In 1963, a group of student editors from several Sydney universities founded a magazine that would test the moral tolerance of Australian society. Reacting to a social climate of regular censorship and an enduring White Australia policy, the editors aimed to challenge their readers with nudity, sexual frankness and strong opposition to mainstream ideas.
The first issue of Oz was published on April Fools' Day 1963. In a deliberate attempt to expand the audience for undergraduate ideas, the magazine was delivered to newsagents and energetically sold on the streets. So successful was this method that the magazine sold six thousand copies before lunchtime and a reprint was ordered. Circulation reached a peak of 40,000 issues several years later.
The first issue attracted immediate attention when the editors were charged with obscenity, due primarily to an article on an illegal abortionist, but also by a discussion on chastity belts. A later issue also attracted a charge of obscenity because of a cover picture of three men at a urinal and a satirical piece on the sexual exploits of 'gatecrashers'. Satire dominated the pages of Oz. While much of the magazine was written by Richard Walsh, Richard Neville and cartoonist Martin Sharp, writers such as Bob Ellis, Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes also contributed.
In 1966 Neville and Sharp left Australia for England where they established a London version of Oz magazine. Continuing the challenge to mainstream society begun in the Australian issues, the London publication also attracted charges of obscenity for a 1970 'Schoolkids' issue. This culminated in a celebrated court case that saw the editors first sentenced to gaol before being released on appeal after significant public protests and support from celebrities such as John Lennon.
The Australian version of Oz continued until 1970. Without Neville and Sharp, it took on a more serious tone and circulation dropped dramatically. The subsequent drop in advertising made it difficult to meet production costs, and so after the February issue of 1969, the magazine was replaced by a foolscap-sized newsletter which ran until November 1970.