The Northern Territory’s oldest post-war newspaper was founded by C.H. ‘Pop’ Chapman (1874–1955), a Queensland well-sinker who had made his fortune at The Granites, a remote Central Australian goldfield, during the Great Depression. Launched in Alice Springs, the Centralian Advocate replaced the Dead Heart?, a small community newspaper launched 10 months earlier. The Advocate’s editor, Walter Allan, an experienced journalist from Ballarat, had to assemble the press before printing the first edition on 24 May 1947; it was sold as a ‘souvenir’ in anticipation of the ‘sentimental value’ it would carry when the Northern Territory became a ‘flourishing state’. Optimism about the economic and political growth of the Territory was matched by the newspaper’s belief in the potentially pivotal role of Central Australia in Territory progress. The masthead declared the Advocate ‘a weekly journal devoted to the advancement of the Northern Territory and the interests of its people’. It was a role befitting Alice Springs’ position as the Territory’s administrative capital during World War II. Early editions advocated for local services like a fire brigade, flights to Adelaide and a municipal council. The first edition also supported atomic tests at Maralinga, suggesting that test opponents were communists. On 16 January 1950, fire gutted the paper’s premises.
The Advocate’s Territory-wide ambitions were abandoned in 1959 with the appointment of an editor from the Riverland, Ted Williams, who described the Advocate as ‘the voice of the Inland’. The newspaper, which had absorbed the Tennant Creek Times the previous year, got a new masthead with no tag-line and a designated women’s section. The editor reassured readers that the Advocate would continue to be ‘at the forefront of every progressive move for the development of the vast territory based upon Alice Springs’. The newspaper’s advocacy role disappeared entirely several decades later, when the paper acquired the historically descriptive tag-line ‘Serving the Centre since 1947’.
In 1966, the Advocate—which had been owned by various consortia of locals since its establishment—was purchased by News Limited and partnered with the Sydney Daily Mirror. The change brought large-font headlines and front-page photographs of bikini girls, as well as syndicated comics like Andy Capp. In 1968, the paper acquired block-making facilities, and its plant was upgraded and expanded. While some worried that the new ownership reduced the newspaper’s editorial independence, others welcomed the superior technological resources. Photographs were now set in Alice Springs rather than Adelaide, and the occasions when the Advocate was printed on butcher’s paper rather than on newsprint came to an end. Circulation increased dramatically, resulting in a decision in 1973 to double the floor-space of the plant and offices. From 1990, the newspaper was printed locally on equipment that survived Darwin’s Cyclone Tracy. Since 2013, printing, sub-editing, graphics and advertising design have been outsourced by News Corp Australia.
The Advocate’s most famous editor (1948–54) was Jim Bowditch, who later edited the Northern Territory News. A passionate champion of social justice and an often controversial Territory larrikin, Bowditch has been described as Australia’s ‘last crusading editor’. In 1954, beginning a tradition, he concocted a headline-grabbing story about the sighting of a flying saucer that was officially investigated by the Royal Australian Air Force and reported worldwide. A 1980s story about Alice Springs’ mayor flying to Venice to find out how to stop a new pedestrian mall from sinking prompted Darwin’s mayor to express his sympathy. The Advocate’s ‘jokes’ are usually published on April Fools’ Day.
Significant local stories covered by the Advocate included the life and times of Albert Namatjira, the Sundown murders (1958), protests against the Joint Defence Space Research Facility near Alice Springs (1960s), the hijacking of an aeroplane bound for Alice Springs (1972), the Azaria Chamberlain trial (1982), one of the world’s biggest hot air balloon crashes, which killed 13 people (1989), and the disappearance of English tourist Peter Falconio (2001).
The absence of positive Aboriginal stories and a dearth of Aboriginal employees was cited as a reason for the establishment, in 1980, of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), Australia’s first Aboriginal-owned media organisation. In 1983, the Northern Territory Supreme Court ordered the destruction of an edition of the Advocate because it breached traditional Aboriginal cultural protocols by printing photographs of a camp where someone had died during protests against the construction of a dam on a local Arrernte women’s sacred site.
The Advocate has been published bi-weekly since 1981.
REFs: Centralian Advocate, 13 June 1997, 31 July 2007; P. Donovan, Alice Springs (1988).