PROVINCIAL NEWSPAPERS (QLD) LTD
Six pioneering Queensland country press families merged their newspaper interests in 1968 because of concern about a possible takeover by metropolitan interests, which they were afraid would result in the regional press becoming completely subservient to the capital city dailies.
The model for the holding company that resulted from the merger was provided by the purchasing vehicle used in 1961, when eight provincial dailies acquired the Barton family’s interests in the Bundaberg News-Mail; however, the catalyst for the merger was the takeover of the daily Cairns Post by Queensland Press Ltd in 1965. The families were satisfied they could work together because of the similarity of ethos among their newspaper businesses. They also saw in the merger the chance to seek listing on the Stock Exchange so that shareholders who wanted to sell their interests had greater opportunity to do so. The combination of the interests also provided access to greater funds and an opportunity for technological redevelopment that otherwise would have been impossible. The families that combined were the Dunn, Manning and Irwin families, and three Ipswich families— the Parkinsons, Stephensons and Kippens.
The Dunns owned three dailies—the Toowoomba Chronicle, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin and Maryborough Chronicle—and the bi-weekly Nambour Chronicle; the Mannings owned the Mackay Daily Mercury; the Irwins owned the Warwick Daily News; and the Ipswich families owned the Queensland Times. Each of the six families held an interest in the Bundaberg News-Mail. Each also had strong links with the Queensland provincial press dating from the 19th century, with the Parkinson and Stephenson families having been involved since the early 1860s and the Irwins since 1867.
The Dunns were the latest entrants, with their patriarch, Andrew Dunn (1854–1934), becoming the business manager of the Maryborough Chronicle in 1887, but the Dunns emerged as the dominant Queensland provincial press family. Andrew Dunn became the major shareholder in the Maryborough Chronicle in 1891. He steered the paper through difficult times in the 1890s but gradually turned the business around in the early years of the new century. With six sons, he was ready to expand his newspaper interests. Spurred on by the success of newspaper families such as the Buzacotts (of Maryborough, Rockhampton and Brisbane), the Grooms (Toowoomba) and the Morgans (Warwick), Dunn laid plans for his family. He had several of his sons trained in various departments of newspaper work, and arranged that others who had taken up other occupations should be available if required. All six sons played important roles in one or more of the newspapers the family acquired. The acquisitions were: 1911—the daily Rockhampton Morning Bulletin; 1914—the tri-weekly Warwick Argus; 1919—the tri-weekly Warwick Examiner & Times, which Dunn merged with his Argus to become the Warwick Daily News (with the Irwin family clinging to a minority interest); 1922—the two Toowoomba dailies, the Chronicle and the Darling Downs Gazette, which Dunn merged into one daily; and 1929—the Rockhampton Evening News (which the Dunns absorbed into the Morning Bulletin in 1941).
The advent of television in Australia in 1956 had a dramatic impact on media ownership because newspaper companies held the major interests in the companies awarded the first commercial television licences. Soon metropolitan newspaper owners—their bank accounts flush with television profits—were eager to acquire country newspapers. Country newspaper families, including the Dunns, began to devise strategies to avoid being taken over. In October 1963, the Dunns investigated a possible merger with the Townsville Daily Bulletin. Other talks were held, but there was no urgency until Queensland Press Ltd acquired the Cairns Post in November 1965. Serious talks about a holding company took place in January 1966 and continued at five meetings between March and August 1966. Townsville, Gympie and Cairns withdrew. The merger of the Dunn, Manning, Irwin and Ipswich families’ newspaper interests formed Provincial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd (PNQ) as a holding company on 1 April 1968, with the Dunn interest being almost 60 per cent. The company operated from Rockhampton until 1974, when it shifted to Brisbane. It was listed on the Stock Exchange from 9 December 1976.
Within six weeks of the 1968 merger, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited outbid PNQ and public opinion and opinion polls others to acquire the bi-weekly Gladstone Observer from the Macfarlan family interests. When Murdoch tried to acquire a parcel of PNQ shares in 1971, PNQ approached Queensland Press Ltd and it took a ‘friendly’ 29 per cent interest in PNQ. In 1975, PNQ bought the Gladstone Observer, by then a daily, from News Limited, and in 1978 increased to 100 per cent its interest in the Bundaberg News-Mail (as it had been known since 1961). PNQ’s greatest success came when it launched the Sunshine Coast Daily at Maroochydore in 1980 after acquiring several small Sunshine Coast newspapers in 1970, 1973 and 1974 to add to its bi-weekly Nambour Chronicle. After struggles in its first half-dozen years, the new daily achieved profitability. Its circulation, boosted in 1988 by free home delivery for six-day subscribers, was close to 21,000 in 1990.
PNQ bought the Emerald, Biloela and Chinchilla newspapers in 1985, 1986 and 1987 when they were offered the chance by owners wishing to exit. The end of PNQ came 17 months after the Murdoch takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) in February 1987. Many media properties changed hands—sometimes several times—in less than two years. In October 1987, PNQ bought the former Northern Star Holdings newspapers, principally the dailies based at Lismore, the Tweed Valley, Grafton and Coffs Harbour. But the Murdoch takeover of the HWT, assisted by the ‘friendly’ interest in PNQ held by subsidiary Queensland Press Ltd, gave News Limited a 48.6 per cent stake in PNQ. The Trade Practices Commission intervened, forcing News Limited to sell its stake in PNQ. This opened the way for the O’Reilly family and Irish newspaper interests to clinch the takeover that led to the formation of what became APN News and Media.
REF: R. Kirkpatrick, ‘Ghost of Caution Haunts House of Dunn: The Rise and Fall of a Queensland Newspaper Dynasty (1930–1989)’ (PhD thesis, 1994).