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Our Australian Cousins
Chapter XVIII


I become manager of a newspaper—Australian journalism—Editors in the Antipodes—Characteristics of the Australian Press—General high tone of the same—The Sydney Morning Herald—Literary-talent plentiful but ill-remunerated—The Australian Magazine— Sydney Punch—Illustrated Sydney News—Newspaper correspondents—The Miner's Advocate—General estimate of the Colonial Press.

My next Antipodean experience was to be in a line hitherto unattempted by me, but for which a good friend imagined I had some aptitude. This was neither more nor less than to take over the management of what was then the second daily morning newspaper in the colony of New South "Wales. The proposal at first staggered me. Here was a change with a vengeance, from tiger-slaying, jungle-clearing, coolie-counting, and pig-sticking in India.

The state of my health, however, precluded all idea of returning to India in my old capacity, and I could not for ever subsist on the liberality of my brother's administration of what he was good enough to call " my credit account." I was fast getting to the end of my slender means, and the future seemed doubtful and very gloomy at times. My letters to the Pioneer could not always last, and beyond the payment I got for these, I was earning nothing else. I did write a few articles for the Sydney Mail and Echo, and was glad to get the anything but princely remuneration which these earned when they were accepted, which was not always the case. In fact the colonies do not present a very tempting field to the professional literary man, and up till then my pen had been rather that of an amateur. I had, however, no objection to try and earn my spurs honourably. Rather than stick fast, I was willing to work at anything honest, for even thirty shillings a week; for I had no desire to be a burden to my friends, and I had long ago found the truth of the old adage that "God helps those who help themselves."

I only give this little morsel of personal experience to illustrate what I have often seen since in colonial life, namely, that there is a groove for every willing man in the colonies, if only he will try to suit himself to it. No man need remain idle in Australia. There is work for all, and, although the work that first presents itself may not be the most congenial, yet if the intending colonist be not a fool, or worse—a lazy good-for-naught, he will wisely accept what comes, buckle to with a will, try his best to do what falls to his lot, and never fear but he will soon find friends and opportunities, and if he is wise willing and steady, he may take advantage of both, and probably very soon find the groove that fits him best.

At all events such has been my experience. My friend fancied I was fit to do the work that he wanted to have done. It was not my place to say him nay. I had plenty of will and no little self-confidence; and accordingly I received my instructions, and set out for Newcastle, the great emporium of the Australian coal trade, to take temporary management of the Newcastle Morning Herald. The proprietor had been at the point of death from rheumatic fever. Things were drifting into confusion. The concern wanted management for the time, and I was sent to do my best to assist the scarcely convalescent printer, collect accounts, arrange financial matters, and generally to do my best in the interests of my employers. My salary was to be at the rate of 200Z. a year. It was rather a difference from 600 rupees a month, with manager's allowances, and twenty-five per cent, commission on profits, but I was content to begin at that.

Perhaps the reader will not expect a long disquisition on the Australian Press from me. If so he will be disappointed. I was first manager, then editor, of the Newcastle leading daily paper for more than a year. I worked hard, took an active intelligent interest in my work, slaved at it night after night, till far on into the small hours. I was reporter, book-keeper, canvasser, special correspondent, publisher, sub-editor and editor by turns, and all together, and I well know how hard it is to satisfy the insatiable requirements of the friends whose pabulum is "Copy," and whose appetite is that of the horse-leech. I have been through the mill, and can speak with a little authority, but my remarks will be very brief.

At first, to make myself familiar as far as I could with the details of a printing-office, I used to get up in the middle of the night, and wend my way from the hotel, over to the machine-room, where in an atmosphere reeking of oil, smoke, damp paper, and kindred smells, I watched the operations connected with the getting out of the paper. I tried to familiarize myself with the mysteries of the composing-room; and by degrees, the suspicion with which I was at first regarded gave place to a feeling of much friendliness on the part of the men, and I think I fairly won my way into the esteem of every one connected with the establishment. I had disagreeables. Being a quick writer, and thinking well over my subject before I began to write, I composed quickly, and the proprietor, who was not a man of much reading, or large order of intellect, sometimes fancied I earned my enormous salary of four pounds per week too easily.

Gradually my managerial duties merged into those of the editor, and I had the satisfaction, at the end of a probationary period of six months or thereabouts, of knowing that the paper was extending its circulation, reducing its pecuniary liabilities, and gaining influence. This may sound like self-praise. Much was due, I think, to the cordial co-operation I got from the hands. A practical enough proof of my success was vouchsafed me in the increase of my salary.

