Freedom Lost: A history of newspapers, journalism and press censorship in Australia

Robert Pullan

Since 1803, Australia’s newspapers have had a part in curating and distributing our nation’s stories second only to conversation. Yet anxiety over what exactly those stories should be and how much to tell has been a constant irritant to editors, proprietors, journalists, readers, politicians and lawyers alike.


The first Australian newspaper editor, a West-Indian Creole called ‘Happy George’, set the tone for this battle for freedom of the press when his paper was secretly censored by the Colonial Secretary. Back then the Australian settler population was about 7,000, frontier Sydney was a jail and they did things differently. When you stole your neighbour’s heifer you were publicly hanged from a branch of the nearest gum-tree. By 1923, the peak of newspaper influence in Australia, 21 proprietors owned 26 capital-city daily newspapers in a population of only 5.7 million. Print monopolised communication.


In today’s digital age, with 25 million Australians living in one of the world’s most stable democracies, newspapers are no longer tied to the tyranny of hot metal, and reach out via fibre, copper and air past their paper origins into the 24-hour news cycle. Yet anxiety over censorship remains.


In this epic collection of essays, Robert Pullan, a life-long journalist, tells the lives of the poets, preachers, drunks, gunmen and genius-editors who shaped Australian press history and battled the censorship ogre. The stories are quintessentially Australian and told with an evocative voice that brings history to life and challenges the assumption that it is only now in our history that we must battle for freedom of communication. As he asks — why is it that the most eloquent judicial defence of the press was made nearly two centuries ago in 1827? 


The tension between love and fear that censors human communication appears historically tenacious, world-wide and self-harming. In the minds of a resentful minority of readers, newspapers themselves are a crime, violating standards of grammar, taste and privacy and shouting when a whisper is appropriate. But since written words have made science, history, law and religion possible, it seems profoundly paradoxical for humanity to invent and enforce censorship and sanctify ignorance. The argument for suppression is the argument for ignorance.


This book reveals through its telling of personal stories from over two centuries of Australian history that the most effective censorship, self-censorship, is already practiced in newsrooms across the country in capital city dailies and regional and suburban newspapers. Perhaps then, it is in the stories of the past, that we can discern where best to head now.

About the Author

Robert Pullan, born in Kalamunda, WA, worked as a newspaper journalist in Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and New York from 1966 and has freelanced in Sydney from 1979. His books include Guilty Secrets: Free Speech and Defamation in Australia. He taught journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, Macleay College and Broadmeadows TAFE and served 28 years on the board of the Australian Society of Authors.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 What happened    1


Chapter 2 Lightning Strikes   7

1803–1817 The first Australian editor, George Howe, edits The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser under Governors Phillip King and Lachlan Macquarie.


Chapter 3  News in Leg-irons23

1821–1829 Robert Howe; The Sydney Gazette, New South Wales Advertiser and The Australian Magazine, Dr William Redfern’s horsewhip, Samuel Terry and the Bank of New South Wales; W.C.Wentworth and the Court of Quarter Sessions.


Chapter 4  The Vagabond Free Press             29

1824–1827 Robert Wardell, The Australian; Governor Thomas Brisbane, Chief Justice Francis Forbes, Earl Bathurst, John and Hannibal Macarthur, Governor Ralph Darling, Attorney General Saxe Bannister, Archdeacon Thomas Scott, Henry Dumaresq.


Chapter 5  Duelling with Authority    41

1826–1827: Edward Smith Hall, The Monitor; Robert Howe, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser; Robert Wardell, The Australian; Lawrence Hynes Halloran, The Gleaner; Governor Ralph Darling, Chief Justice Francis Forbes, Attorneys General Saxe Bannister, William Moore and Alexander Baxter; Under Secretaries Richard Hay and Robert Wilmot Horton.  


Chapter 6  The Hobart Press Musket59

1816–1888 Andrew Bent, Henry Emmett and Evan Thomas, The Hobart Town Gazette, Southern Reporter and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser; Governors Thomas Davey, William Sorrell and George Arthur; Terry Howe, The Tasmanian and Port Dalrymple Advertiser; Robert Lathrop Murray, James Ross, The Colonial Times; Gilbert Robertson, The Colonist and The True Colonist; Chief Justice John Lewes Pedder; Attorney General Joseph Gellibrand; John Charles and George Davies and The Mercury. 


