Headliners Symposium

Headliners Symposium

Headliners: Early Australasian Press Biographies


The Centre for Media History at Macquarie University hosted a one-day symposium on 23 November 2010 on biographical approaches in press history, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The symposium was held in the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of New South Wales and was convened by Professor Denis Cryle, Central Queensland University and Dr Elizabeth Morrison, independent scholar. Papers from the event were published as a special edition of Australian Journalism Review in December 2011.

Headliners Symposium attendees Attendees at the Headliners Symposium

From left to right: Tom D.C. Roberts CMH, Margaret Van Heekeren CMH, Elizabeth Morrison, Harvey Broadbent CMH, Bridget Griffen-Foley CMH, Murray Goot CMH, and Denis Cryle UCQ. Symposium CMH representatives and Convenors

Headliners Symposium Denis Cryle Denis Cryle presenting on 'Telegraph Todd'

Paper Abstracts and Selected Audio from the Symposium

Fr Francis Mihalic: Father of Wantok, or Its Midwife?


Fr Frank Mihalic is usually credited as the father of PNG's Tok Pisin weekly, Wantok, but it sometimes seems that his role was more akin to that of a midwife safely delivering and then keeping alive a ragged infant fathered by somebody else. Reflecting on his life shortly before he died, Mihalic described himself as having spent it being the assistant, the part timer, the odd job man sent to fill in the gaps and keep things going until somebody else could take over the reins. This prompts the question of whether that is how he saw his tenure on Wantok.  Mihalic's fierce devotion to it, his sometimes obsessive belief in what he was doing and his determination to keep the paper going against all the odds has obscured the fact that Wantok was not his idea, that he was not even the first choice for the job and that he would have been much happier writing radio scripts than editing a newspaper. Outside PNG, Mihalic is better remembered as the editor of the Jacaranda dictionary of Tok Pisin and as a pioneer in the study of what became PNG's dominant lingua franca. Drawing on interviews with Mihalic and Bishop Arkfeld made in the early 1990s, a largely unseen manuscript history of the early days of Wantok written by Mihalic and material from the archives in the Society of the Divine Word's mother house in Mt Hagen, this paper seeks to present a picture of a man who was at once a priest, a publisher, a propagandist for his own efforts, a linguist, a lecturer and a cause of bewilderment to the very bishops whose work he was supposed to be doing.


Part-time Columnists to Women's Page Editors: The Problematic Advance of Women Journalists


This paper examines the advent of women into journalism in Australia. It focuses on the backgrounds and life stories of a few representative women. Those discussed in some detail include Louisa Atkinson, the first woman to have a long-running series of articles published in a major Australian newspaper; Florence Blair/Baverstock, a pioneer woman journalist in Melbourne and Sydney who had a family connection with newspapers; Alice Henry, a crusading journalist and radical reformer; Louisa Lawson, an exemplar of the women who had a compelling urge to communicate their views on social and feminist issues; Louise Mack, a flapper of her day, typical of those attracted to the slightly Bohemian atmosphere of a job outside the usual run; Stella Allan, an interesting example of a very successful women's page editor, a radical path blazer who became a revered upholder of conservative values. Their lives are considered against the background of the rise of women's pages in newspapers and periodicals, opening increasing opportunities for the employment of women as journalists but limiting their role.


Charles Spencer: Picturing Colonial New Zealand


Charles Spencer's photographs were important in the European travellers' discovery of New Zealand.  He was particularly known for his photographs of the 'eighth wonder of the world', the Pink and White Terraces in the central North Island. After the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s the following two decades marked a new era for the country, when tourists, their curiosity largely aroused by the work of the early photographers, began arriving to see the country's natural wonders and exotic indigenous people. But any assessment of the legacy of Charles Spencer should address the post-colonial critique of colonial photography. It has been argued that, as the colonisation of New Zealand coincided with the invention of photography, the photographer and his camera must be viewed as tools of European colonisation in the same manner as the surveyor and his theodolite. This paper looks at the life and work of Charles Spencer and questions the assumptions of the post-colonial view.


Networks of Influence: Exploring Sir Charles Todd's British World

Media - mp3DENIS CRYLE

In spite of a series of concerted attempts to document the scope of Todd's output and achievements, a biography of Sir Charles Todd still remains to be written one hundred years after his death in 1910. Todd's practical achievements and colonial reputation make him an attractive subject for biography and render the absence of such a work, a century after his death, all the more inexplicable. Drawing on the work of communication and other historians, both Australian and overseas, this paper makes a case for revisiting Todd's dynamic life and notable career over half a century. A re-examination of Todd's influence, through the twenty-first century lens of British World scholarship, offers a new and comprehensive framework for understanding the wider forces in which Todd was caught up, and from which he was to benefit during the British and South Australian phases of his eminent career.

In this context, this author argues for a wider view of 'Telegraph Todd' than simply that of outback icon, one which is not simply celebratory in the Victorian biographical tradition of his existing tributes, but which, following Livingston, seeks to situate Todd firmly within networks of patronage and power, starting with pre-Victorian Britain and extending from South Australia to other Australian colonies. In particular, this paper draws on contemporary insights provided by the burgeoning literature on the 'British World' to explore the role of communication media, both print, electronic and visual, in developing and sustaining an ever-expanding network of professional and personal connections.

