Queensland was the last of the Australian colonies to enter the newspaper field. Early newspaper readerships were low at one for every 5000 persons, and turnover was high, with 36 per cent of new provincial enterprises launched between 1855 and 1900 closing within two years. Only five newspapers were established in the so-called northern districts of the colony of New South Wales before those districts became Queensland from 10 December 1859.
The first of these, the Moreton Bay Courier (est. 1846), became the most enduring Queensland newspaper. Despite departing the newspaper only 18 months after its establishment, its founding editor, Arthur Sidney Lyon, went on to become known as the ‘father of the Queensland press’, as he was editor of the first four newspapers in Queensland: the others were the Moreton Bay Free Press (1850–59, a direct competitor to the Courier), Ipswich’s North Australian (Queensland’s first printed regional newspaper, 1855–65) and the Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (1858–1922).
Separation from New South Wales triggered a new era of development for Queensland, and the increasing settlement of pastoral areas of the Darling Downs, and Wide Bay and Burnett, along with the development of coastal towns such as Rockhampton, Bowen, Mackay and Townsville, led to much more rapid expansion of the provincial press. In the vanguard was Maryborough, with two newspapers being established there in 1860—the Wide Bay and Burnett Times, which survived only six months, and the Maryborough Chronicle, which survives as the Fraser Coast Chronicle. In 1861, newspapers were established at Gayndah, Toowoomba and Rockhampton; in 1862, at Warwick and St Lawrence; in 1863, at Rockhampton; in 1864, at Bowen, Clermont and Warwick; and in 1865, at Rockhampton, Ipswich and Dalby. Major gold discoveries at Gympie in the late 1860s and at Charters Towers and other far northern centres in the 1870s triggered a new surge of newspaper development for those towns and nearby ports, such as Cooktown and Townsville. The Rockhampton Bulletin became Queensland’s first provincial daily in 1873. Before the end of the 19th century, daily publication was also tried— with varying success—in Ipswich, Toowoomba, Townsville, Charters Towers, Maryborough, Mackay and Cairns.
In Brisbane, one paper (the Free Press) closed only weeks after separation, and another (the Queensland Guardian, 1860–68) was launched 12 months later. In May 1861, the Courier became a daily and in April 1863 the Guardian followed suit. The Courier introduced a weekly, the Queenslander, in 1866, just as a new daily, the Telegraph (est. 1872) was to introduce the Week in 1876.
Early newspaper workers were almost exclusively male, and only a minority were trained journalists. Parochial and separationist sentiment characterised the large colony, in which northern coastal centres were not linked by railway to the capital until 1920. While family ownership brought local respectability to the press in agricultural districts, such as Warwick, Rockhampton and Toowoomba, a significant Irish presence on the goldfields exacerbated tensions with both the Aboriginal people and the Chinese, fomented in turn by xenophobic mining journalism. Denounced for outbursts of ‘Yankee’ journalism, Queensland’s colonial newspapers engaged in protracted editorial confrontation, heightened by an open pages tradition that permitted anonymous correspondents to attack local officials with relative impunity.
This popular brand of journalism reached its peak in the 1870s and 1880s in Charters Towers, where Thadeus O’Kane’s relentless attacks on local officialdom provoked a series of libel actions against his Northern Miner. By the 1890s, Charters Towers had become a centre for radical thought, expressed in the Republican (1890–91) and the Eagle (1893–1906), which publicised Henry George and Edward Bellamy, attacked the ‘capitalist press’ and denounced coloured immigration. With the establishment of the Boomerang (1887–92) and the Worker (1890–1974) in Brisbane, William Lane became the voice of the metropolitan labour movement during the maritime and shearers’ strikes; however, with his departure to South America in 1893 as part of an ill-fated socialist experiment, the second legend of Queensland radical journalism passed into obscurity, making way for a more conventional political press.
Although the 19th century is considered the golden age of the Australian regional press, the Queensland press continued to expand into the 20th century as its economy recovered from the 1890s depression. In 1900, there were 90 regional papers, two-thirds of these weekly newspapers in smaller centres. By 1920, this figure had increased to 101, and the number of regional dailies had doubled over this 20year period. Unlike their weekly counterparts, daily newspapers in centres like Townsville, Rockhampton and Toowoomba issued regular parliamentary and court reports, with metropolitan and local correspondents providing coverage of Brisbane affairs. Until the Great Depression reduced the number of regional titles to pre-1900 levels, competition thrived in larger centres. Rockhampton, for example, still boasted six regular newspapers in the 1920s: a morning and afternoon newspaper, three weeklies and a monthly.
Complementing the evolution of local newspapers from parasitic news-gatherer to community noticeboard was a long-standing tradition of weekly publication for general and country consumption. Eclectic in content and generally bulkier than their city or country competitors, newspapers like the Queenslander (1866–1939), Queensland Figaro (1883–1936), the Capricornian (1875–1929) and the North Queensland Register (1892– ) attracted rural and family readers in the hinterlands of major centres through a combination of improved distribution, faster printing presses and plentiful paper. Combining the practical tradition of colonial almanacs with the family amusement and light serial fiction of imported British publications, the extensively illustrated Queenslander attracted a wide following and featured literary talent like George Essex Evans and Brunton Stephens. Queensland Figaro, launched by J. Edgar Byrne, was described by the Sydney Evening News as overflowing ‘with sparkling wit and cheery wisdom’ and being ‘fearless and outspoken but [also] clean and respectable’.
