by Victor Isaacs
This is not an article based on deep research – it is more in the nature of a survey of already published information, with a bit added by me. It surveys labour daily newspapers in Australia, that is, newspapers controlled by the labour movement, which attempted or claimed to provide a comprehensive daily news service. It does not survey the many non-daily newspapers which were devoted only to reporting of the labour movement.
The Labour movement was suspicious of the main newspapers and had plans, never fully realised, to have Labour dailies in each capital.
New South Wales
Daily Post 1895
The first Sydney labour paper was the Daily Post which dates from January 1895. It was spectacularly unsuccessful. It was inadequately capitalised from the beginning. The Australian Shearers’ Union refused to support it because it was not directly controlled by unions, because of differences between it and city based unions and because of disputes over the pledge required of Labor candidates. The company was already heavily in debt before it commenced publication and the more prudent directors had resigned, Chris Watson making way for William Holman. The first manager had been dismissed and unsuccessfully sued for embezzlement. There was no money for wages. Only about 12,000 of 80,000 shares had been subscribed. The Daily Post pledged to be democratic and unionistic. It published mainly fiction and filler items. There was no overseas news. Circulation never exceeded 10,000 and there was little support from advertisers. By March the unpaid compositors took over management, leasing the presses from the creditor who had seized them. It ceased on 1 April. Subsequently Directors were imprisoned for conspiracy to defraud.
More reading: Walker, R.B., The Newspaper Press in New South Wales 1803-1920, Sydney University Press, 1976.
Daily Mail later Labour Daily later Daily News 1922 – 1941
The Daily Mail was first published on 6 January 1922. It had a strange beginning. A group of Nationalist Party supporters formed a syndicate in 1921 to publish a newspaper. They failed and an option on the unissued shares was acquired by Paddy Minehan, a Labor MLA and the wealthy “boot king” of Sydney. Later the company was reported to have 3,000 shareholders, 905 of them Labor supporters. It soon had a circulation of 50,000 and at the beginning was the only penny paper in Sydney. In April 1923, it claimed a circulation of 77,700, probably the biggest it ever had.
At first, the Daily Mail had an independent political line and criticised all parties and politicians. After the establishment of the Sydney Daily Guardian, the Daily Mail to meet the competition became somewhat sensational. By the end of 1923, the Mail’s circulation was down to 20,000 and it looked like it would perish. Its assets were transferred to a new company, Labor Papers Ltd, with shareholders receiving no compensation.
The Australian Workers Union and other unions had established Labor Papers Ltd much earlier but the outbreak of war in 1914 thwarted their publication plans. After the war, plans were revived. The All-Australian Trades Union Congress appointed a Council of action to implement its resolution for Labor papers in all capital cities. Its Secretary was Albert Willis, Secretary of the Miners’ Federation. The Federation’s resources and its members, through a compulsory levy, largely financed the venture. The Miners controlled the Board of the newspaper. J.T. Lang was a foundation director and remained on the Board until 1938. The paper was severely undercapitalised and made serious losses.
It is an odd fact that the Labor Daily had a strike by its journalists in 1925 over the dismissal of some of their colleagues – or perhaps not odd, considering their labour outlook. The paper continued to be published and the AJA ordered its members back to work.
Dwyer Gray, formerly of the Hobart labour papers, the Daily Post and the World, was leader writer.
In layout, style and content it was a rather sensationalist and popular type of paper. It had a general news coverage, but with a distinct labor bias in its coverage. In the 1920s there was a significant amount of space devoted to what was headed “Labor News and views”. This included details of Labour Party and Union meetings. Its coverage did include the general run of features one would expect in a newspaper, including finance. It obtained a reasonable amount of general advertising.
In 1927 the Labour Council ordered the Labor Daily to cease its sensationalism, but in fact it continued to cater to its readers’ interests in sport, crime, violence and, more discreetly, sex, and indulged in circulation gimmicks, such as photographing attractive girls in the street at random and offering a prize to one. In 1926, its “What do You Read First” contest revealed that racing and sport exceeded general news. In 1925 when miners became compulsory subscribers its circulation got up to 80,000. During the state election that year, circulation was 102,000, but apparently many copies were distributed for free. It argued that the Labor Party stood for practical reforms, constitutionally achieved for social welfare. It made no attempt to report Labor’s opponents fairly. Before the election it claimed that fascists invaded the editor’s office, dragged him into the street and spilt petrol inside. The police were sceptical.
