PRESS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Within months of the arrival of the first British settlers in the Swan River colony in 1829, attempts were made to provide them with newspapers. Two incomplete handwritten survivors from 1830 are the Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser and the Western Australian Chronicle, but neither lasted more than a few issues. The arrival of a printing press in April 1831 facilitated the publication of the Fremantle Observer, but it too was short-lived. Despite a small non-Aboriginal population (under 2000 in 1838 and exceeding 5000 only in 1849), the Perth Gazette (est. 1833 and to continue under various names) was followed by competitors, including the Swan River Guardian (1836–38) and the Inquirer and Commercial News (1840–1901).
After the coming of convict transportation in 1850, the Inquirer (owned by Edmund Stirling and his family) and the slightly less conservative Perth Gazette continued unchallenged, drawing most of their news from rural local correspondents and the months-old London newspapers arriving by sea. In 1867, a trio of educated ex-convicts founded the Fremantle Herald as an alternative, with its columnist William Beresford, writing under the semi-literate guise of ‘An Old Sandalwood Cutter’, delivering many shrewd thrusts against the governing classes. However, in 1870 it was the Perth Gazette and the Inquirer that felt the wrath of Chief Justice Archibald Burt for publishing criticisms of his judicial decisions; the editors of both were fined and one was imprisoned. All three newspapers learned discretion when it came to challenging authority.
The introduction of the telegraph in 1869, and its connection to the eastern Australian and overseas systems in 1877, brought major change. Historian Tom Stannage wrote that its impact ‘should not be exaggerated, for the cable was expensive, the news coming down it was highly selective and sketchy, and the local newspapers continued their long-established practice of reprinting fuller accounts from British and colonial journals’. These became more accessible after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 was followed by regular steamship services. From 1868 onwards, the King George’s Sound Observer (1868) in Albany and the Eastern Districts Chronicle (1877–1959) in York began, followed by other publications in Geraldton and Bunbury.
The Fremantle Express (1870–71) was the first Western Australian daily, followed by the Daily News in Perth, founded by the proprietors of the Inquirer. This proprietorship soon acquired the Fremantle Herald and closed it in 1886. The rival newspaper, the West Australian, was established as a bi-weekly in 1879. In 1885 it became a daily and started a rural weekly, the Western Mail, which continued until 1955. Distribution was facilitated by the gradual construction of a railway system that by 1890 extended from Perth to Albany and Bunbury. The media were emboldened to encourage controversy. Competition between the two dailies was further enlivened by the democratic influence of the West Australian Catholic Record (1874– ) and a more short-lived humorous weekly the Possum (est. 1887), at times part of the W.A. Bulletin (1888–90).
Greater dynamism resulted from the coming of responsible government in 1890 and the massive gold discoveries that followed almost immediately. Between 1890 and 1901, the population quadrupled. Among the thousands attracted to Western Australia’s goldfields were journalists ready to model their style on the Sydney Bulletin and John Norton’s Truth, and they found a ready readership. From 1890, the locally born John Drew, as editor of the Victoria Express (from 1894 the Geraldton Express, and still in publication as the Geraldton Guardian), denounced government shortcomings and encouraged outback literature. The Murchison and Eastern goldfields were soon served by many newspapers of the same character; the Murchison Miner (1893–94), the Coolgardie Miner (1894–1911, 1913–17, 1935–57) and the weekly Kalgoorlie Sun (1898–1929) were among the most prominent. The Kalgoorlie Miner (1895– ) has been Western Australia’s only country daily since 1930.
By 1900, around 35 newspapers were published in Western Australia. The two Perth dailies responded by upgrading their technology, including the introduction of photography and cartoons. Competitors appeared. In 1896, the Stirling brothers, proprietors of the Daily News, set up the Morning Herald avowedly to appeal to readers critical of Sir John Forrest’s government, but the paper opposed Federation and was eventually sold to the Catholic Church and ceased publication in 1909. The Sunday Times, a weekly established in 1897 by the goldfields radical Frederick Vosper and Edward Ellis, founder of the Sydney Sunday Times, proved more durable, but after Vosper’s death in 1901 shifted to a populist conservatism favouring Western Australia’s secession from the Commonwealth.
