The Melbourne-based Free-Lance was published from April to October 1896 under the motto 'a white paper for white people' - a gesture clearly intended to establish a link with the Sydney Bulletin which published under the banner 'Australia for the White Man'.
The Free-Lance's regular columns included reporting on mining ventures ('Panned Off') and sporting activities. A page titled 'The Play' was devoted to Melbourne's theatrical life. This page provided extensive coverage of theatre productions, the lives and careers of actors and singers, and news of touring theatrical companies. The Free-Lance displayed a certain fascination with the personal lives of stage performers, pre-empting the twentieth century's focus on fame and celebrity-status. In addition to the regular coverage of sporting events, the Free-Lance ran a column on cycling, particularly dealing with female riders. Photographs of women cyclists appeared in most issues and, on one occasion, the image was a reproduction of a partially-naked Indigenous woman above the caption 'Cycling in the Back Blocks: A Malgoa Belle'.
In most issues, the editors responded to correspondents' submissions in an 'Answered' column (later called the 'Editorial Mill'). These responses, as with much else in the Free-Lance, were reminiscent of the style and tone of the Bulletin. From time to time, the Free-Lance would declare proudly that it had the 'largest circulation of any satirical illustrated weekly in Australasia, bar the Bulletin'.
The Free-Lance fostered and promoted Australian literature. It ran a semi-regular column on newspaper publishers and journalists titled 'Popular Pressmen'; subjects included Henry Lawson, Edward Dyson, A. B Paterson, Louis Becke and William Reay (qq.v.). On two occasions, the column title was changed to 'Popular Penwomen' to accommodate Ethel Turner and Louise Mack (qq.v.) as subjects. John Steele Robertson, Victor Daley and Montague Grover (qq.v.) all contributed poetry to the Free-Lance; Randolph Bedford and Hugh McCrae (qq.v.) contributed short stories. These poems and stories were usually illustrated, quite often by Lionel Lindsay or Norman Lindsay (qq.v.). The Free-Lance's pages also included updates on the appearance of Australian writing in British journals. Among those noted were Louis Becke and Guy Boothby (qq.v.) (in the Illustrated London News) and Ada Cambridge and Ethel Turner (qq.v.) (in the Windsor Magazine).
The Free-Lance enjoyed a robust relationship with other Melbourne papers of the time; it was particularly harsh in its commentary on the Argus. From August to October of 1896, the Free-Lance ran a series titled 'Deeds That Won the Empire'. This name is identical to a series written by the Rev. William Henry Fitchett for the Argus. The Free-Lance's heavily satirical series was authored by 'Werry Holey Stretchit'.
Towards the end of its life, the Free-Lance promoted itself through the issue of specially produced posters. These posters were 'designed and drawn by Australian artists' and 'printed in three colours by Australian printers for the use of Australian agents'. In the midst of this promotional campaign, the Free-Lance abruptly ceased publication, without explanation.
Source: 1.1 (23 April 1896): 2
'Circulating in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Westralia, Maoriland, Tasmania and South Australia through leading Agents.'
Source: 1.1 (23 April 1896): 2