By now, the Labor Daily was also attacking members of the Labor Party whom Lang had taken a dislike to.
In December 1929 Willis announced the first ever profit for the Labor Daily, yet it was still short of capital and the staff were persuaded to take a reduction in wages. Its financial position improved because of the demise of its sensational competitor, the Daily Guardian. Lang appointed Willis Agent-General in London, but with the advent of the Stevens UAP government, he was recalled and returned to NSW. He then sought election to State Parliament, but Lang had now turned against him and the Labor Daily mercilessly attacked him. Lang not only influenced the election of the paper’s Directors, but also influenced it because he was its major creditor. He thus also secured installation of editors suitable to him. The Labor Daily supported Lang’s view of not only the workers, but also small employers, farmers, shopkeepers and small tradesmen as victims of the rich. It was blatantly partisan in its reporting. It was derisory to all Lang’s opponents, including those in the Federal Labor Party. On the other hand, it was filled with resolutions of branches which supported Lang.
Willis attempted to regain control of the Labor Daily but was thwarted. In return, the Miners’ Federation now dropped its support for the paper. Lang secured control against his industrial opponents by such devices as scheduling the AGM at 8 pm on Christmas Eve, and making sure opponents could not enter. In 1937, however, a court judgement gave directorships to two Langites and two of his industrial opponents. Faced with this, he demanded repayment of his loans to the paper and had a receiver appointed.
The unions now obtained control, reversing policies to now lambast Lang. However, the Langites had terminated their subscriptions and cancelled their advertisements. The paper was in severe financial difficulty. The new management decided to popularise the paper and change its name to the Daily News. However soon, the size of the paper was reduced and features were discontinued. Industrial news and left-wing editorials re-appeared. Rupert Lockwood was appointed news editor. Finances continued to deteriorate. Following the Communist line, the Daily News denounced the Second World War as capitalistic.
In June 1940 the company was obliged to appoint a receiver. The receiver sold the Daily News to Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press. On 26 July 1940 it ceased publication, or officially was incorporated into the Daily Telegraph. Indeed for many years the Daily Telegraph’s masthead continued to say “and the Daily News” It continued William McKell’s weekly column.
In summary, the Labor Daily, although it lasted sixteen years was a great failure. It caused nothing but division within the NSW labour movement. It is notable that following its demise was the most successful period for NSW Labor as it, throughout the next 24 years won elections and held power, unlike the 1930s when the Labor Daily was being published.
- Walker, R.B., Yesterday’s News: A History of the Newspaper Press in New South Walesfrom 1920 to 1945, Sydney University Press, 1980. The foregoing is largely a summary of Walker’s detailed account.
- Griffen-Foley, Bridget, The House of Packer: The Making of a Media Empire, Allen & Unwin, 1999.
- Griffen-Foley, Bridget, Sir Frank Packer: the young master, Harper Business, 2000.
- Nairn, Bede, The ‘Big Fella’: Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 1891-1949, Melbourne University Press, 1986, 1989 and 1995.
- Radi, Heather & Spearritt, Peter (eds), Jack Lang, Hale & Ironmonger, 1977.
- Freudenberg, Graham, Cause for Power: The official history of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party, Pluto Press, 1991.
The World, 1931 – 1932
The AWU, although it had money, was thwarted in its desire to control a labour paper by Lang’s control of the Labor Daily. Finally in 1930, it saw a chance as following the closure of the Evening News, the Sun was left as sole evening paper in Sydney. It hoped therefore that advertiser would support a competitor. The World commenced publication on 31 October 1931. But the times were wrong with the onset of the depression. However, it had a talented editor, Monty Grover, and staff. It was an attractive, popular paper, well illustrated. Entertainment and light features were prominent. It was prominent in attacking the New Guard. By late 1931 it was attacking Lang. Indeed, it approved of his dismissal, saying his was “the most reckless Administration that ever was in Australia”. It supported the Federal ALP. In 1932 its circulation was 71,000 but advertising support was meagre. It had accrued losses of £120,000. Unable to sustain its losses, it was leased to Ted Theodore and Frank Packer. But they closed the paper in return for a deal with the publisher of the Sun giving it an afternoon monopoly.
