The Battle of Melbourne: The Rise and Fall of the Star

By Griffen-Foley, Bridget | Journal of Australian Studies, September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Battle of Melbourne: The Rise and Fall of the Star


Griffen-Foley, Bridget, Journal of Australian Studies


It is often remarked that newspaper ownership in Australia became increasingly concentrated during the inter-war years. R B Walker has calculated that in 1923 Australia had twenty-six metropolitan daily newspapers published by twenty-one separate proprietaries; in 1930, twenty dailies owned by twelve; and in 1941, just fifteen owned by ten. (1) It is indisputable that the number of metropolitan titles and proprietaries contracted sharply during this period, and its is possible to trace various reasons for this contraction, including higher barriers to entering the market due to more sophisticated printing technology and marketing techniques, and a quest for mass audiences. Nevertheless, little attention has been given to the way in which this pattern has developed in different Australian capital cities. In his 1988 historiographical essay `Two hundred years of Australian journalism: A history waiting to be written', John Henningham was perhaps not then in a position to recognise the federal biases of historical scholarship. (2) When Denis Cryle, Rod Kirkpatrick and James Manion had done important work on the colonial and provincial press in Queensland, and Elizabeth Morrison was preparing to cast her forensic eye over the colonial press in Victoria, (3) only the newspaper industry in New South Wales was to attract sustained historical interest. By 2000 Walker had written a two-volume history of the press in New South Wales from 1803 to 1945, Gavin Souter had completed two books on the history of the John Fairfax group, Bridget Griffen-Foley had studied the history of the Packer family's Australian Consolidated Press, and Kirkpatrick had examined the New South Wales provincial press. (4) The Victorian press in the twentieth century, however, awaits its historian(s), and aspects of the media in other states also cry out for examination.

News Limited, formed in Adelaide in 1922, was the bedrock of Rupert Murdoch's global communications and entertainment empire, News Corporation. The Herald & Weekly Times, in which Rupert's father Sir Keith Murdoch a major player, became a potent football in the Australian political landscape of the 1980s. Despite all this, the companies' histories have been little explored; only biographies -- of varying quality -- of Keith and Rupert Murdoch give any clues about the emergence, operations and features of two of Australia's most important media companies. It is hardly surprising, then, that less enduring firms, and their outlets, have been neglected. Just as we have much to learn from Australia's media titans, so too do we have much to learn from their less successful counterparts. How one such `failure' -- the Star -- intersected with the powerful Herald & Weekly Times in Melbourne in the 1930s is the focus of this paper. I first became interested in the Star when Duncan Waterson was supervising my doctoral dissertation on the history of Australian Consolidated Press and I discovered that many Daily Telegraph journalists had worked for the Star.

When one looks interstate, it is clear that the Sydney newspaper landscape--the focus of so much historical attention--was somewhat atypical during the interwar years. As Walker has so amply demonstrated, particularly in his account of the rapacious activities of Associated Newspapers Ltd, established publishing firms fiercely fought off new competitors, and the number of individual titles in Sydney dropped in the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, in 1928 Sydney still had four morning and two afternoon dailies, and three Sunday newspapers. (5) While some of these titles were soon to close down, it is instructive to note the situation in Melbourne in 1928. Australia's second biggest capital city had three morning newspapers (the Age, the Argus and the Sun News-Pictorial), but only one afternoon newspaper (the Herald) and, as a result of Sabbatarianism, no Sunday newspapers at all. By this time both Perth and Hobart also had afternoon monopolies. …

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