Beyond the limit of 3001, or 400Z. per annum few country newspapers can afford to pay their editors. As a class the editors of our newspapers in New South Wales are clever versatile educated men. With a few ignoble exceptions, measures rather than men are what they write about, and for intelligence, breadth of treatment, dispassionate logical argument, clear incisive writing, and indeed graces of style, the country press of New South Wales will compare favourably with the average run of provincial journalism, even in the old country. The abominable personalities, which too frequently disgrace American journalism, are very seldom resorted to. There is a healthy freedom from the sensationalism of the Yankee editor, and no pains are spared to make the news furnished to their readers possess that first virtue in journalism, trustworthiness.

The metropolitan daily papers, have a very extended circulation over the length and breadth of the land, consequently the weekly and bi-weekly journals confine themselves principally to local items, and "the advocacy of local interests. Foreign news are supplied almost wholly by Reuter, and Greville's Telegraphic. Agency in Sydney supply general and intercolonial news. The service of the latter it would be hard to beat anywhere. Its condensed epitomes of news are niodels of copiousness, clearness, and accuracy. Most~ country journals,-too, contain a weekly letter from a Sydney correspondent. This is written in many cases by a young civilian in some government office, by a schoolmaster, or, maybe in some very few cases, by a reporter on one of the Sydney papers. 'The professed' journalist is elbowed out of the crowd by this outside competition, and the remuneration is hardly regal. One pound per week is about the average. I was fortunate in having friends in Queensland, and in Melbourne, both gifted men, who for the love they bore me sent me weekly a letter of- news from their respective capitals. I would have wished to employ professional talent, but the concern would not stand it.

A miserable attempt has been made lately by a few of the colonial papers, to magnify themselves and increase their ignoble earnings, by pandering to the passions of the mob and trying to rouse class antagonisms. Mistaking invective for argument, and declamatory phraseology for really strong writing, they have appealed to passion' rather than to judgment, and have, in attempting to adopt an American sensational style, proved simply abominable copies of a bad model. Still, I repeat that the tone of the colonial press generally is thoroughly' sound. It is calmly critical of questions of public policy, and nearly all its utterances are characterized by moderate judgment and good taste. I might better illustrate what I wish to convey, by telling a few of its negative qualities. You seldom hear, for instance (always with a few well-known exceptions and notable sinners), of a journal being prosecuted for libel, or for contempt of court. You seldom hear of an exposure of untruthful or misleading statements or intelligence. You seldom hear of a colonial editor being kicked, cow-hided, pistolled, becudgelled, or personally maltreated. I might add that you seldom hear of his being over-paid. You seldom see colonial newspapers defiled with certain disgraceful advertisements, such as may be seen in provincial prints in countries not so far away from London as Australia. You seldom see in a colonial newspaper prurient cases, that no man would like to put before his women-kind; or sickening details of sensuality and cruelty; or harrowing revelations of crime. The colonial newspaper, in short, is written for intelligent, self-respecting men; and not for debased and unwholesome minds, who delight in spicy tittle-tattle or pot-house double entendre.

Surely this says a great deal for the tone of public taste and morality in these colonies. I doubt not if there was a demand for this unclean literature, a supply would be forthcoming. To the honour of Australia, and of much-maligned Sydney in particular, s be it said, that every attempt to foist a publication that tried to tickle the palates of its readers with police-office experiences, and night-house disclosures, has been an unqualified failure.

Honestly I believe too, that much of this is due to the leading paper of the colony, the Sydney Morning Herald. That newspaper has long held virtually a monopoly in the metropolis, which, however, is now being threatened by a vigorous young rival in the Daily Telegraph, whose opening career gives promise of a useful and successful future.

The Herald has been accused by its detractors of dulness, of a trimming hesitancy to speak out boldly on public matters, of following rather than guiding public opinion on questions of moment, of giving undue prominence to parochial matters, at the expense of news of more general interest. "Whatever may be laid to its charge, it has certainly advocated, in my opinion, on all the great questions that have agitated men's minds, during my stay here, the course considered wisest and best by the ablest men in the colony: has been calm, courteous, dispassionate, ably edited and conducted, possessed of the latest, best, and most reliable intelligence from all parts of the world, and whatever side of a question it may have taken up, it has at least carried with it the universal respect of all good men and true, whether they agreed with its politics or no. It must I think be conceded that it has used its enormous influence, honestly to uphold the credit and honour of the colony, and advance its best interests.

