Trust The Bulletin to get it right, and in only four words! “Golden pills for lawyers” – that was its comment when two south coast papers were sued for libel in 1884Paying the lawyers’ costs was often the killer in libel cases involving colonial newspapers. Sometimes laughable amounts of damages were awarded to plaintiffs in libel verdicts, but if costs were awarded against the defendant they could kill a newspaper, or force a proprietor to sell it.
The Newcastle Telegraph ceased publication on March 31, 1866 because of a libel case; brothers Edward George and Thomas Talbot Wilton lost their Bathurst Times for 12 months after being hit with a heavy damages bill in 1867 when found guilty of having libelled the mayor, Edmund Webb.
In 1872 they had to dispose of the paper when Henry Rotton, a wealthy pastoralist, secured only one shilling (10c) in damages – but the Wiltons had to pay £300 ($600) in costs.
In the case of The Bulletin itself, one farthing damages was awarded against it in the famous Clontarf libel case in 1881, the jury not realising that the judge had the power to award costs.
He did, against The Bulletin, generating a public outcry and an appeal which raised £800 ($1600).
This left the proprietors, John Haynes and John Feltham Archibald, still £600 ($1200) short of the amount needed, and they were imprisoned in March 1882 for 12 months. They were released six weeks later when the remainder of the amount had been raised.
’A faint whisper’
The technology of communication was an important influence on the pace of newspaper development in a colony of big distances such as Queensland. From the mid-1860s, the electric telegraph, reaching out across the back blocks of this vast colony, and the tentacles of railway, gradually pushing out from port to hinterland up the north coast, helped lift the tempo of newspaper development and competition.
By 1870 the newspaper centres linked to Brisbane by the telegraph were Ipswich, Toowoomba, Warwick, Dalby, Maryborough, Gympie, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay, Bowen and Townsville. Only Clermont had no telegraphic link. Brisbane had been linked with Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide since November 2, 1861, inspiring one colonist to hail with acclamation the means provided to glean ’a faint whisper of the doings of the great world far away’.
From October 27, 1872, with the opening of the Overland Telegraph from Port Augusta to Darwin, Queensland was connected with ’the grand electric chain which united all the nations of the earth’. Australians would receive news within a matter of days, not months, from all over the civilised world.
In Rockhampton, Charles Hardie Buzacott, the founder of the Maryborough Chronicle in 1861, and the Peak Downs Telegram, Clermont, in 1864, and now the owner of the Rockhampton Bulletin, concluded that there was only one step to take. He must exploit the revolution in the transmission of news by making the Bulletin a daily.
It had been a tri-weekly since June 30, 1863, and now it would become the first daily in provincial Queensland. On taking the step on January 2, 1873, Buzacott explained: “Now that the whole earth is in telegraphic communication, the world’s news will be available for nearly every publication.”
Many friends of the Buzacott brothers believed the change to daily publication had been made “rather too fast”, but William Buzacott reflected seven years later that the move had been a safe and eminently successful one, as the position of the journal then amply testified.
Broken Hill’s unusual daily
The Barrier Daily Truth, Broken Hill’s lone daily since the Barrier Miner closed in 1974, is unusual for at least two reasons. It is the only regional daily in Australia owned by the unions. Also, it allowed its centenary – in 1998 – to pass without drawing attention to, let alone trumpeting, its age.
When I telephoned the Truth office that year the staff members seemed ignorant of the paper’s actual age.
No, they hadn’t published a centenary supplement. There had been a supplement issued in 1983 – the centenary of the town, and 75 years since the Barrier Truth had become a daily.
But the date of the Truth’s actual establishment did not readily come to mind. What they remember is the date on which they became a daily, possibly the first Labour daily in Australasia and, so it is claimed, the first union-owned Labour daily in the English-speaking world. The Barrier Truth was established in 1898 but it grew out of a small one-page leaflet (about A4 size) that appeared in Broken Hill in 1897.
It contained two columns of advertisements and one column of the writings of Charles Maley, a middle-aged school-teacher from South Australia who had been active in Labor circles since 1893.
Until 1895 Maley had been a member of the Socialist League and had contributed several well-informed articles on socialism to the Barrier Miner. Jabez Wright, of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association, strongly endorsed the need “for a local Labor paper and for the extension of the Labor press generally”.
The association voted £50 for this project and the Barrier Truth was established on 8 January 1898 as a weekly paper with Maley as editor. It became a daily on 2 November 1908.
At first, local printing establishments were reluctant to produce the Truth and so it was printed in Adelaide until September 1898 when a Broken Hill printer, Thomas Nicholls, consented to print it for the Barrier District Assembly of the Political Labour League which had, by then assumed ownership. The Australian Labour Federation took over the paper in 1900.