Mitchell King Armstrong, Editor and Exemplar


Mitchell King Armstrong (1833-1908), founder of a four-generation, 103-year newspaper dynasty at Kyneton, is remembered in Melbourne for his part in saving the infant Age and in recording some of those events. He was one of twenty-three compositors who saved the paper by acquiring the business from the founders little more than two months after it began. Armstrong, a Scot drawn to Australia by the gold discoveries in Victoria, was an independent thinker. He was prepared to go out on his own, as reflected by his change from Presbyterianism to the Baptist faith and by his readiness, as an independent printer, to print the organ of the Land Convention, which 'broke up the monopoly of land holding and promoted the agricultural settlement of Victoria'. This paper explores the life and times of Mitchell King Armstrong, paying particular attention to how he modelled life for his community through what he did (his community activities) and what he said (his newspaper editorials).


Media - mp3 Australian Titan? (Re)Writing the Life of David Syme


Why another book about the so-called 'kingmaker' of colonial politics in Victoria? David Syme ran the Melbourne Age newspaper business from March 1860 until his death in February 1908. It is primarily due to him that this daily survived the tumultuous early years and surged triumphantly to a dominating position amongst the newspapers of Victoria, and indeed Australia, later in the nineteenth century. Under Syme's management, a foundation and momentum were created for the paper's endurance into the twentieth century and beyond. As I explain, my biography-in-preparation shifts emphasis from the political animal of existing Syme studies to the newspaper man of his time and in the context of a developing Australian daily press. In my presentation, I also raise some matters of methodology that I am encountering and which could apply to other as-yet-unwritten biographies of significant nineteenth-century Australian newspaper identities.


Media - mp3A. G. Stephens - Early Life and Career


A. G. Stephens (1865-1933) is remembered for his literary editorship of the Bulletin's Red Page from 1896 to 1906 and for publishing books by 'Steele Rudd', Will Ogilvie, Joseph Furphy and John Shaw Neilson. His own career as a journalist is less well known. Printer's ink ran in his veins from an early age as his father managed and part-owned Toowoomba's Darling Downs Gazette during the 1870s, selling out to W.H. Traill who was later proprietor of the Bulletin. At the age of 15, Stephens began a printing apprenticeship with rival newspaper the Toowoomba Chronicle and then completed his training in Sydney. While still in his early twenties, he was appointed editor of the Gympie Miner where he introduced a literary supplement. He then became a columnist and leader-writer for the Brisbane Boomerang which had been founded by William Lane. On the basis of his widely admired exposé of the slave-labour working conditions of stokers aboard a British ship, Stephens was offered the editorship of the Cairns Argus. In 1893 he toured the United States and worked briefly in London as a journalist before joining the Bulletin in early 1894. My paper shows how these early newspaper experiences and adventures developed his understanding of media culture not only in Australia but also in the US and Britain.


The Subject as Love Object: Malcolm Ross, a Biographical Conundrum


Biographers such as Richard Holmes have described the stages through which the biographer passes in their relationship to the subject they are investigating. Holmes said that in the first stage the biographer had to make a conscious identification with their subject and described it in the terms of a 'kind of love affair'. 'If you are not in love with them you will not follow them - not very far, anyway.' Holmes said the true biographic process began 'precisely at the moment, at the places where this naive form of love and identification breaks down'. This moment of personal disillusion is the moment of impersonal, objective re-creation, he added. My experience of studying Malcolm Ross, New Zealand's first official war correspondent, was almost a complete negation of Holmes's tenet. A sense of disillusionment evolved very early and the whole project became a struggle to form a 'love affair' with the man at the centre of my investigation. This paper traverses my stages of engagement with Ross and my efforts to view him in a 'loving' way.


Keith Murdoch in London, 1915-1922


In 1915, Keith Murdoch (1886-1952) was appointed London Manager of United Services Limited, the cable service jointly operated by the Sydney Sun and the Melbourne Herald. On his way to London, he famously (and controversially) visited the Australian forces in Gallipoli and wrote his 'Gallipoli letter', which criticised the operation and, arguably, contributed to the decision to evacuate troops from the area. From his London base, he subsequently operated as a 'semi-official' war correspondent, providing both cable services and regular (often weekly) feature articles for the Australian press. His approach to journalism was greatly influenced by the wartime conditions under which he worked and by his mentor, Lord Northcliffe, proprietor of the Times and the Daily Mail. Drawing on the Keith Murdoch Papers held at the National Library of Australia and Murdoch's by-lined journalism of this period, this paper explores Murdoch's developing 'journalistic vision' and its framing by his desire to influence public opinion in furtherance of the war effort. It also considers Murdoch's developing nationalism in the context of his outspoken advocacy of a 'white Australia'.


Media - mp3Noel Monks, Neglected Australian War Correspondent


Tasmanian born journalist, Noel Monks, left for London in 1935, hoping to find some wars to report on. Fortunately for Monks, the 1930s and 1940s were rich in wars and provided ample opportunity for him to become one of Australia's longest serving war correspondents. The first war Monks covered was the Italian conquest of Abyssinia (1935-1936) but he made his real mark on journalism by being one of the first journalists to report on the bombing of Guernica in April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.  Monks has been neglected in Australia, possibly because he was an expatriate who worked for Fleet Street newspapers such as the Daily Express and the Daily Mail.  He is too often just mentioned in passing on account of his wife leaving him for Ernest Hemingway. Yet his career was an important one. He covered many conflicts and helped establish the international reputation of Australian journalists as first rank war correspondents.

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