PRESS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
On 18 June 1836, South Australia’s first newspaper, the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register, appeared; it was published in London by George Stevenson, formerly of the London Globe, and Robert Thomas, a London stationer. Published only in London were a handful of ‘South Australian’ newspapers—all of them promoting immigration to the newest British colony. Although several initial London issues were planned, the second issue of the Register was published one year later in Adelaide.
The Register heralded the beginning of an adventure not only for its owners, but for hundreds of carefully screened immigrants destined for the experimental colony of South Australia. This was not just the first Australian colony established without convict labour; the real experiment lay in selling land to fund free immigration of worthy, industrious young families, while also attracting ‘men of capital’ to invest in the experiment. In reality, the colony quickly descended into internal bickering, with the collapse of some of the founding ideals—probably assisted by tirades in the Register. The fact that editor George Stevenson was also the governor’s private secretary saw the newspaper embroiled in the debates, and led to the establishment of Adelaide’s second newspaper, the Southern Australian.
This rival collapsed in 1851 due to its unpopular support of state aid to religion, a troubled relationship with Governor Lieutenant-Colonel George Gawler and the economic downturn caused in South Australia by the exodus of labourers to the Victorian gold rush.
The pattern of 19th-century newspaper proliferation was already well established. Within its first decade, Adelaide had 19 newspapers, peaking at 27 titles in the 1870s. This does not include country newspapers, which began to blossom from the 1860s.
The country press began in 1839 with George Dehane’s Port Lincoln Herald. Showing great enterprise, Dehane sailed to the sea-port town, several hundred miles from Adelaide. But his newspaper appears to have lasted for just seven issues. In 1843, John Stephens produced the Adelaide Observer, which survived until its then parent Register was subsumed into the Advertiser in 1931. Stephens employed John Dickins to walk through the infant farming districts spreading out from the city to gauge demand for a newspaper aimed at country readership. The response was apparently overwhelming.
Next came the German-language Die Deutsche Post (1848–51), intended to cater for South Australia’s large Lutheran community, many of whom did not read English; it soon moved from Adelaide the Barossa Valley. Die Deutsche Post went through various incarnations. By 1863, there were two rival German-language titles, the Süd Australische Zeitung (1859–1974) and the Tanunda Deutsche Zeitung (1863–69). The former represented the views of the urban, mostly well-to-do Germans, while the Tanunda-based title appealed to the larger Barossa Valley farming community.
Apart from the large German community and its newspaper, there was no ongoing country press in South Australia until the irascible and argumentative George Allen established the Northern Star at Kapunda in 1860. The paper ceased in 1863 when Allen’s outspoken reporting landed him in prison for libel. Meanwhile, the Laurie brothers and their widowed mother had crossed the border from Portland, Victoria, to establish the Border Watch at Mount Gambier, in the far south east of South Australia, in 1861. This is the state’s oldest country newspaper, still appearing four times a week. It was closely followed by a rash of far-flung country titles: the Bunyip (Gawler, 1863– ), the Southern Argus (Strathalbyn, 1866– ) and the Northern Argus (Clare, 1869– ).
The spread of a country press naturally followed the spread of agriculture. The 1870s saw a further population spread north and westward, with attendant newspapers published at such places as Jamestown, Burra and Port Augusta. In the 1880s, there was movement eastwards to Peterborough and Terowie with the expansion of railway networks, and finally into the Riverland, beginning with the Renmark Pioneer (est. 1892), known as the Murray Pioneer since 1942. Only two country newspapers have ever been published daily—the short-lived Kapunda Evening News (1873) and the long-running Port Pirie Recorder (1898–1971), which from 1914 to 1941 appeared six days a week. Since 1904, the Stock Journal has provided farmers with agricultural reading.
In 1914, on the eve of World War I, George Nicolaides founded the Greek-language ethnic press in Adelaide with Oceanis. He moved the newspaper to Sydney the following year, but it soon collapsed. Apart from the short-lived Deltion Pharoy (1935–36), there were no further Greek-language newspapers in South Australia until the late 1960s when two appeared, Tachydromos (1968–92) and Nea Estia (1969–70).
In the 19th century, journalists relied heavily on the arrival of ships from interstate and overseas for their news. On 20 March 1844, the editor of the Register lamented: ‘We are now nearly six months without any direct news from England, and nearly two without anything of importance from the neighbouring colonies.’ Reporters waited at the port for ships to come in, cultivating the pilots to be first on board newly arriving vessels. However, things began to change from May 1858, when the Adelaide– Melbourne telegraph line was opened. Printer David Gall took advantage of the success of the innovation to establish Adelaide’s first afternoon newspaper, appropriately named the Telegraph (1862–65).
But newspaper reporting changed forever on 15 November 1872, with the completion of the Overland Telegraph Line. The work of building the line from Adelaide to Darwin was completed in just 18 months, with a submarine cable to Java completing the connection direct to London. Newspapers of the other capitals based reporters in Adelaide to speed the relaying of news.
