Looking behind the news

Looking behind the news
The story of two historic Australian newspapers
21 March 2012

 

Masthead from the Benalla newspaper

Masthead from the Benalla newspaper

The history of some of the 250 digitised Australian newspapers which are now available in Trove, makes interesting reading. In two of his books, ‘The Bold Type’ and ‘Country Conscience’, newspaper historian, Rod Kirkpatrick, describes some of the stories that surround these historic newspapers and the challenges they experienced just to stay afloat. One of the newspapers added to Trove through funding from the Hawkesbury Library Service is the Hawkesbury Courier and Agricultural and General Advertiser which survived only briefly—from 1844 until 1846. Kirkpatrick describes the many difficulties faced by newspapers of this time: small populations that were not highly literate; labour-intensive, time-consuming production costs; difficulties in obtaining reliable information; and the slow or non-paying subscriber. The following notice from 1892 shows that this was an issue also faced by the Benalla Ensign: “NOTICE TO SUBSCRIBERS: Persons who are indebted as subscribers to the Ensign, especially those—and they are numerous—who have not paid anything in that respect during the last five years, are respectfully reminded of their indebtedness in the hope that they will pay their liabilities at once.” The Benalla Ensign was established in the 1860s as the Benalla Ensign and Farmer’s and Squatter’s Journal. Eager to make ends meet, the Ensign offered a variety of goods ranging from ‘favourite linear note paper (tinted) to best blotting paper, ebony rulers, school slates, quill pens, best cream laid envelopes and much more…’ Where two or more newspapers covered the same town or region, there was often fierce competition for readers. This was the case for the ‘squatters’ mouthpiece’, the Camperdown Chronicle at various times through its early life. Historical issues of both the Camperdown Chronicle and the Benalla Ensign have been made available through Trove with funding from the State Library of Victoria.