More reading: Walker, R.B., Yesterday’s News: A History of the Newspaper Press in New South Walesfrom 1920 to 1945, Sydney University Press, 1980.
National Advocate 1889-1963
Competing newspapers long existed in Bathurst. The National Advocate was founded 28 September 1889 to push the protectionist cause. It was that exceedingly rare thing, a country newspaper dedicated to support of Labor. It was another exceedingly rare thing, a competitive daily paper in a country town. The National Advocate had further claims to being unusual: almost alone among labour papers in Australia it survived for a long time, 73 years, it was profitable and regularly returned to shareholders a 10% dividend. In 1916 it claimed it had a circulation of 8,000.
The National Advocate had the same editor, Hilton Radcliffe “Bull” West for 42 years from 1914 to 1956 when he was 78 years old. He expressed moderate Labor views. During the difficult Lang years, the Advocate trod a delicate path, attacking Langism and advocating a vote for C.A. Kelly, the local State Labor Member.
It competed with a conventional country paper, the Western Times. A famous shareholder in the Advocate was Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley. Not surprisingly, two daily newspapers in a town the size of Bathurst were unsustainable and the Western Times and the National Advocate merged from 25 February 1963 to form the Western Advocate. It has been owned by Rural Press (now Fairfax Media) since 11 December 1995, and ironically is now printed at the printing works of the Dubbo Liberal.
More reading: Country Conscience: a history of the New South Wales provincial press, by Rod Kirkpatrick. Infinite Harvest Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-646-402706.
Barrier Daily Truth 1898 – to now
In 1897 a small union pamphlet was published in Broken Hill. Out of this, the Barrier Truth was founded on 8 January 1898 as a weekly to provide a labour voice in a strong union mining town. The Amalgamated Miners’ Association provided £50 for the paper. Charles Maley, a labour activist was editor. At first, local printeries would not print it and it was produced in Adelaide.
From July 1899 it was the official organ of the Barrier Industrial Council. Originally it was not a daily. Acceding to the notable newspaper historian Rod Kirkpatrick, it originally concentrated on local and labour news and had very little other news. When it added a women’s section, sporting news and racing results in 1902, its circulation doubled to 3,000 in nine months. On 2 November 1908 it became a daily, changing its name to Barrier Daily Truth. It was possibly the first union-owned daily in the world. It long competed with a conventional daily paper, the Barrier Miner, which was founded 28 February 1898 and lasted until 25 November 1974. The Barrier Daily Truth defended violent picketing and the militant tactics of Tom Mann, the labour organiser and founder of the Victorian Socialist Party, although showing little interest in his socialism.
The Barrier Daily Truth is owned by the Barrier Trades and Labor Council. Indeed it was included in unionists’ subscriptions. All industrial and mining workers in Broken Hill were obliged to be unionists, and their union fees included subscription to the Barrier Daily Truth.
In the turbulent 1930s, the Barrier Daily Truth supported Lang against Federal Labor.
The Barrier Daily Truth today (2008) is still owned and published by the Barrier Industrial Council. It is therefore the only surviving labour daily in Australia. In 2008 it looks much like any other small country daily paper. It does however still include a section headed “Industrial News” which provides details of union meetings. It is one of only three surviving independent daily newspapers in Australia, in the sense that only these three are not owned by one of the four big newspaper companies. (The others are in Mildura and Shepparton).
More reading: Country Conscience: a history of the New South Wales provincial press, by Rod Kirkpatrick. Infinite Harvest Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-646-402706.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate 1876 – to now
The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate was not owned by any part of the Labour movement. It was owned by a local company with the usual motives of profit. However, I include it here because it had the unusual attribute of consistently supporting not conservative politics, but rather supporting labour and Labor – both unions and Party. This probably was a consequence of its market – a strong industrial, port and railway city.
The Newcastle Herald was founded on 17 July 1876, however it incorporates the Miner’s Advocate and Northumberland Recorder dating from 1873 and the older Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News which commenced on 28 August 1858. On its establishment in 1876, it editorialised that it set out to be “the only fearless advocate of the legitimate rights of labour in the Hunter River District, or in the colony”.
It adopted the title Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate until 5 October 1980 when this was simplified to Newcastle Herald. On 2 June 2003 it was even more simplified to become just the Herald.