During the 1850s gold rushes, all papers but the Register, the Adelaide Observer (which had become a subsidiary of the Register) and the Adelaide Times closed. The closure of the Adelaide Times in 1858 resulted in the founding of the Adelaide Advertiser by a disgruntled former Register leader-writer, Rev. John Henry Barrow. The Advertiser was founded jointly with a weekly news summary, the South Australian Weekly Chronicle, to compete with the Register’s earlier takeover of the Adelaide Observer. Both newspapers had afternoon tabloids—the Register ran the Evening Journal (1869–1912) and the Advertiser published the Express and Telegraph (1863–1923). The comic papers relished the jockeying of the two newspaper companies, often portraying them in cartoons and verse. For almost 70 years, the Advertiser and Register kept up their running battle, until the older title was finally subsumed into the Advertiser at the height of the Great Depression.
Technical advances locally followed world trends, through such innovations as steam printing presses, linotype machines and the appearance of half-tone photographs in 1887. The earliest illustrated newspaper was the Adelaide Independent and Cabinet of Amusement (1841). This contained crude cartoon-like lithographs as loose inserts. Brothers Samuel and Septimus Frearson experimented with publishing ‘sun pictures’ of outdoor scenes in 1887, in what became known as the Pictorial Australian (1878–95).
Motor vehicles were first used in news delivery during the preliminary trial of Mary Schippan for the murder of her sister Bertha at remote Towitta in 1902, when Advertiser journalists drove to nearby Angaston to telegraph their reports to Adelaide. In 1933, pilot Bert Hussey was employed to fly Melbourne Cup photographs to Adelaide overnight, also for the Advertiser.
Rupert Murdoch began in a small way in Adelaide in 1953 when he inherited his father’s afternoon tabloid, the News (1923–92). He went on to buy newspapers across Australia and New Zealand. In 1987, he sold the News and took over the Advertiser, which remains a Murdoch newspaper, with his sister Helen Handbury as director until her death in 2004.
Apart from its early years, South Australia has generally had a conservative morning press. Alternative or radical newspapers were the basis for a lively but often unstable secondary press in the city. Much of the early radicalism became apparent in the country press in this period, and appeared in interesting pockets well into the 20th century. From 1894, the emerging labour movement produced the Weekly Herald. This became the widely read Daily Herald from 1910 to 1924. It was an annoyance rather than a threat to the dominant Register and Advertiser.
South Australia’s press steadily decreased in the 20th century. Motor transport, a declining rural population, the Great Depression and the two World Wars all helped escalate newspaper closures and mergers. The gathering and delivery of news was greatly affected by communication advancements, particularly the advent of radio and television, despite the purchase by the Advertiser and News of substantial share-holdings in two of the commercial television stations. New styles of presentation and reporting emerged. Front-page headlines replaced frontpage advertising, and pictorial content was a firmly established norm.
The shrinking South Australian regional press was offset by an increasing number of suburban newspapers from the 1920s—although the earliest titles appeared in the 1880s. Most of the early suburban newspapers were shortlived. In 1951, Roger Baynes and Len Croker established their first free Messenger newspaper at Port Adelaide (1951–84). It was based on papers Baynes had seen in Sydney. Messenger Newspapers acquired older suburban newspapers until, by 1964, every home in Adelaide was receiving a free Messenger newspaper. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the coverage extended to country areas. In 1988, Messenger Newspapers’ production moved to the Advertiser, and by 1991 all Messenger titles were printed by News Limited and were part of the Murdoch empire. Today there are 11 Messenger titles under the Advertiser’s control.
In the mid-1980s, Rural Press Limited began buying into many of South Australia’s country newspapers. In 2007, the company merged with Fairfax Media. Today Fairfax owns 17 of the 34 country newspapers in publication in the state. The other country newspapers are owned independently or by small conglomerates, such as the Riverland’s Murray Pioneer and the Scott Group of Companies, established in Mount Gambier in 1952.
Currently, two non-English titles complete the tally of South Australian newspapers— Paroikiako Vema (Greek Tribune, 1994– ) and Nan’ao Shi Bao (South Australian Chinese Weekly, 1997– ).
A decade into the new millennium, the Advertiser and its subsidiary, the Sunday Mail, have no real competitors. The last afternoon tabloid, the News, closed in 1992. At various times, others have tried to chip away some of the Advertiser monopoly. The monthly Adelaide Review (est. 1984) was revamped and became fortnightly in 2004 with an eye to taking on the Adelaide daily, but in 2008 returned to monthly publishing. The Independent Weekly was established in 2004, also with a view to challenging the Advertiser. This title did at least succeed in its original aim of daily publication in 2011, when it ceased as a paper product to become the online InDaily— currently the sole South Australian newspaper published only electronically.
Since 1987, Sister Janet Mead with the Romero Community has produced Adelaide Voices, not as a challenge to the Murdoch press, but simply to print the stories the others do not cover.
REFs: Sir John Langdon Bonython Papers (SLSA); L.S. Marquis, Rescuing History in South Australian Newspapers (1975); R.B. Walker, ‘German-language Press and People in South Australia 1848–1900’, Jnl of the Royal Australian Historical Society (June 1972).