The beginnings of the press in Australia were less than auspicious. The First Fleet carried a printing press, but no one who could operate it. It wasn’t until 5 March 1803, under Governor Philip Gidley King, that the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser was finally published. Grandiose claims were made. On 7 January 1825, the Gazette asked: ‘What makes barbarians civilized, removes the film from the eyes of superstition, and warms the host of degenerate slaves with the hallowed fire which blazed at Marathon?’ Lest there be any misunderstanding, it provided the answer: ‘The Press.’
In the early years of the colony, there was less of a rigid religious-secular distinction in society as a whole, and this was reflected in the press. The first religious magazine in Australia was the Australian Magazine, which appeared in 1821 and lasted for 18 months. It was edited by three Wesleyan missionaries—Rev. Benjamin Carvosso, Walter Lawry and Ralph Mansfield. Its aim was more modest than that of the Gazette: to ‘disseminate useful knowledge, religious principles, and moral habits’.
Mansfield was the first editor of the Sydney Herald (later the Sydney Morning Herald), and later Rev. William Curnow filled the same office. Rev. Frederick W. Ward was editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and Rev. George Woolnough edited the Brisbane Telegraph. The titles of many of the early newspapers do not necessarily indicate their religious character. For example, Rev. Dr John Dunmore Lang published the Colonist (1835–40), and reappeared with the Colonial Observer (1841–44) and the Press (1851). C.W. Robertson’s Sydney Standard and Colonial Advocate appeared briefly in 1839 as a Church of England publication. The Sentinel (1845–48) was published as a Protestant organ. The Congregational minister, Rev. John West, helped to establish the Launceston Examiner in 1842, and in 1854 became the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
In 1840, the Port Phillip Herald declared itself ‘strictly Protestant in principle’ but in favour of religious harmony. The short-lived Weekly Free Press and Port Phillip Commercial Advertiser (1841) was a Catholic paper. Rev. James Forbes, a Presbyterian, edited the Port Phillip Christian Herald (1840–55) from 1846 to 1851. The Adelaide Times (1848–58) was edited by the scholarly Baptist minister, Rev. James Allen. Bishop James Quinn took over the Ipswich North Australian (1855–63) and moved it to Brisbane to argue the case for Catholic schools in the 1860s.
The cultured and evangelical Presbyterian, Rev. Dr Robert Steel, saw the importance of the influence of Christian journalism. For the next century and more, print dominated the communications of the Australian churches. However, by 1992, only six papers were published weekly—the three Catholic papers from Brisbane, Sydney and Perth, the Anglican Church Scene, the Seventh-day Adventist Australasian Record (c. 1900–87) and the Salvation Army’s War Cry, with different editions published in various states.
For Catholics, the Australasian Chronicle (1839–43) was established as Archdeacon John McEncroe’s brainchild, financed by five wealthy Irish Catholics. The editor was W.A. Duncan, a convert from Scottish Presbyterianism. Not all the articles were by Catholics—even Henry Parkes wrote for it—and the tone tended to be socially and politically radical. The Vicar-General, Francis Murphy, was wary of political radicalism but very Irish, whereas Duncan was the reverse. When Duncan proclaimed, ‘Our religion is neither English nor Irish, but Catholic’ in 1843, he was sacked. McEncroe took over the editorship, but passed it to his nephew, Michael D’Arcy, who changed the paper’s name to the Morning Chronicle, then the Chronicle, before he too was sacked in 1846, and the paper renamed the Sydney Chronicle. In 1848 it merged into the Daily News and Evening Chronicle, and in 1850 became the Freeman’s Journal. It took its name from the major Irish Catholic nationalist daily in Dublin. McEncroe did much of the writing but Freeman’s was never the official organ of the church. By 1914, financial difficulties had forced it to accept a rescue package from the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society.
