"The Crumbs Are Better Than a Feast Elsewhere": Australian Journalists on Fleet Street

Article excerpt

Australian Journalists on Fleet Street

This article explores the experiences of Australian journalists who worked on fleet Street in London between 1900 and the outbreak of world War II. Concentrating on a number of individual journalists, it considers the powerful lure of Fleet Street, the reasons for departure from Australia, first impressions of London, the opportunities provided by being aboard, experiences of success and failure on Fleet Street, working and social life, and the particular challenges and opportunities facing women journalists. It examines the theme of education in the public writings and private reflections of Australian journalists who worked on Fleet Street and reflects on the circularity and complexity of the imperial journalistic experience. While each journalist or editor would recount his or her one great exclusive, many would look back to the "golden age" of journalism before the crassness of Lord Northcliffe.

Long before the "Dirty Digger," Rupert Murdoch,1 made his mark on the newspaper landscape of London, Australian journalists were working on Fleet Street. In his 1999 book Wh London Calls The Expatriation of Australian Creative Artists to Britain, Stephen Alomes noted that many Australians other than the high profile Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James, and John Pilger have been based in London.2 Situating his study in the decades following World War II, he made an important contribution to understanding the factors that propelled Australian writers, journalists, artists, and actors to live for a time, or permanently, in Britain.

This article addresses the experiences of Australian journalists on Fleet Street between 1900 and the outbreak of World War II. This is a particularly interesting period because in the late nineteenth century cable rates had fallen, making it possible for Australians to participate in British public life on a day-to-day basis; and, by the early twentieth century, the Australian press was flourishing and the country's journalism was becoming increasingly professionalised.3 While travel was both slower and more expensive than in the postwar period, so many Australian journalists made the journey to London in the first decades of the twentieth century that they could be said to constitute a "tradition."

This research focuses on individual Australian journalists who worked on Fleet Street: Louise Mack and (later Sir) Keith Murdoch in the 1900s; Florence James in the interwar years; and Alan Moorehead, Noel Monks, and Robert Raymond and his family in the 1930s. These journalists were selected because they give a cross-section of male and female experiences in the decades before World War II, and accounts of their activities in London are extant.

Among the things considered are: the imagined" Fleet Street, the reasons for departure from Australia, first impressions of London, experiences of success and failure on Fleet Street, working and social life, and the particular opportunities and challenges facing women journalists. The principal focus is on Australians who worked for the London press, although passing references will be made to some journalists who worked in the London bureaus of Australian newspapers. Wartime experiences are not considered at any length; Murdoch's activities in World War I warrant a separate study, as do Australia's distinguished correspondents in World War II.

Journalism is a peripatetic profession. As Alomes pointed out, journalism is about "journeys," a word that is linked etymologically to the French journee (the day) and journal (a newspaper as well as a diary of events).4 The dreams of journalists often involved other newspapers, other towns, other editors, and other stories. Elizabeth Morrison compared Australian journalists to roving actors, performing before any audience that could "understand the language and respond to the play." Journalists worked their way around country towns and the six capital cities, in search of a more expansive canvass for their work. …