There was an element of competition with the Maitland Mercury, established 7 January 1843, the third oldest surviving newspaper in Australia reflecting the historic rivalry between Newcastle and Maitland.
In 1936 the Newcastle Morning Herald took over the Newcastle Sun, a lively afternoon paper (founded 23 March 1918, incorporated the Northern Times 11 October 1916 and Newcastle Telegraph possibly dating from 1857). The Newcastle Sun closed from 4 July 1980 (after which for a short time there was a Newcastle edition of the Sydney Sun).
The Newcastle Morning Herald was acquired by the John Fairfax company (publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald) in 1961, beating off Sir Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press.
The Newcastle Herald changed from broadsheet size to tabloid on 27 July 1998. Since then the Newcastle Herald has been one of the few Australian newspapers with circulation consistently increasing. Its new printing plant came on line on 1 November 1998.
- Newcastle Herald 125 years supplement 6 October 1983.
- Company of Heralds: A Century and a half of Australian publishing by Gavin Souter. MelbourneUniversity Press, 1981, ISBN 0-522-84218-6. A comprehensive history of the Fairfax company.
- Country Conscience: a history of the New South Wales provincial press, by Rod Kirkpatrick. Infinite Harvest Publishing, 2000, ISBN 0-646-402706, pages 332-340.
Queensland – Brisbane
Daily Standard 1912 – 1936
The Labor movement long wished to establish papers to support its cause in major cities. One of the few that lasted a significant time – indeed the longest lasting – was the Brisbane afternoon paper the Daily Standard.
The first attempt in Brisbane was in 1907 but it only lasted one issue. During the very bitter Brisbane Tramway strike of 1912 a daily publication entitled Strike Bulletin was published each evening. Based on this experience, the Labour Daily Newspaper Company was established with capital of £15,000 with shares held by Brisbane unions. Its publication, the Daily Standard, was established on 10 December 1912. In 1917, at the time of the second conscription referendum, Denis Murphy says the Daily Standard was faced with the possibility of closure because of rising paper costs and boycotting by advertisers. It survived. But in 1918 a Liberty Fair was held to raise finance for it additional to that provided by unions, especially the Brisbane Industrial Council, and donors. It was prone around 1920 to print articles critical of the Parliamentary Labor Party and which seemed to support IWW ideas.
At this time, Brisbane had a number of newspapers, two in the morning (the Courier and the Daily Mail, merged 1933) and the Daily Standard was one of three in the evening (the others being the Telegraph and the Observer (which ceased in 1926)). Hence the Standard did not have an easy time.
The Daily Standard provided pretty consistently comprehensive news coverage. Nevertheless it presented very strongly a mainstream Labor Party viewpoint. In the 1920s there was a regular section headed variously “Among the Unions” or “The Industrial Front” or “News from the Industrial Front” providing details of union activities, but this was dropped by at least the 1930s. It obtained a fair amount of advertising support, including from big Brisbane stores. The Daily Standard was one of the first newspapers in Australia to replace advertising on its front page with news, on 13 August 1923. On 8 November 1930 the Daily Standard changed from broadsheet to tabloid size. It was finally laid low by the effects of the depression and ceased on 8 July 1936.
More reading: D.J. Murphy, “Queensland” in Labor in Politics: the state labor parties in Australia 1880-1920, D.J. Murphy (ed), University of Queensland Press, 1975.
Tasmania – Hobart
Daily Post 1908 – 1918
World 1918 – 1924
Hobart, surprisingly, supported two of the few Labor-supporting dailies in Australia: The Daily Post was published from 27 May 1908, apparently with support from Henry Jones, the jam manufacturer, and Charles Metz, an independent Labor state MP. It attempted to appeal to a wider audience than the weekly Tasmanian Labor publication, the Clipper (1893 – 1910). The Labor Party obtained a controlling influence in the Daily Post 1910 and installed Dwyer Gray, formerly of the Dublin Freeman’s Journal as editor. In 1911 it was complaining of an advertisers’ boycott of it. The Daily Post failed in 1918.
A new Labor daily in Hobart was the World which commenced on 29 June 1918, also edited by Dwyer Gray. The World was controlled by the Australian Workers’ Union. The World ceased from May 1924.
More reading: R.P. Davis, “Tasmania” in Labor in Politics: the state labor parties in Australia 1880-1920, D.J. Murphy (ed), University of Queensland Press, 1975.