The Catholic Press was launched as a second Catholic paper in 1895, with 73 of the 169 shareholders being clerics. Its first issue declared that it would not be a religious publication, but a newspaper with an intensely Catholic tone. It professed impartiality towards Freetraders and Protectionists, but not for ‘the sacred cause of Ireland’s freedom’. Over the years, it pointed out the drawbacks associated with Prohibition, attempted to explain the Great Schism (1378–1417), approved of Mussolini and Franco, and opposed communism. The Irish leanings of the church were evident, with the Catholic Press claiming in 1901 that ‘from a dance room to hell is not a hairsbreadth’, while the Advocate (1868–1990) in 1925 exempted Irish dances.
The Freeman’s Journal and the Catholic Press joined to become the Catholic Weekly in 1942. It campaigned vigorously for state aid. In Melbourne, the Advocate was followed by Tribune (1900–71). The declared aim of the former was that: ‘It will neither foster bigotry nor countenance social division; but preach a common Australian brotherhood, founded upon equal, civil and religious liberty to all.’ In Queensland, there were also two main Catholic papers: the Age (1892–1929) and the Catholic Advocate (1911–38). Now the Catholic Leader (1928– ) holds sway.
The Church Commonwealth (1900–12) was launched as a national Anglican paper. However, the Church Standard, founded by high churchmen in 1912, was the first Anglican newspaper to achieve a significant national distribution. In August 1914, it supported the war and lauded ‘the unity of the race’. After World War II, it gave way to the Anglican (1952–70) and Church Scene (1971–97). The Australian Church Record (1879–1987) began in 1880 as a Sydney-based attempt, which continues to this day, to witness to the Reformed heritage of the Anglican Church. In 2004 it switched to becoming available only online. In 1918, the Brisbane Church Chronicle (1891–1971) maintained that, ‘To be British means to give freely, as free men, of our best and of our blood for the common weal.’ After World War I, however, Rev. Sydney James Kirkby of the Bush Church Aid Society repudiated what he called ‘effete Englishmen’, and hence named his monthly journal the Real Australian.
The Melbourne Church of England Messenger (1850–66) commenced in January 1850. The Tasmanian Church Chronicle (1852–56) was a monthly supplement to the Hobart Town Courier. In 1862, the Tasmanian Synod began publication of the Church News (now the Tasmanian Anglican, 1862– ), while the Adelaide Church Guardian (1906–2007) has appeared online as the Anglican Guardian since 2008. The weekly Anglican ceased in 1970. The Church Scene began in 1971 as a national Anglican paper, with a small circulation of about 4000, and it ceased in 1997, to be succeeded by the Market-Place, which went online a decade later. In 1961 the Southern Cross appeared as the official publication of the evangelical Sydney Anglicans. It is now a free monthly.
Wesley’s Arminian Magazine, begun in 1778, was the oldest religious periodical in the world, and Australian Wesleyans were quick to follow his example—hence the Australian Magazine. In 1847, Rev. W.B. Boyce compiled a weekly paper, the Gleaner. It was subsequently incorporated into the Christian Standard (1848–50). Next came the Christian Advocate and Wesleyan Record in 1858, which struggled through unpaid subscriptions. In 1877 its name was changed to the Advocate, and in 1892 it became the Methodist, continuing until 1981.
The South Australian Primitive Methodist Record began in 1863, and continued in one form or another until the early 20th century. The monthly Glad Tidings was the organ of the Methodist Holiness Association, beginning in 1886. In 1941 it was taken over by the interdenominational Bible Union, and from 1951 to 1985 it was edited by the staunch Calvinist, Rev. W.R. McEwen.
Prior to the formation of the various state Presbyterian Churches—notably Victoria in 1859 and New South Wales in 1865—Presbyterianism was divided in the colonies. Journals and newspapers abounded, but after the union of 1865 in New South Wales there was some order, despite frequent name changes. Publications included the Presbyterian Magazine (1862–66) and the Presbyterian (1871–72), ending as the New South Wales Presbyterian (1926–65). Other states were similar. The national journal, established in 1956, was known as Australian Presbyterian Life from 1966 until 1989 (covering even the period of the formation of the liberal Uniting Church in 1977), and later Australian Presbyterian (1998–2011). During most of this time, the national journal was published monthly, but from 2012 it became known as AP, and is now free and distributed quarterly.
