The European history of Australia was profoundly affected by travel writing, beginning with the work of William Dampier. During the 19th century, a number of popular novelists travelled to Australia and wrote insightful travel books about the experience. The most impressive were Anthony Trollope, who wrote Australia and New Zealand (published in London in 1873), and Mark Twain, whose oft-quoted Following the Equator appeared in 1897.
Trollope was a regular contributing travel writer to newspapers in both Australia and Britain. In 1871–72, he wrote a series of letters commenting on life in the colonies, which were published in London’s Daily Telegraph; Australia and New Zealand was also serialised in the Australasian. When he returned in 1875, he wrote a series of 20 letters for the Liverpool Mercury in England. Travel writing continued through the 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was most commonly recorded in books, personal journals and diaries.
The arrival of radio in Australia in the 1920s saw occasional travel talks—for example, in 1927, Theosophist Hilda Wood lectured on Sydney’s 2GB about the manners and customs of women she had met in the countries she had visited.
From the 1930s, popular non-fiction writers with high profiles, such as Frank Clune, Ernestine Hill and Ion Idriess, were often invited to contribute travel articles to magazines and newspapers, ranging from the Bulletin and Smith’s Weekly to Man and Walkabout. Clune could also be heard on radio—first on 2KY Sydney, then on the ABC, where Roaming Round Australia (1945–57) boasted an audience of one million. Walkabout published travel articles by later writers such as Keith Dunstan and Patsy Adam-Smith. A decade after Walkabout’s demise in 1974, Australian Geographic emerged, and is still published today.
By the 1950s, travel writing had become a small and integrated part of the increasingly successful mass-circulation magazines, including popular men’s magazines like Australasian Post. The Australian Women’s Weekly had a weekly ‘Traveller’s Tale’, and launched the successful ‘Australian Women’s Weekly World Discovery Tours’ in 1966; Australian Consolidated Press bought into World Travel Headquarters Pty Ltd in 1959. Australian editions of magazines such as Rolling Stone, Penthouse and Playboy also accepted long-form travel journalism. Some airline magazines, including Panorama (1950–98) and Flight Deck (1986–94) carried pieces that were humorous and off-beat, and not advertorial.
However, today’s style of travel reporting, in the sense of a separate and dedicated travel section in a newspaper or a magazine-style program on television, is a recent phenomenon.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s first travel section was known as Travel and Leisure. It first appeared on 25 May 1989, and was described in publicity as a ‘new weekly supplement taking you to top destinations, in Australia and abroad, on and off the beaten track’. When the newspaper moved to its new printing plant in western Sydney in March 1996, it proudly announced that a ‘new colourful Travel section is doubling in size and moving to our weekend edition’. It was targeted reporting for an increasingly travel-obsessed generation of baby boomers.
The growth of television magazine travel reporting started as recently as 1987, with the ABC’s lifestyle series Holiday. On commercial television, travel magazine-style shows started in the early 1990s. Getaway started the Nine Network in 1992. The following year, the Seven Network launched The Great Outdoors, which was so popular that in 2002 it expanded from a 30-minute program on a Tuesday at 8 p.m. to occupy 60 minutes on Monday nights at 7.30 p.m. It ran until 2009. For 20 years, former cricketer Mike Whitney has been hosting Sydney Weekender on the Seven Network.
Prior to the weekly shows with regular presenters, television travel reporting had largely been the work of enthusiastic sole reporters and filmmakers. Possibly the first example of Australian television travel reporting was Australian Walkabout, made in the 1950s by Charles Chauvel Productions for BBC Television. (There had been an ABC Radio series of the same name made by Colin Simpson a decade earlier.) The 13-part television series was written, produced and narrated by famous Australian filmmakers Charles and Elsa Chauvel, and shown in the United Kingdom in colour. ABC Television broadcast the series in black and white in 1958–59.
Mike and Mal Leyland hosted Ask the Leyland Brothers, focusing on their travels across Australia and New Zealand, on the Nine Network in 1976–80. Shows like In the Wild with Harry Butler (1976–81) mixed travel with history and wildlife. In 1975–76, Bill Peach—the hugely popular host of the ABC current affairs program This Day Tonight—produced a 52-part series titled Peach’s Australia, described as a ‘travelogue cum history series’. A recent example of this personal lifestyle-travel genre was the 13-part series, A River Somewhere (1997–98), in which comedians Rob Sitch and Tom Gleisner travelled to places they believed were ideal for fly fishing.
Contemporary travel writing is, sadly, largely driven by the power of the travel industry. Symbolic of this is the fact that the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW)—once, as the name suggests, a society of like-minded travel writers—has expanded its membership to tourism representatives and public relations people specialising in travel. In 2013, the ASTW website listed 310 members, of whom 144 identified themselves as PR or tourism representatives. Increasingly, as media budgets shrink, travel writing is funded or sponsored by local and state tourism authorities, and often by specific destinations seeking favourable publicity.
Magazines such as Traveller (1890–1905), published by the Commercial Travellers’ Association of Victoria, have been succeeded by specialist titles such as Travel and Living (2004– ) and Travel Weekly (2006– ). Adventure travel magazines include Get Lost (2004– ), an international title published in Melbourne, Outer Edge (2007– ) and Australian Geographic Outdoor (2009– ).
Increasingly, travel writers have augmented their incomes from traditional outlets by moving into the online space. Ben Groundwater, who has written for newspapers ranging from the Sun-Herald to FHM, has since 2006 been writing a weekly blog for Fairfax Media, the Backpacker. The challenge for travel bloggers is to be paid for their writing.
As travel writing and reporting have become increasingly important as a lucrative source of advertising revenue for media organisations, the prevailing styles have narrowed. Many readers and viewers now see travel television programs and sections of newspapers as an arm of the travel PR industry rather than locations for balanced reporting.
Gone are the quirky styles of Twain and Trollope. They have been replaced by hard facts, costings, available accommodation and eating options, ‘how to’ advice and guides that are quick overviews of destinations—the written equivalent of a hasty day trip. Invariably—because the writers’ expenses have been paid—the stories are positive rather than objective and analytic.
REFs: D. Clark and S. Samuelson, 50 Years (2006); P. Rolfe, The Journalistic Javelin 1880–1980 (1979).