Smith’s Weekly was a Sydney-based national broadsheet first published on 1 March 1919. Editor Claude McKay and manager Robert Clyde Packer were innovative newspapermen, and their financier, Sir James Joynton Smith (1858–1943), was a flamboyant public figure and former Lord Mayor of Sydney. The paper was brash and populist, and shaped a metropolitan Australian self-image in the inter-war period, making a name as ‘The Diggers’ Paper’ through its advocacy for returned servicemen.
Styling itself ‘The Public Guardian’, Smith’s Weekly was preoccupied with both the injustices (real or perceived) and humour of modern life, with significant sections on boxing and the turf, and a page of readers’ paragraphs that became ‘Unofficial History of the AIF’. But the paper’s most striking feature was its comic art. Prominent artists included Stan Cross, Frank Dunne, George Finey, Cecil Hartt, Mollie Horseman, Joe Jonsson, Joan Morrison, Syd Miller and Virgil Reilly.
An initial circulation of 35,000 had built to 145,000 by August 1922, allowing Smith to reward McKay and Packer with one-third shares each when the company became profitable in 1921. Such success also enabled the launch of the Daily Guardian (1923–31). McKay retired in 1927, returning in 1931 when Packer left to become managing editor of Associated Newspapers Ltd. A readership of 214,125 in 1929 fell by around 40 per cent within a decade, a result of the Great Depression, but accelerated by the Wilkinson case in 1932, when Smith’s Weekly was forced to apologise for publishing uncorroborated claims against a murder victim, Francis Wilkinson. The paper that had spent £50,000 in fighting libel suits in its first five years became more cautious.
When editor Frank Marien died in 1936, his role was taken by Kenneth Slessor, one of several literary figures who added lustre to Smith’s Weekly, but he was unable to stem its decline. Joynton Smith resigned in 1939, the paper was leased to a syndicate that included the industrialist W.J. ‘Bulldog’ Smith, and McKay became editor-in-chief once more. During World War II, he and editor George Goddard played to Smith’s Weekly’s strengths as the Diggers’ Paper, moved to a tabloid format and rebuilt its readership to 228,579 by 1945, only to see this fall away again after the war. In 1950, W.J. Smith sold his major shareholding and, despite offers by Sir Keith Murdoch to rescue the paper, the last edition of Smith’s Weekly appeared on 28 October that year.
REFs: G. Blaikie, Remember Smith’s Weekly? (1966); R.B. Walker, Yesterday’s News (1980).