The first issue of the Australasian Baptist Magazine appeared in 1858, but it collapsed two years later. W.T. Whitley, the editor of the Southern Baptist, which ran to 1912, tried to argue in 1895 that ‘Higher criticism has got a bad name because of some bad higher critics’. The weekly Australian Baptist began in 1913, lasting for almost 80 years and playing a role in the formation of the Baptist Union of Australia in 1926. By 1975 it was published fortnightly, and by 1989 monthly; it folded in 1991. State Baptist Unions continued with monthly periodicals, and the National Baptist (1988–2002) was free to Baptist families.
With a few name changes, the Congregationalist (1875–1975) was the official paper of the NSW Congregational Union, ceasing in anticipation of joining the Uniting Church. Formed in 1977, the Uniting Church began with a subscription publication called Uniting in 1982 but it became the monthly Journey in the late 1980s. However, in 1991 New South Wales launched its own free magazine, Insights, with a circulation of 40,000 in 1992. It is still published. Five of the church’s state synods have monthly publications. With the Uniting Church’s slide into liberal theology and ethics, the Assembly of Confessing Congregations has published ACCatalyst (2007– ), in an attempt to reverse the trends.
The Assemblies of God began the Australian Evangel (1943–2001). There were a number of Lutheran publications, but the Australian Lutheran, which began in 1913, struggled through being identified as German. It has been published as the Lutheran since 1967. The Quaker organ, the Australian Friend, which has been published online since 2011, began in Hobart in 1887 under the editorship of William Benson—indeed, the Benson family provided editors for 32 years. The Baha’i Herald of the South began in 1930 in Adelaide, underwent a couple of name changes, and folded in 1960; it was then published in Sydney (1964–70) and has seen several further incarnations, in 1974–76 and from 1989. The Christadelphian Shield was being published by 1928, continuing until 2002. By 1892, the Seventh-day Adventists were producing Bible Echo, which ceased publication and became Australasian Signs of the Times (1905–1987).
Other magazines have appeared, such as Australian Christian World (1885–1953), New Life (est. 1939, online since 2011), the Pentecostal New Day (1943–50) and Renewing Australia (1986–92), the Festival of Light’s Light in the 1970s, which became VoxNews in 2008, On Being (est. 1975, now online as Alive) and Biblical Fundamentalist (c. 1979– ). Challenge, which first appeared in August 1980, is designed as an evangelistic tool and, like Eternity (2009– ), is interdenominational. Women’s issues triggered some publications, notably Women-Church (1987–2007) and the conservative Above Rubies (1977– ).
On 27 May 1842, the first issue of the Australian Jewish News was published, in the aftermath of the formation of the first Jewish congregation in Sydney in 1831. By the third issue, it was announcing its demise. In 1895, the Hebrew Standard was launched in Sydney, becoming the Australian Jewish Times in 1953. A new Australian Jewish News was launched in Melbourne in 1935; the Australian Jewish Times was renamed the Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News in 1990.
The first Buddhist newsletter was the Buddhist News, which first appeared in Sydney in 1953. This was changed to Metta in 1959, then to Buddhism Today in 1986. It folded in 2004 but reappeared in 2006. Islam was represented by the Australian Minaret in Adelaide (1965– 68), which then moved to Sydney. The Message (Sydney, 2002– ) and the Crescent Times (Perth, 2008– ) are two other contemporary Islamic newspapers.
Newspapers of whatever ilk face a perennial problem, exemplified by the valedictory address 416 remote commercial television service of an American printer: ‘Live honestly, love God, and pay for your newspapers.’ In an age where denominationalism seems to be passing, denominational news has tended to attract less interest than local news. The internet has also allowed many publications to go online. Indeed, ‘God’s word is not chained’ (2 Timothy 2: 9b).
REFs: J. Bonwick, Early Struggles of the Australian Press (1890); D. Busch, ‘The Christian Press in Australia’, Australian Religion Studies Review, 5(2) (1992); J. Colwell, The Illustrated History of Methodism, Sydney (1904); N. Turner, Catholics in Australia (2 vols) (1992).