MAGAZINES AND PERIODICALS
The long list of all Australian magazines and periodicals published since the early 19th century includes a wide array of forms that have served readers from various walks of life. These range from mass-market magazines designed to inform and entertain a large audience to more serious reviews and avant-garde magazines that have addressed small artistic, religious and intellectual communities.
The history of Australian magazines and periodicals is filled with stories of short-lived ventures that left only a few issues and enduring publications that operated for decades. In a print culture with limited opportunities for book publication, Australian writers have regularly looked to magazines and periodicals as a significant source of income, and as a medium through which they could build a reputation or discuss issues that they believed were central to the cultural health of a young nation. Magazines and periodicals record the ongoing conversations of a wide range of Australians, indicating the ways in which ideas about Australia and the world have circulated in the wider community.
The foundations for an Australian magazine culture were laid in the early 19th century. As New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land grew in population, communication and trade networks expanded alongside pastoral and industrial development and the wealth associated with the gold rushes. The Australian Magazine, published in Sydney in 1821–22, was the first of several attempts to establish a periodical in the 1820s, but it failed to survive beyond a few issues. Others, such as the South-Asian Register, the Australian Quarterly Journal of Theology, Literature and Science and the Blossom, also failed to thrive, but they continued to feed an editorial interest in local versions of such publications.
The commercial failure of the early magazines has been attributed to a number of barriers, including a lack of readers, a dearth of reliable local contributors and a persistent theological focus. The short-lived Hobart Town Monthly Magazine and its successor, the Van Diemen’s Land Monthly, were miscellanies on the model of magazines from Britain and Europe, but access to printing presses was a problem, and delayed issues made it difficult to maintain a readership. Readers were also more likely to be interested in content from ‘home’ (Britain), further hindering the establishment of a local magazine culture that did not rely on reprinting material from British and European periodicals. With a series of magazines in the 1830s, including Tegg’s Magazine and Literary News, James Tegg moved from the religious interests of the early magazines to more general content with some success; however, even these failed to produce more than a few issues.
With the establishment of daily newspapers in the early 1840s, the weekly and monthly periodical publication became a distinct form. The Australasian emerged from the Argus press and was joined by an increasing number of weeklies in the 1840s and 1850s, including the Colonial Literary Journal and Weekly Miscellany of Useful Information, Heads of the People, the Illustrated Sydney News and the Sydney Punch. Monthly journals such as the New South Wales Magazine and the Month: A Literary and Critical Journal also began to appear, but the limited access to a printing presses and a market that still favoured products from ‘home’ continued to hamper the efforts of publishers. By the 1860s, dozens of weeklies and monthlies had emerged and disappeared, with many leaving no trace of their existence except a notice in a competing publication.
The first commercial successes also appeared at this time, beginning a period of enduring titles that lasted well into the 20th century. Satirical magazines such as the Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature, the Atlas and Humbug: A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Satire made way for Melbourne Punch (1855–1925), Australia’s first illustrated magazine, and the most successful of several local versions of the English original. In 1865, the Australian Journal (1865–1962) joined the Melbourne Punch to become the most successful periodicals until the Bulletin was founded in 1880. All provided a place for local writers to publish work that could not be published in book form. Australia’s emerging literary culture is therefore more strongly observed in the pages of magazines and periodicals than in the few slim volumes that appeared during this period.
The Sydney Bulletin (1880–2008) rose to prominence as a radical nationalist periodical, a publisher of many of Australia’s best-known writers and artists, and a publisher of the prose and poetry of many of its readers. Despite its reputation as the ‘bushman’s bible’, the Bulletin was read predominantly by middle-class urban citizens. In its content and advertising, the Bulletin was pitched at a reader who might be interested in a wide variety of issues, including party politics, business, bohemia, banking and finance, society, literature, the theatre and sport. Operating on the border of newspaper and magazine, the Bulletin competed with a series of weeklies such as the Sydney Mail, the Leader, the Australasian, the Weekly Times, the Australian Town and Country Journal, the Western Mail and many others.
During the first decades of the 20th century, A.G. Stephens also edited several versions of the Bookfellow, joining a group of similar literary, arts or story magazines such as the Lone Hand, Steele Rudd’s Magazine, the Triad and Stead’s Review. These have attracted the most interest from historians but, as Jill Matthews has shown, such a list barely scratches the surface of metropolitan magazine culture in the first three decades of the 20th century. Prompted by new cultural forms such as radio, cinema and photography, many new magazines emerged to address readers in innovative ways. Magazines such as these continued to provide the primary place for Australian writers to publish a diverse range of fiction, poetry and prose, serving as a barometer for the state of Australian literary culture as it developed up to and during the years of World War I.
Of several troop magazines and newspapers produced during the war, Aussie (1918–19) was one of the most significant, evolving into a higher quality civilian version (1920–32) that included joke cartoons, humorous articles and verse. The tradition of popular periodicals was continued with Smith’s Weekly (1919–50) and the more risqué Man (1936–74), modelled on the American Esquire magazine. Another significant publisher of popular writing during this period was Walkabout, the journal of the Australian Geographical Society.