Of other literature, Australia can already boast of no mean array. There is no lack of literary talent in the colonies, but it is wofully ill-remunerated. Publishers are not famed as a rule for generosity, and until population much increases I fear me that Antipodean authorship will not amass many princely fortunes for its followers. One capital monthly, the Australian Magazine, is now published in Sydney, and promises to become an established and deservedly favourite periodical. The Sydney Punch, too, is a vigorous sapling for so young a community, and proves pleasingly enough, that Momus can shake his sides with genuine merriment, in the land of the Emu and the Kangaroo.

We can boast of a capital illustrated monthly, the Illustrated Sydney News, which in form and general excellence is no discredit to the oldest English colony, and, indeed, is in most respects superior to the American illustrated weeklies, those of New York for instance. Castner's Rural Australasian is conducted after the model of the American Agriculturist, and is a little gem of its kind. It is devoted exclusively to farming and gardening, and merits the utmost success.

As a general newspaper, however, give me the Queenslander; taking it all round, I consider it the best weekly newspaper for its class of readers, of any south of the line. Some of the Melbourne and South Australian newspapers have a world-wide reputation, and I need not refer to them, as I have not yet visited these colonies on this trip.

To return to my own paper. I very soon found that the editorial chair, even by the wildest confusion of metaphors, cannot be looked on as a bed of roses. My greatest difficulty in finding daily pabulum for my readers, was not where to get material or how; but rather what to exclude. The mass of stuff I had to wade through daily, nearly all of it utterly inadmissible into a respectable journal, astonished me at first. I soon got used to it, and my waste-paper basket would have supplied wrappings for all the buttermen in Dorsetshire.

The miners had been indulged to an inordinate extent by the former management, and the editor's box was deluged daily with reams of twaddle, for the most part badly written, badly spelt, badly perfumed effusions. on every conceivable subject; I had great difficulty at first in getting this cacoethes scribendi restrained within reasonable limits.' Nearly all the letters were very personal. Very few were of the slightest earthly' interest to any but the writer, and possibly a dozen of his own intimate friends; yet they would "write as if the constitution was in danger and the capital in flames, when perhaps the question at issue would be what Owen Jones said to Morgan Phillips on some occasion that nobody remembered, and about something in which no one felt interested. My correspondents in the- mining townships little knew the worry and trouble that their rambling epistles gave me; I had to cater for the varying tastes of nearly 3000 readers daily, when every column of the paper, advertising space included, would have been all insufficient to contain half the letters that were daily showered on my editorial table. And then if the letters were not inserted, who shall tell of the innuendoes, the abuse, the fiery indignation, that were showered on my devoted head.

Our paper was specially devoted to the interests of the mining population around Newcastle, and was looked upon as their champion, and the recognized exponent of their views. Its advocacy was in fact of the thorough-going order, and often partook a good deal of the special pleader character. I did not meddle with the coal question or purely mining matters. These were manipulated by experts, and there was a good deal of wire-pulling and puppet-dancing.

The miners of Newcastle, I must honestly say, are on the whole orderly, intelligent men, albeit self-opinionated and narrow-minded on some points. Their estimate of their own importance was often amusingly manifested. Here is an extract from one of their lodge meetings in illustration of this.

"Mr. T. Jones moved the following resolution:— "In the opinion of this meeting, the attack made by Mr. Craig, on the character of our local Sec., was unwarrantable and uncalled for.' He had full confidence in Mr. ISTewburn and he felt strongly that Mr. Craig should have cast such a slur on him. It was a pity that any man should stur up strife [sic] at so critical a time as the present, when the world was looking at them."

The last sentence is thoroughly characteristic.

I tried to infuse a more catholic spirit into the journal under my temporary direction. I preached up sanitary and local reforms of various kinds, drew attention to foreign politics, to the commercial interests of the port, to intercolonial questions affecting trade, to broad questions of national policy such as law reform, railway extension, direct shipments from the port to foreign and intercolonial parts, and similar questions. I was fairly successful, and I have reason to believe my efforts were appreciated.

I have, I think, said enough to convince the reader, that in that first and foremost bulwark of a people's liberties, a pure independent and intelligent press, the Australian colonies stand second to none among all the bright jewels that cluster round the diadem of Imperial Britain, and that so long as the colonial press maintains its present high prestige, the cause of progress and freedom will find a faithful exponent, and a chivalrous champion.


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