Chapter 7  Sedition in a Prison          79

1828–1831 Edward Hall, The Monitor and The Sydney Monitor, Archdeacon Thomas Scott, Atwell Hayes and The Australian, the Rev. Ralph Mansfield and The Sydney Gazette; Governor Ralph Darling, Chief Justice Francis Forbes, Justice James Dowling, Attorney General Alexander Baxter.


Chapter 8  ‘I shot the doctor for your benefit’          89

1834: Robert Wardell is murdered.


Chapter 9  Faith         95

1835–1851: John Dunmore Lang, The Colonist, The Colonial Observer and The Press; Edward O’Shaunessy, and William Watt, The Sydney Gazette; Henry Parkes, The Empire. 

1931–2009: Frank Devine, The Weekend News and The Australian.


Chapter 10  Port Phillip Press Partisans        113

1829–1840 John Pascoe Fawkner, The Melbourne Advertiser and The Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser; Thomas Strode and Phillip Arden, The Port Phillip Gazette; George Cavenagh, Port Phillip Herald.


Chapter 11    Port Phillip Patriot Partiality     133

1838–1845 William Kerr, John Duerdin, John Curtis, Edward Wilson and The Melbourne Argus; Edmund Finn, George Cavenagh, Magistrate Edward St John and The Port Phillip Herald; Superintendent Charles Joseph La Trobe; The Port Phillip Patriot; Melbourne Daily News.


Chapter 12    King David’s Duty           147

1827–1908: Ebenezer and David Syme, The Age; G.F.H.Schuler, Alfred Deakin, special correspondent for the London Morning Post; The Herald, The Morning Herald, George Dill and Hugh George, The Argus; Speight v Syme.


Chapter 13    News Under the Sun     167

1846–1891: James Swan, Arthur Lyon, William Wilkes, Theophilus Pugh, Thomas Stephens, Attorney General Ratcliffe Pring and The Moreton Bay Courier; The Courier 1861–1864, The Queensland Guardian 1860–1868; The Brisbane Courier from June 1864; Gresley Lukin; George Wight and The Queensland Guardian.


Chapter 14    Inflammatory Justice    179

1841–1842: Justice John Willis, John Fawkner and William Kerr, The Port Phillip Patriot 1839–1845; George Cavenagh, George Arden, Port Phillip Gazette and Settlers’ Journal; Police Magistrate Frederick St John; Justice John Walpole Willis.


Chapter 15    Ned Kelly and Montague Grover           185

1888–1914: Monty Grover on The Age, The Boomerang, The Argus and The Sun News-Pictorial.


Chapter 16    The Tabloid School        195

1884–1923 John,  Ada and Ezra Norton, the Evening News, Truth, Daily Mirror, The Sun, Jack Muir.


Chapter 17  News and Lies: The Capricornia School209

1873–1996: Richard Wells, William Bednall, Charles Kirkland, George Mayhew, Louis Solomon, Joseph Skelton, Frederick Thompson, and The Northern Territory Times; Jessie Litchfield, first Australian woman editor,  R.D.Beresford and the North Australian; Administrator, John Anderson Gilruth; Justice David Bevan; Michaael O’Halloran and The Northern Standard; Lieut. Alex Baz and The Sunday Army News; Jim Bowditch and The Northern Territory News.


Chapter 18  The Black Swan  231

1829–1993: Charles Macfaull and The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal; Frances Lochee and The Inquirer; John Winthrop Hackett, Charles Harper, Griff Richards, Jim Macartney, Paul Hasluck and The West Australian.


Chapter 19  The Act of Creation        249

1895–1949: revolution: news on page one; the world’s first labor daily, Jack Lang and The Daily Post; Alfred Deakin and The Age; Hugh Denison and The Sun; Hugh D. McIntosh, Robert Clyde Packer and The Sunday Times; James Joynton Smith, Claude McKay, Smith’s Weekly and The Daily Guardian.


Chapter 20  The Press in Utopia        269

1836–1973: George Stevenson, Robert Thomas and The South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register; John Brown, Charles Mann and The Southern Australian; Resident Commissioner James Hurtle Fisher and Governor Sir John Hindmarsh; John Stephens, The Adelaide Observer; John Henry Barrow, Langdon Bonython, Catherine Spence, King O’Malley, Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Lloyd Dumas, The Advertiser.


Chapter 21  Style, Stereos, Seers      283