National Library of Australia
As primary sources, newspapers are of value to historians, researchers, academics and local and family historians, in that they not only record past events, but also provide a portal into different periods, cultures and societies throughout Australia's history. No other source can provide a record of our nation's reactions to disasters, triumphs, wars and droughts, while at the same time documenting the everyday lives of Australians. For local and regional areas around Australia, newspapers comment on the cultural, social and sporting life of communities probably better than any other source. The fact that newspapers are compiled by people who are not consciously or deliberately recording for posterity, further benefits their value as sources by providing readers with a "bird's eye view" of life as it was during a particular era.
Australia's earliest newspaper, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, was first printed in 1803. Described as 'moral to the point of priggishness, patriotic to the point of servility … ', it was the only publication in the colony in a time of government censorship until William Wentworth launched The Australian in 1824.
Only a decade later, there were seven newspapers in New South Wales and five weeklies in South Australia. Victoria's first paper was The Melbourne Advertiser in 1838. By the mid 1850s, there were 11 papers in Tasmania.
Australia's longest running newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, was first published as the Sydney Herald in 1831. Initially published as a weekly, it became a daily newspaper on 1 October 1840. By 1842, it had changed its name to the Sydney Morning Herald. The Herald's rival, the Daily Telegraph, was first published in July 1879.
Throughout the nineteenth century, weekly newspapers were a common feature of Australian life. Before the development of the railway, daily metropolitan newspapers were not available in rural and regional communities. Weekly newspapers provided readers from these areas with a summary of the week's news. The Sydney Mail (1860-1938) was the weekly edition of the Sydney Morning Herald. During the second part of the twentieth century, national newspapers started to be published. The Australian Financial Review was first published as a weekly in 1951 and has been a daily since 1963. The Australian began in its life in July 1964.
Over time, there have been many physical changes to Australian newspapers. Outside influences have affected the layout of newspapers. In 1942, due to wartime newsprint rationing, the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs changed from broadsheet to tabloid size. Australia's earliest newspapers only consisted of pages and pages of print, but with the development of photography, images started to feature more prominently. The techniques employed to print the news have changed over time, as have methods used to collect news - from relying on four-month-old news from England via ships, to receiving the latest in news via the Internet.
In fact, developments in technology have contributed to changes in the content, style, look and layout of Australian newspapers. In addition to hardcopy, many newspapers are available in electronic form either on CD-ROM or via the Internet. While such formats offer advantages for many readers, it should be noted that many electronic newspapers may not always include the full text, advertisements, images and other features that many researchers and historians consider of value.
See also Rod Kirkpatrick's Press timeline: select chronology of significant Australian press events to 2008. Have a look at what was making news on this day by viewing digitised Australian newspapers in Trove.
The State Library of South Australia's SA Memory website includes among its Collections an area devoted to SA Newspapers, providing a history of the South Australian press and detailed information about specific titles.
The Australian Newspaper History Group has published Two Hundred Years of Sydney Newspapers: A Short History that includes a timeline of major Sydney newspapers and an extensive bibliography relating to the history of Australian newspapers, the Australian newspaper scene and biographies on notable individuals from the newspaper sector.
Last updated: 23 May 2011
Isaacs, V. & Kirkpatrick, R. Two Hundred Years of Sydney Newspapers: A Short History, Rural Press Ltd: New South Wales, 2003.