The readers of the first printed media in New South Wales were the officers, soldiers and free settlers who consulted the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (1803–42) for official information and reports. In Tasmania, the Hobart Town Gazette had a similar audience. As the number of free settlers grew, they demanded and eventually obtained a free press by the 1830s—mainly through the advocacy of Edward Smith Hall and his newspaper, the Monitor (1826–60).
The 1830s also saw new audiences for print media in the recently established colonies of Port Phillip, South Australia and Western Australia, all founded as free colonies, with higher literacy levels—especially in South Australia. But reading material was scarce, mainly due to the lack of printing equipment.
As these colonies grew, new settlements were created and more newspapers became available. Additional reading matter came with the mail ships from England, bringing the Times and English quarterlies such as Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and the Gentleman’s Magazine. These titles would have been read in places like the Australian Subscription Library, established in Sydney in 1826, and gentlemen’s clubs such as the Melbourne Club, founded in 1838.
The huge growth of the population resulting from the gold rushes created a further new audience and outlets for newspapers. As towns sprang up where gold was found, newspapers (and hotels) were among the first businesses established. Those who came searching for gold were generally industrious and literate or at least semi-literate.
The opening of the Melbourne Public Library in 1856, with its policy of self-education through reading and free entry to anyone over 14, gave readers access to historical works, quality literature, and newspapers and magazines. It was the forerunner of an eventual Australia-wide publicly funded free library system.
New readers and outlets followed the opening up of the land through the Selection Acts in the 1860s and 1870s, as service towns were founded around the small farm holdings. Many of these towns established mechanics institutes or schools of arts as reading and self-education venues for their residents. And the readership of printed matter of all kinds was strengthened by the passing of Compulsory Education Acts in the major Australian colonies in the 1870s.
By this time, most of the major dailies had weekly and some monthly stablemates. Their distribution and readership outside the capital cities were greatly facilitated by the spread of railway lines throughout the country. Weekly newspapers were aimed at country audiences as much as city ones, while the illustrated monthlies, modelled on the Illustrated London News, were aimed at a middle-class urban and country audience. With their woodblock engravings, they provided their readers ready access to images of material progress, civic progress and rural life.
By 1901, with the wide utilisation of linotype and the half-tone process for reproducing photographic images, sectional readers and audiences could readily be targeted. The Bulletin (1880–2008), with its mix of literature and Australianisms, catered for both an urban and rural ‘nationalistic’ audience, and soon became known as the ‘Bushman’s Bible’. The paper interacted with its readers by publishing their poems and stories, and through an ‘Answers to Correspondents’ section.
With the introduction of radio in the 1920s, followed by ‘talkies’ around 1930, audiences now had alternatives to print media for their information and entertainment. Coupled with this were sophisticated printing techniques that allowed for more colour in magazines, including the Australian Women’s Weekly (1933– ) and Man (1936–1974). The Weekly created a whole new audience of female readers and also had a strong male readership, particularly during World War II.
The inter-war period saw the development of what could be described as middlebrow audiences. Magazines like Art in Australia (1916–42) and its sister publication, the Home (1920–42), catered for a financially well-off urban middle class.
The working class had its own sporting, racing and scandal rags. Truth, first launched in Sydney in 1890, and Beckett’s Budget (1927–30) in Sydney were prime examples. But sporting papers suitable for the general home such as the Referee (1886–1939) in Sydney and the Sporting Globe (1922–88) in Melbourne also had large readerships.
The readers of Smith’s Weekly (1919–50) were predominantly returned soldiers. In Melbourne, the tabloid Sun News-Pictorial (1922–90) tapped into a huge market with a circulation of over 500,000 by the mid-1950s. Compared with its broadsheet rivals, the Age (1854– ) and the Argus (1846–1957)—the latter catering for a conservative readership—it was ideal to read on the train. A cartoon in the Sydney Truth on 10 August 1919 neatly depicted the class basis of audiences and their preferred newspaper: seated on the right-hand side of a Sydney tram are three businessmen in top hats and polished shoes reading, respectively, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening News, while seated opposite them are three booted workers with their heads buried in the Australian Worker. The businessman would most likely have had their paper home-delivered—a sure sign of a middle-class readership—while the workers would have bought theirs on the way to work.
The various school papers and special weekly sections of the major dailies such as the Junior Argus (1933–39), published by its namesake in Melbourne, provided reading material for children. They also encouraged contributions from their young readers through prizes and competitions. There was an influx of comics from the 1950s onwards, mainly from America, but there were also many produced in Australia.
The major city dailies usually targeted special-interest readers through regular feature writing or columns on specific topics such as gardening, radio, television and social pages. And readers had their favourite columnists: Keith Dunstan’s ‘A Place in the Sun’, published from 1958 to 1978 in the Sun News-Pictorial, had a dedicated and large following, while Charmian Clift’s essay-style column in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Herald from 1964 until her death in 1969 attracted a loyal body of readers.
Following the American model, confessional magazines emerged, including True Confessions (c. 1947–66) and K.G. Murray’s True Story (1947–77), True Romance (c. 1947–78) and True Experience (1957–77).
The Gestetner printer or duplicating machines helped to create and serve new audiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These were used extensively by those involved in what could be loosely called the counter-culture/protest movement to cheaply produce leaflets, newsletters, rock music papers and ‘little magazines’. The xerox machine and print-on-demand publishing were later to play a similar role.
The ability to print glossy colour saw a plethora of magazines such as Dolly (1970– ), aimed at teenage girls, Cleo (1972– ) and Cosmopolitan (1973– ) emerge. They took over some of the established audiences for magazines such as the Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day (1949– ). They were the forerunners of the lifestyle magazines that now aggressively compete for readers at newsstands and on airport magazine racks.
Colour and satellite television greatly influenced the audience for daily newspapers, especially afternoon newspapers, many of which folded by the end of the 20th century. Their introduction also soon killed off papers like Truth and the Sporting Globe.
Morning dailies have been under enormous pressure since the advent of the internet—especially since Web 2.0 and the subsequent exponential growth in social media. Readers have moved away from mainstream media, turning to blogs and online journalism, and have themselves become providers of online information. The dividing line between providers of information, media producers and their readers is now blurred. This is perhaps reflected in the appointment in 2011 at the Sydney Morning Herald of Judy Prisk as Readers’ Editor, to act as an in-house advocate for the paper’s readers—the first such appointment in Australia.
REFs: J. Arnold, ‘Newspapers and Daily Reading’, in M. Lyons and J. Arnold (eds), A History of the Book in Australia, 1891–1945 (2001); M. Lyons and L. Taska, Australian Readers Remember (1992); J. Prisk, ‘Birthday Time for the Good, Bad, Whimsical’, SMH, 22 August 2012.