The Land was born out of a bitter dispute between the owners of the Farmer and Settler and one of Australia’s pioneers of organised rural lobbying, Thomas Irving Campbell (1861–1942), which ended up in the NSW District Court in late 1909.
‘T.I.’ Campbell was a hard-nosed warrior in the struggle to unite small battling farmers (‘Cockeys’) against the power of the emerging union movement and the big pastoralists, who were clinging to their vast ‘runs’ of mainly unimproved land. He was elected secretary of the NSW Farmers and Settlers’ Association (FSA) in 1897, and in 1906 helped launch the Farmer and Settler as its official organ.
Campbell was listed as editor on the newspaper’s imprint but during the court battle of 1909, when he was sued for alleged breach of contract, the lawyers for the independently owned Farmer and Settler Publishing Company claimed he hadn’t fulfilled an agreement to provide the new paper with a regular supply of editorial copy about FSA activities and views while also using his influence to attract advertising.
The judge dismissed the case, which fractured the relationship between the FSA and the owners of the Farmer and Settler. Delegates to the FSA’s 1910 annual conference directed the executive to establish its own official newspaper. The first Land rolled off the presses on 27 January 1911, at twopence a copy.
The Land’s founders set out to create a newspaper with the clout and influence to ensure the voice of farmers could not be drowned out by city-based politicians, media, lobbyists and business leaders seeking to place their own interests above agriculture and country people.
The Land survived a rocky start during a long drought, and came close to financial ruin during the Great Depression, and again in 1970, when a new printing venture in western Sydney flopped badly. However, sales soared in good times, with circulation peaking at 68,728 during the wool boom of the 1980s, and the Land ended its first century as the pre-eminent farm weekly newspaper in New South Wales.
The Land was pulled from the brink in the early 1930s by legendary managing editor, (Sir) Harry Vincent Budd (1900–79), who was still in charge when the Lidcombe printing business almost ruined the company. He stepped aside and his replacement, John Lindsay Parker (1932– ), transformed the Land from a one-newspaper company into a regional and rural publishing giant called Rural Press Limited. It took the Land 64 years to conquer all its rural newspaper rivals in New South Wales, a battle which ended when NSW Country Life was swallowed up in 1975.
The takeover of Country Life sparked an astonishing growth spurt, driven largely by acquisitions. To better reflect this growth and diversity, The Land Newspaper Ltd was renamed Rural Press Limited in 1981.
That empire, like the Land, is now part of Fairfax Media (John Fairfax and Sons had bought a 25 per cent stake in the Land in 1970 to prevent its collapse) after a merger of the two companies in May 2007. Rural Press had a market capitalisation of $2.6 billion at the time of the merger.
REF: V. Graham, The Story of The Land 1911–2011 (2011).