The gradual decline of the goldfields after 1905 was reflected by the closure of many local newspapers, but these were replaced by newcomers—usually weeklies—in the expanding wheatbelt of the south-west. By 1930, Western Australia supported 68 registered newspapers. If coverage in the regional press was more parochial than in their goldfields predecessors, these newspapers still afforded space for local versifiers, as well as reflecting the political views of their agrarian readers. In Perth, the main newcomers between the two World Wars were two weeklies: the Call (established as the W.A. Sportsman in 1914), devoted to racing, and the Mirror (est. 1920), a great favourite with Saturday-afternoon football crowds for its reportage of divorce cases and other scandals. The ALP weekly, the Westralian Worker, established in Kalgoorlie in 1900, reached its zenith under the editorship of John Curtin in the 1920s.
After a shortage of newsprint during World War II, a gradual decline followed. The Westralian Worker ceased publication in 1951; the Call was absorbed by the Mirror in 1953; and the Mirror itself closed in 1956. However, with postwar immigration, the ethnic press in Western Australia (which had emerged with the shipping newspaper, La Stampa Italiana, in 1931–32) expanded. Echo: Polski Tygodnik Niezalezny (1950–52) was published for the Polish community. It was followed by the Italian-language Il Canguro (‘The Kangaroo’, 1955–57), dealing mainly with sport, and Eco Italiano (1958–59) and the Hellenic Echo (Greek, 1967–68). Indigenous newspapers included Identity in Perth in the 1970s, Yamaji News (Geraldton, est. 1995, now known as the Mulga Mail) and the Aboriginal Independent Newspaper (1997–2001). Specialist interests were served by publications ranging from the Anglican Messenger (1965– 2005) to the Westside Observer (1987–2001) for the gay community.
As agricultural technology changed, many of the smaller rural townships lost population and their newspapers closed. The arrival of television in Western Australia in 1962 hastened the process, although it was 2003 before the last of the locally printed linotype newspapers, the family-owned Gnowangerup Star (est. 1915), ceased publication. The mining magnates Lang Hancock and Peter Wright financed the Perth Sunday Independent, edited by Max Newton, from 1969 but, unable to compete with the more established Sunday Times, it was wound up in 1986. Following Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times in 1987, there was considerable turmoil in the ownership of the WA press, involving both Alan Bond and Robert Holmes à Court. After 1990, the West Australian was unchallenged as a metropolitan daily, and its ownership controlled 21 of the 36 regional newspapers surviving in 2014, as well as owning a half-share in many suburban weeklies. Kerry Stokes acquired the largest shareholding in West Australian Newspapers Ltd in 2008, and went on to form what is now Seven West Media.
Several weekly suburban newspapers, including the Fremantle Herald and the Subiaco Post (1977– ), survived as independent commentators on local affairs. Post Newspapers was set up by journalist Bret Christian and his wife Bettye in the front room of a terrace house in Subiaco in 1977 and over the next few years several other titles were established in neighbouring suburbs in western Perth. The Claremont-Nedlands Post (1978– ) fought several battles on behalf of wrongly convicted individuals. These are now part of Perth Suburban Newspapers, formerly known as Perth Independent Newspapers. The Swan Express (1900–79) reported mainly on happenings in suburban Midland Junction.
Since the 1980s, an Asian press has appeared, including the Japanese Perth Times (1989–96), the Pho Thong News (Vietnamese, 1993–99), the Indonesia Post (1995–97) and the W.A. Chinese Periodical (1995–c.98). An Islamic newspaper, the Crescent Times, has been published in Perth since 2008.
In addition, many suburbs and country towns are served by computer-produced monthlies, often of A4 size, covering local sporting and social events. But in Western Australia as elsewhere, the long-term future of print media remains uncertain.
REFs: B. Shoesmith (ed.), ‘Media, Politics and Identity’, special issue of Studies in Western Australian History, 15 (1994); http://slwa.wa.gov.au/find/collections/nepapers/wa_newspapers.