Magazines for women include some of the most successful periodicals of the 20th century. Louisa Lawson’s Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women (1888–1905) delivered a more radical feminist tone than more conservative gossip magazines such as Table Talk (1885–1939). The Australian Women’s Weekly (1933– ) followed a similar formula, but by fulfilling its promise to ‘cover and in full detail every field of work, play or interest for women’, it quickly surpassed the circulation numbers of many competing publications such as the Australian Home Journal, Fashion and Society, Woman’s Budget, New Idea and the Australian Woman’s Mirror. The Home more than a women’s magazine —embraced modernity more deeply than many other magazines of the 1920s. Within the bounds of ‘good taste’, the pages of the Home frequently investigated modern architecture, fashion, decoration and photography.
Magazines often distanced themselves from the Bulletin in an attempt to mark a distinct position in Australian ulture. After publishing his work in many Australian magazines and newspapers, Norman Lindsay presided over Vision: A Literary Quarterly in the 1920s, a vehicle for communicating his vitalist ideas about life and art. Influenced by the tone and stance of H.L. Mencken’s American Mercury, P.R. Stephensen’s Australian Mercury was deeply protective of an emerging Australian culture menaced by culture imported from overseas— particularly America.
In the 1930s, a series of little magazines signalled an emergence of the avant-garde in Australia. A vigorous combination of radical political and aesthetic positions was asserted in magazines such as Strife, Masses, Stream, Proletariat, Pandemonium and Yesterday & Most of Today. Many little magazines were short-lived—some were only published as a single issue—but they signalled the emergence of a modern artistic intelligentsia. Some magazines had high production values, but some—like the Jindyworobak Club’s Venture magazines—were produced on a roneo machine for several years.
The late 1930s and 1940s saw the emergence of several serious literary quarterlies that remain prominent in Australia’s print culture today. Sydney’s Southerly (1939– ) and Brisbane’s Meanjin (1940– ) were the first journals to publish full-length essays on Australian authors, making significant contributions to the development of academic literary criticism in Australia. In Adelaide, Angry Penguins (1940–46) shared Meanjin’s attention to the modern artist and intellectual, but pursued this with a vitality that was famously bushwhacked by the Ern Malley hoax. This group of magazines was joined by Overland (1954– ), Quadrant (1956– ) and Westerly (1956– ). Overland and Quadrant have represented the left and right of Australia’s political landscape for decades, while Westerly remains devoted to the development and promotion of the arts in the West—most recently extending its reach to South-East Asia.
Several important journals of opinion and public affairs also appeared. Australian Quarterly (1929–97) led the way, followed in the 1950s and 1960s by new kinds of journals such as Nation, the Observer, Outlook, Dissent and Prospect. Unlike any of these magazines, the satirical OZ challenged representative conservatism with discussions of sexuality, images of nudity and libertarian ideas about social and political change. In the 1970s, commercial women’s magazines such as Cleo (1972– ) and Cosmopolitan (1973– ) continued to test the limits of Australia’s conservatism with male centrefolds and frank discussions of sex.
New types of Australian literary magazines began to appear in the 1960s. Australian Literary Studies (1963– ) remains the pre-eminent academic journal in the field, playing a foundational role in the study of Australian literature in the academy. Outside the academy, attempts were made to connect Australian literature and art with international movements in the pages of Australian Letters, and the Australian Book Review (1961–73, 1978– ) was established to provide a forum for the review of new Australian books. Tabloid Story (1972–80) published short stories.
A number of poetry magazines also appeared during this period. The Poetry Society of Australia published Prism for several years before it was transformed into Poetry Magazine in 1961. Disputes within the society and subsequent groups of editors led to the publication of a separate magazine, Poetry Australia, and eventually the transformation of Poetry Magazine into New Poetry, which became one of the most important spaces for the publication and discussion of the ‘New Australian Poetry’ in the 1970s. The 1970s also saw the re-emergence of avant-garde poetry magazines with unconventional formats and titles, such as Ear in a Wheatfield, Magic Sam, Etymspheres: The Journal from the Paper Castle and Your Friendly Fascist. New literary magazines continued to appear in the 1980s and 1990s, the most important including Scripsi, Australian Short Stories and Heat. The Monthly, an independent magazine of politics, society and the arts, was launched in 2005.
A full account of Australian magazines is beyond the scope of this brief sketch. Since the 1970s, large-scale magazine production has seen publishers such as Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) and Pacific Magazines produce large stables of magazines that cater to a wide variety of uses and interests. With the acquisition of ACP by Germany’s Bauer Media Group in 2012, the major commercial players in Australia contracted to three, including NewsLifeMedia (owned by News Limited) and Pacific Magazines (part of Seven West Media). Magazines continue to play a significant role in the production and dissemination of culture, and they remain one of the most significant resources for any study of Australian culture since the early 19th century.
It remains to be seen how digital technology will change the way magazines are produced and delivered to readers. John Tranter’s Jacket Magazine (1997– ) was one of the first online literary magazines. Now, many small magazines and journals have shifted to online versions to cut production costs and increase accessibility. Most major commercial magazines have an online version, and many are now delivered to readers through apps made specifically for tablet computers. A negative effect of online delivery might be seen in the significant dip in magazine sales in recent years. Future developments in online delivery will continue to challenge the traditional methods of magazine production, and publishers will inevitably adapt to new media or risk financial ruin—much like they have done since the first magazine was published in 1821.
REFs: D. Carter and R. Osborne, ‘Periodicals’, in C. Munro and R. Sheahan-Brigh (eds), Paper Empires: A History of the Book in Australia 1946–2005 (2006); F.S. Greenop, History of Magazine Publishing in Australia (1947); J. Tregenza, Australian Little Magazines 1923–1954 (1964); http://www.austlit.edu.au/specialistDatasets/BookHistory/AustMag.