SUNDAY TIMES (PERTH)
By the time Rupert Murdoch purchased a controlling interest in the Perth Sunday Times in 1954—his first major acquisition after inheriting the Adelaide News—it was a profitable, respected newspaper with a reputation for crusading journalism.
The West Australian Sunday Times: A Journal for the People was launched on 19 December 1897 and became the first regularly available Sunday newspaper produced in Western Australia. It continues in the 21st century as the West’s largest statewide weekly publication.
The newspaper was born out of the dissident politics of the Kalgoorlie gold rush of the 1890s. It was established by Frederick Vosper (1869– 1901), a radical journalist from Queensland, and Edward Ellis, the founder of Sydney’s Sunday Times. Vosper assumed full control in 1898, continuing to shape the paper’s crusading for the public good at the same time as being a member of the state’s Legislative Assembly. The paper campaigned on issues such as better care for the mentally ill and women’s suffrage, railed against C.Y. O’Connor’s Goldfields Water Supply Scheme and highlighted pastoralists’ mistreatment of Aborigines.
Its journalistic pre-eminence was beyond dispute at the turn of the 20th century, and it is credited as being the driving force behind a period of intense literary activity unrivalled by any era of Western Australia’s press.
When Vosper died in 1901, his widow, Venetia, sold the business to James MacCallum Smith and Arthur Reid, owners of Kalgoorlie’s Sun. Under editors such as Andrée Hayward and Alfred Chandler, the pursuit to uncover scandal and corruption was stepped up and the paper (known simply as the Sunday Times from 1902) was relentless in spearheading the public campaign for secession from the Commonwealth. The newspaper was imbued with a liberal democratic spirit through stories, verse, sketches and reminiscences. The most prolific contributor was Edwin Murphy (‘Dryblower’), whose acerbic, satirical verse praised workers and attacked their exploitation.
MacCallum Smith consolidated the business and sustained it through World War I and the Great Depression, moderating its challenging but admired campaigning style, ensuring the content was strong on rural, women’s and motoring news, and taking the paper to new levels of popularity and prestige. Also a member of the Legislative Assembly, he sold out in 1935 to Western Press Limited owners John J. Simons and Victor Courtney, with Courtney eventually becoming managing editor and chairman.
The pair shepherded it though the war years and editor Frank Davidson converted it to tabloid, adopting a more modern editorial style but retaining the Vosper legacy to champion the masses. In 1954, Rupert Murdoch gained control of Western Press to become the paper’s fourth owner.
The Sunday Times continues to operate from its landmark Stirling Street premises. Its daily news website, PerthNow, launched in 2006, made it one of the first metropolitan papers to go online; however, the migration of classified advertising to the internet challenged its revenue base. The Sunday Times (with a circulation of 250,290 in 2013) remains a media institution in Western Australia.
REF: F. Dunn, A Century of Sundays (1997).