The newspaper illustration ‘Diggers’ Saturday Night’ (Illustrated Australian News, 4 December 1873) depicts four prospectors gathered in a hut on a Saturday night at an undisclosed location. One of them is reading a newspaper aloud, while the others listen. In the article accompanying the illustration, there is the comment, ‘The weekly papers have just come up from town—the dailies seldom penetrate the ranges.’ This one line encapsulates the role of the weekly newspaper in 19th-century Australian media: disseminating news in a weekly summary format for rural readers.
The term ‘weekly newspaper’ refers to a paper published as a weekly companion newspaper by a metropolitan daily paper for distribution to a rural readership. This definition serves to distinguish the term from both the numerous country town newspapers that were issued once a week and various metropolitan weekly papers that were not connected to the dailies, whether suburban newspapers or more specialist papers such as the Melbourne Punch or the Sydney Bulletin.The weekly paper should also be distinguished from Sunday newspapers.
The concept of the weekly newspaper was developed by the dailies in 1850s gold rush-era Victoria, when less than a quarter of the population lived in Melbourne and the transport network for distribution to a rural readership was rudimentary. The earliest Australian companion newspaper was News of the Week (1852–1924), an adjunct to the Geelong Advertiser. Two other Victorian regional cities whose daily papers had companion weeklies commencing publication in the 1850s were Ballarat (Miner and Weekly Star) and Bendigo, then known as Sandhurst (Weekly Advertiser and Weekly Mercury).
The confusion that can arise from the publishing history of Australian weekly papers due to title changes and mergers is clear from the following example. A year after its founding in 1854, the Melbourne Age launched the Melbourne Weekly Age as a weekly digest of the previous week’s daily issues for distribution to a rural readership. In 1856, the Melbourne Leader was established as a weekly paper targeted at city readers, and finally in 1860 came the Farmer’s Journal as a weekly paper targeted at the selector. In 1864, this last paper was merged into the Melbourne Weekly Age, which in turn was merged in 1868 into what was now simply known as the Leader. The Leader ran until 1957, catering to a large country readership as well as a Melbourne one.
In Town Life in Australia (1883), Englishman Richard Twopenny described the weekly newspaper as ‘partly a newspaper, partly a magazine’. As a newspaper, it had a news digest component, and as a magazine, there were not only handy hints for the farmer, but sections devoted to literature, sport, theatre and travel, as well as women’s pages. In time, the weeklies also carried imagery—initially wood engravings, and then, with the advent of the halftone process in around 1890, photography (the dailies did not begin to carry imagery regularly until closer to World War I) and, increasingly, brand namebased, pictorial-style commercial advertising.
Other weekly newspapers had a similar publication history and format to that of the Leader. They were published by nearly all the colonial capital dailies, the best known being Melbourne’s Australasian (1864–1946), published by the Argus; the Weekly Times (1869– ), published first by the Daily Telegraph and then the Herald; the Sydney Mail (1860–1938), published by the Sydney Morning Herald; the Australian Town and Country Journal (1870– 1919), published by the Evening News; the Queenslander (1866–1939), published by the Brisbane Courier-Mail; and the Western Mail (1885–1955), published by the West Australian.
Twopenny’s article also accounts for the longevity of the weeklies: ‘The wants of the bushman, who relies on the one weekly paper for his sole intellectual food, and who, though often well educated, is far from libraries or books of any kind, have given rise to a class of weekly papers which are quite sui generis’. Yet it was not just the bushman who was catered for by the weekly, as its readership spanned the full spectrum of rural society, from the wealthy property owner and his household to the miner and his mates.
Continuing into the 20th century, in the absence of a fully developed publishing industry, the weeklies produced a range of material that would subsequently find outlets in books and specialist periodicals; Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms was originally published as a serial (1882–83) in the Sydney Mail. However, the inter-war years saw the peak of Australia’s rail system as well as an expanding road network, which together facilitated increasing competition from daily newspapers, including the new tabloid press. This period also witnessed the development of new forms of media—radio and newsreels—that further undermined the weekly newspaper.
REF: L. Stuart, Nineteenth Century Australian Periodicals (1979).