The North Queensland Register, which successfully competed in North Queensland with the Queenslander and the Sydney Bulletin, tapped local demand for history and fiction, fostering creative talents like Edmund Banfield and Glenville Pike. The Register achieved healthy circulations of 10–15,000 well into the 20th century, while in Central Queensland the efforts of the Capricornian lived on through the Central Queensland Herald until 1956, long after the demise of the Queenslander, by using a distinctive combination of magazine and rural journalism that gave way to the more business-oriented approach of rural weeklies like Queensland Country Life (1935– ). Theophilus Pugh (1831–96), an early editor of the Moreton Bay Courier and a leading proponent of separation from New South Wales, published Pugh’s Queensland Almanac (1862–1927).
The turn of the century witnessed a resurgence in metropolitan journalism, with the founding in Brisbane of a second morning paper, the Daily Mail, in 1903, and the labourite Daily Standard (1912–36). Charles Hardie Buzacott (1835–1918), a brilliant and forceful writer who founded the Daily Mail, had been the prime mover in a series of Wide Bay and Central Queensland papers before purchasing a share in the Courier in 1880 and becoming its managing director (1883–94). With his retirement from the Mail in 1906, the prospect of an enduring Brisbane family newspaper dynasty waned, although a second generation of Buzacotts remained active in a literary capacity on the Queenslander and with the Rockhampton Daily Record (1897–1922).
By the late 19th century, Brisbane journalism entered a period of professionalisation with the foundation of the Johnsonian Club in 1878, a social institution where influential metropolitan editors mixed with literary and political figures of the day. In 1911, a Queensland Journalists’ Association was formed and Reginald Spencer Browne was the first president. He sought to pre-empt the establishment of a rival association under the influence of the trade unions; nevertheless, deep divisions surfaced within the ranks of Courier staff when, in the following year, its printers came out in support of striking Brisbane tramways workers in defiance of its editorial line.
In 1921, the University of Queensland introduced a Diploma of Journalism, the first certificated tertiary journalism course in Australia. Clem Lack (1900–72) graduated from the course in 1929 and later lectured there from 1948 until 1970. He worked as the Courier’s chief of parliamentary staff in Brisbane, before moving to the Queensland Public Relations Bureau (1948–53).
One of Australia’s most enduring and important ‘little magazines’, Meanjin, was launched by journalist Clem Christesen (1911–2003) in Brisbane in 1940 and moved to Melbourne in 1945.
An ethnic press emerged in Queensland in the inter-war years. L’Italiano (1930–40), which was published in Brisbane, was augmented by newspapers including the pro-fascist L’Eco d’Italia (c. 1928) in North Queensland and the anti-fascist La Ricossa (1929–31), published in Ingham and Melbourne. Australia’s second Italian mass-circulation paper was Il Corriere d’Australia (1953–61), founded by businessman Giuseppe A. Luciano. It continued the traditions of the Italo-Australaian (1922–40), which despite being published in Sydney, had a substantial circulation in North Queensland. The Hellenic Australian News (1950–52) was the only Greek newspaper in Australia published in Brisbane.
In the first few decades of the 20th century, the mechanisation of typesetting, a World War and a severe depression savaged the economics of newspapers and encouraged mergers or closures. Two dailies were merged into one in Warwick, Maryborough, Toowoomba and Charters Towers between 1919 and 1922. In Brisbane, the merger of Sir Keith Murdoch’s Brisbane Courier and John Wren’s Daily Mail in August 1933 resulted in the Courier-Mail. With Murdoch’s encouragement, talented journalists such as Colin Bednall and Adrian Deamer gained experience on various Australian and Fleet Street newspapers. Deamer worked at the Courier-Mail before he became an editor elsewhere, while Bednall served as managing editor of the Courier-Mail (1944–54).
The Courier-Mail’s most enduring local voice during and after the war years was (Sir) Theodor Bray, who served as editor from 1942 to 1954 and editor-in-chief of the Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail from 1954 to 1968. Bray prided himself on opening the paper’s community pages to the ‘little man in the street’, while giving right of reply to politicians.
In 1955, the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), which had taken control of the Courier-Mail soon after Murdoch’s death in 1952, acquired Brisbane’s afternoon daily, the Telegraph, and combined these interests through Queensland Press Ltd in 1956.
Queensland Press started to look further afield than Brisbane, acquiring the Cairns Post in 1965 and the Townsville Bulletin in 1984. It took a benign ‘protective’ interest in Provincial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd (PNQ) in 1971, only three years after the holding company representing the newspaper interests of six long-term provincial press families had been formed. Three generations of the Dunn family had built up a significant chain of provincial newspapers since 1891, at one time publishing five dailies.
In 1968, the Dunn interests in Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Maryborough and Nambour were combined with the Manning family’s Mackay daily, the Irwin family’s Warwick daily and three Ipswich families’ interests in their local daily. Added to this was a significant shared interest among the families in the Bundaberg daily. By 1988, PNQ controlled nine Queensland dailies and four NSW dailies. It became an attractive takeover target for an Irish-controlled company that is now APN News and Media.
When Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited took over the HWT in 1987, the nation’s cross- media rules limited it to a very brief tenure as majority shareholder in PNQ, but allowed it to take control of Brisbane’s Quest Community Newspapers and the Gold Coast Bulletin. This meant that Murdoch was the dominant figure in metropolitan and suburban newspapers in Brisbane, and he held the reins of the three most attractive regional newspaper enterprises—in Cairns and Townsville, and on the Gold Coast.
The Courier-Mail continued with a middle- market strategy that enabled it to withstand strong competition in the 1970s and 1980s from the afternoon Telegraph (1872–1988) and the Daily Sun (1982–91), which switched from morning to afternoon publication when the Telegraph closed in 1988.
REFs: D. Cryle, The Press in Colonial Queensland
(1989); D. Cryle (ed.), Disreputable Profession (1997); R. Kirkpatrick, Sworn to No Master (1984); J. Manion, Paper Power in North Queensland (1982).