South Australia – Adelaide
Herald 1910 – 1924
Adelaide was the site for one of the few Labor dailies in Australia, the Daily Herald (March 1910 – 16 June 1924). It is interesting because a remnant survives today, albeit in a very different form as an internet publication.
The Adelaide Trades and Labor Council established Cooperative Printing and Publishing Company to publish the Weekly Herald as the voice of organised Labour. This appeared from 12 October 1894. It progressively increased in size and circulation during its sixteen years as a weekly. It became a daily in 1910 as the Daily Herald. It continued as a daily for fourteen years. However, its financial position was never sound and the setbacks caused by some libel cases caused its demise in 1924. Its final editorial said:
We have kept the company going for fourteen years in the face of great financial difficulties. The paper was started with too small an amount of capital far too small. To become a payable affair, a newspaper must receive advertising. On account of the policy of the Labor Party, in opposition to associations that desire to keep prices high and wages low and the condition of the worker bad in the interests of profit, we have been denied many advertisements.
I have heard it stated on good authority that no Labor newspaper in the world has been able to pay its way, and has had to rely on funds supplied by unions. We have had assistance at periods from unions, but not for some time now
In 1931, the South Australian Branch of the ALP inaugurated a weekly newspaper. It was titled the Labor Advocate. In 1936 this changed its name to The Workers Weekly Herald, probably to make it clear that it was the successor to the previous two Heralds, the Weekly and the Daily. This carried on for a number of years with a fair measure of the support. However, as with all Labor newspapers there were many financial crises, the main difficulty being the difficulty in attracting sufficient advertising. In 1949 the name was changed to the Herald. Due to financial difficulties, publication was suspended in September 1952. Publication was resumed in April 1957 as a monthly.
Then in late 1994, it was decided to publish a national ALP journal – the first in the Party’s history. Gary Orr was founding editor. The lineage of the new journal was retained through the masthead, the NationalLabor Herald which, a few editions later, was changed to Labor Herald. The first edition was published as April 1995. Initially, the participating branches were SA, WA, Tasmania, NT and the ACT. Those branches chose to close their own journals in favour of the new national journal. After two editions, the Victorian branch followed suit, and the Queensland branch joined at the end of 1995. The NSW branch joined the national journal in 1998.
Labor Herald commenced as a 24 page tabloid newspaper and grew into a full colour magazine of 48 pages at its peak from 1998 to 2001. A total of 40 editions were published from 1995 to 2004. It was bi-monthly until 2002 and less frequent thereafter. The edition just prior to the 2004 federal election was the last of the printed Heralds.
In early 2005, it was decided to replace the journal with a web journal to be called Labor eHerald. Gary Orr was again the founding editor. The new journal was, and remains, a pioneering concept – the ALP is possibly the only political party in the world to publish such a web journal.
In 2009 the eHerald disappeared into the website of the Australian Labor Party.
History: The Herald masthead in labour history: A short history of the Herald as an ALP journal from an unpublished manuscript by the late Frank Kneebone (a Minister in the first Dunstan Government).
Image from State Library of South Australia
Victoria – Melbourne
People’s Daily 1903 – 1904
Not a labour newspaper, as such, but a radical daily paper. The MelbournePeople’s Daily had a very short life – from 28 November 1903 to 10 June 1904 and consequently had little impact. Very few copies survive in libraries, so it is even hard to study this paper. The first edition was four pages – very little news and none from overseas news. The last page was a prospectus. It stated that “The production of The People’s daily will be carried out by 50 co-operative Printers and Journalists. The objects of the Company are to establish a truly Liberal, democratic Penny, daily newspaper….”
The labour movement’s aim to have labour dailies in all major cities failed. It is notable that the most successful example, the one that lasted the longest, the Daily Standard of Brisbane, was the newspaper which provided the most comprehensive and general news coverage.
APPENDIX: SOME NON-DAILY LABOUR PAPERS (not individual union papers)
Hummer, Wagga Wagga 1891–1892, then as the Worker 1892-1893, then to Sydney
Worker, Sydney 1893–1913 then becomes Australian Worker
Australian Worker, Sydney 1913-1968
Labor Star, Melbourne
Labor Vanguard, Ballarat
Clipper, Hobart 1893-1910
Democrat, Launceston 1891-97