The K.G. Murray publishing empire began its life in 1936 when advertising man Kenneth Gordon Murray (1909–2001)—then producing two trade magazines from an office in Castlereagh Street, Sydney—decided to produce a monthly Australian men’s magazine, Man, modelled on the American Esquire.
Murray had no literary pretensions, but he sensed a gap in the marketplace and took a considerable risk by backing his instinct. Man was a remarkable success, considering its cover price of 2 shillings and its relatively high production values. Investing heavily in quality proved a good strategy for Murray at a time when the Australian magazine market was being flooded with foreign products against which many local publications struggled to compete.
Murray was a hands-on publisher and he constantly adjusted his product during its first years, seeking the best balance of cartoons, photography, stories and serious offerings. His hunger for success paid off, and by the end of 1938 Murray claimed Man was selling more than 60,000 copies a month.
Man’s success gave Murray the foundation for a fully fledged magazine publishing business that was unique in Australia at the time. Man was quickly followed by Man Junior (1937–73), a digest-sized version of Man; Cavalcade (1941–57), a general-interest magazine; the Insider (1939–41), a serious news review; and Digest of Digests (1940–58), an Australian version of Reader’s Digest. World War II forced the temporary suspension of Man Junior and Cavalcade, although Murray also produced a number of one-shot publications—mostly cartoon compilations—as conditions permitted.
Murray also produced some war-related publications for the Australian government. Foremost among these was Army (1942–46), proceeds from the sales of which went to the Defence Amenities Fund. South West Pacific (1942–53) was a slightly altered version of Army, printed on better paper, which was designed to promote Australia’s interests overseas—especially in the United States. It was circulated to influential Americans as part of a bid to promote the importance of continued US spending in the South-West Pacific theatre of war, and also to demonstrate how valiantly Australia was striving to hold up its end of the fight. Murray also published Action (1942–44), the digest-sized journal of the National Emergency Services.
When the war ended, so did Army. South West Pacific continued for some time as a publication of the Department of Information. Man Junior and Cavalcade resumed publication, with the Insider incorporated into Cavalcade. Adam (1946–78) was launched as a pulp magazine of action, sport and adventure stories.
Murray started the business as a sole trader in 1936, later forming a partnership and then, in 1947 and 1948, establishing a string of proprietary companies centred around K.G. Murray Publishing Company Pty Ltd and the printing business, Kenmure Press Pty Ltd. In 1952, Publishers Holdings Limited was formed to acquire all the shares in the various pre-existing companies, and by 1954 the group was producing 18 regular monthly magazines, three regular annuals, six monthly comic titles and a variety of ‘one-shot’ publications. Titles included Man, Man Junior, Pocket Man, Cavalcade, Digest of Digests, Photoplay (1947–63), True Story (1947–77), True Romance (c. 1947–78), Adam, Gals and Gags (1953–78) and Australian House and Garden (1948– ). The total monthly circulation of all Murray titles in 1954 was more than two million copies.
By the early 1970s, when Publishers Holdings Limited became the subject of a takeover bidding war between the Packer family’s Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) and the UK-based Thomson Publications, the organisation had added more titles to its stable, including Seacraft (1946–79, now Modern Boating), Wheels (1953– ), Australian Bride (1954–79), Australian Outdoors (1955–83, formerly Outdoors and Fishing), Sports Car World (1957–88), True Experience (1957–77), Ski Australia (1961– ) and Hot Rodding Review (1964–77). The Murray family sold the bulk of its shares to ACP, and Thomson withdrew its bid, leaving ACP clear to add the Publishers Holdings titles to its own portfolio of magazines.
Within a few years, the core titles that had built the Murray empire were discontinued and that remarkable empire was itself no more than a rapidly fading memory.
REFs: F.S. Greenop, History of Magazine Publishing in Australia (1947); H. Young, Sweet and Sour (2002).