe Fawkner (1792–1869) had used for his short-lived Melbourne Advertiser (1838), shut down because it was unregistered with NSW authorities.
Fawkner commissioned scientist and inventor James Harrison (1816–93) to bring out Geelong’s first newspaper. The ‘man of ink and ice’ was editor until 1865, though with a gap of six years from late 1854. Harrison owned the Geelong Advertiser until 1861 when, overtaken by insolvency, he sold it to Alfred Douglass and Joseph De Little, with the former becoming sole owner in 1864. Refrigeration experiments, including the invention in 1856 of the world’s first ice-making machine, occupied increasing amounts of Harrison’s time. In addition, he stood successfully for office in municipal and later colonial politics. He had also overseen the launch of the bi-weekly Ballarat edition of the Advertiser—the Intelligencer, edited by his brother, Daniel—for Douglass and De Little. The Intelligencer ran from 1849 until 1851, when it was absorbed into the Advertiser to form the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer. By August 1856, the older newspaper had reverted to its original title.
Harrison served as editor of the Advertiser under the new proprietorship until 1865, when he started a rival newspaper, the Geelong Register. In September 1866, he moved to Melbourne, where he pursued refrigeration experiments while working as editor of the Age. The Register was absorbed into the Advertiser in 1869, its second owner, Graham Berry, taking over as the first of a quick succession of Advertiser editors, while Alfred Douglass remained its proprietor until his death in October 1885.
The Geelong Advertiser (known affectionately by readers as ‘the Addy’) punched well above its weight in colonial Melbourne politics. It gazetted much of the early public scrutiny of policy and planning in what became, in 1851, the separate colony of Victoria. On 7 July the same year, the Geelong Advertiser broke the story of the first gold strike at Ballarat with the headline, ‘Gold! Gold! Gold!’—announcing that ‘the long-sought treasure is at last found’. Three years later, a major newspaper libel suit was brought by Crown Prosecutor George Mackay following Harrison’s critical report of his apparent drunkenness on the Bench. As publisher of the offending material, Harrison had £800 (about $73,000) damages awarded against him, but the Geelong populace rallied and raised most of the funds in a show of local support for him.
By 1925, as noted in former Advertiser editor Walter Randolph Brownhill’s The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (1955), the Advertiser had either swallowed or outlived eight rival publications.
Part of the Geelong Advertiser Group—which also includes the free Geelong News (1965– ) and the Echo (published in various local editions since the 1980s)—the Advertiser outsells its Melbourne counterparts in its circulation area, covering most of southern Victoria up to Bendigo and across to the outskirts of Melbourne. More than 280,000 people live in the newspaper’s catchment, and many avidly follow the newspaper’s sponsorship and support of Geelong’s nine-time Premier AFL team, the Cats.
Named the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association 2009 Newspaper of the Year (25,001–90,000), the Geelong Advertiser is a strong supporter of Geelong and its surrounds.
The Geelong Advertiser’s current editor is Nick Papps and the group general manager is Wayne Buttner. It has operated from its premises in Ryrie Street, Geelong since April 1960.
REFs: T.J. Bracher, ‘The Geelong Advertiser: “The Harrison Years”’ (BA Journalism thesis, 1983); E. Morrison, ‘“Grub Street Inventor”: James Harrison’s Journalism, Old and New, in Geelong, Melbourne and London’, in D. Cryle (ed.), Disreputable Profession (1997).