NATION AND NATION REVIEW
Bearing the motto ‘An Independent Journal of Opinion’ from issue no. 1 on 26 September 1958 to the final issue, no. 345, on 22 July 1972, Nation was published fortnightly by the Nation Review Company, privately owned by its founder Tom Fitzgerald.
Uncomfortable with the degree of editorial control exerted by proprietors of large circulation Australian newspapers, and critical of their standard of journalism, Fitzgerald sought to establish an alternative source of information combining superior journalism with comprehensive coverage of politics, business, economics and the arts. Its format allowed Nation to respond to developing news, and to investigate and analyse topical issues more thoroughly than was usual in daily newspapers.
With a background as financial editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Fitzgerald established trusted business credentials for Nation. For the first issue he secured articles from William Macmahon Ball, Geoffrey Sawer, (Sir) Richard Kirby, Cyril Pearl, Walter Stone and Selwyn Speight, with arts reviews by himself, A.A. Phillips, K.S. Inglis, John Passmore and Sylvia Lawson.
A significant recruitment was George Munster, initially as Nation’s business manager, and subsequently as a contributor of incisive articles. Fitzgerald and Munster established a close and effective partnership that directed the style and tenor of Nation through to its demise. The George Munster Independent Journalism Award, instituted on his death in 1984, recognises and celebrates the pursuit of highquality independent journalism exemplified by Nation.
Nation accepted articles by both emerging and established journalists and writers, who were attracted by the journal’s high literary standards and independence. Mungo MacCallum, Bob Ellis, Robert Hughes, Manning Clark and Max Harris were among a lengthy list of esteemed contributors. Through these writers, the influence of Nation on journalism and on the politics and culture of Australia exceeds the bounds of its circulation figures.
Confident in the rigorous research routinely conducted by George Munster, Nation successfully withstood many threatened libel actions. Most editions of Nation were printed by Francis James, who lent his own sense of swashbuckling dissidence to the venture.
In an amicable arrangement, Nation was purchased by Gordon Barton in 1972 and incorporated into Nation Review. Barton was a colourful, eccentric and successful entrepreneur. Politically galvanised by his opposition to Australian military involvement in the Vietnam War, he determined to influence public opinion through a new anti-war political party, the Australia Party, and—on Richard Walsh’s advice—by inaugurating an independent Melbourne newspaper, the Sunday Observer. He went on to launch a national newspaper, initially titled the Sunday Review, first published on 11 October 1970 and edited by Michael Cannon. In January 1971, Walsh assumed the editorship.
From 16 July 1971, the banner was reduced to Review, reflecting differing national publication schedules. With the demise of Nation, the banner was again changed, appearing as Nation Review from 29 July 1972. The short-lived sibling Living Daylights was briefly incorporated in May 1974. In June 1978, Geoffrey Gold bought Nation Review from Barton, but falling circulation figures compelled its discontinuation on 11 October 1979. In January 1980, Nation Review was resurrected in monthly magazine format, a strategy that failed to prevent its demise in September 1981.
Nation Review was infused with an irreverent larrikinism, derived in part from Walsh’s editorial experiences with university student newspapers, and from the recruitment of Owen Webster, Michael Leunig and others from the defunct Broadside magazine. Contributors recruited from Nation, including Cyril Pearl, Sol Encel and George Munster as co-editor, brought a balancing sense of professional gravitas. Mungo MacCallum wrote searching political analyses and John Hepworth provided whimsical social commentary. Leunig created the cartoon character with which the newspaper became identified—the Ferret, immortalised by the newspaper’s slogan, ‘Lean and nosey like a ferret’.
The newspaper gave equal scrutiny to the perceived faults of both Labor and Coalition governments. Outrage at the Dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government in 1975 was continued well into Malcolm Fraser’s prime ministership. Scrutiny of state-based issues was comprehensive, while broader social and cultural causes were a recurring theme.
Circulation was estimated to have exceeded 54,000. Readers identified themselves as ‘Ferret types’: well-educated, politically and socially engaged, and with a taste for sometimes acerbic wit.
REFs: K.S. Inglis (ed.), Nation (1989); R. Walsh, Ferretabilia (1993).