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The Northern Territory press.

The Northern Territory has been surprisingly well served by print media since the first successful colony was established some 140 years ago. Despite remoteness from the main population centres of Australia and the wider world, and of its communities from each other, small and large newspapers have repeatedly sprung up, most fleetingly, some with greater tenacity. The dominance of a Murdoch paper (the NT News, as it now styles itself), perhaps unique among the stable in being left largely to pursue its own (albeit generally conservative) editorial line, has meant that since the mid-twentieth century the Territory has had a loud local voice, if one of a tabloid stridency easily mocked by southern critics.

The earliest Northern Territory newspaper was the Moonta Herald, published on board the ship that brought the South Australian Surveyor-General, George Goyder, to the Territory in 1869. The first machine-printed newspaper was the weekly Northern Territory Times and Gazette, initially published on 7 November 1873 from a government office in Darwin under the editorship of Richard Wells and owned by a consortium registered as The Northern Territory Newspaper and Telegraphic Agency Company Limited. A new editorial office and a press were later established in Mitchell Street (Davis, 2011: 1, Lockwood, 1968: 171-3). The many colourful characters who worked for the publication included Vaiben Solomon, who owned the paper between 1885 and 1889 and represented the Territory in the South Australian parliament. His clear and frequently dramatic editorials reflected his conservative political beliefs. Other editors included Joseph Skelton, George Mayhew, Charles Kirkland, Edward Foster and Jessie Litchfield. Litchfield overcame strong local objections to a woman being appointed when she took over in 1930. In a small and often deeply divided town, some editors were threatened with violence, and copies of the newspaper were torn up and burnt when it expressed views disliked by sections of the community. Kirkland was controversially imprisoned in 1913 after being found guilty of contempt of court for an article in which he criticised a judge (Davis, 2011: 1, Kirkpatrick, n.d.: 1, James, n.d.: 1, Lockwood, 1968: 171-8).

From 1883, Mayhew and Kirkland published a rival Darwin newspaper, the North Australian, in which they often provided very different versions of the same events from those of their competitor. In 1889, they bought the Northern Territory Times and Gazette from Solomon and amalgamated the two newspapers under the latter's masthead. With the departure of the government Gazette in 1927, the paper's title was abridged to the Northern Territory Times, under which it continued publication until closing in June 1932 after being bought out by the Northern Standard (Davis, 2011: 1; Kirkpatrick, n.d.: 1, Lockwood, 1968: 175-6; North Australian, 25 May 1889).

The Northern Standard first appeared on 19 February 1921, published in Darwin with trade union support and partly financed by a union levy. Publication was transferred to the North Australian Workers' Union in 1928 following its establishment the previous year (Brian, 2001: 85-6, 101; North Australian Workers Union, n.d.: 1). For much of the time before World War II, its editor was Don McKinnon (James, n.d.: 1; Lockwood, 1968: 179). The 'Moscow Times', as it was known, was very much the voice of the union movement, and opinions other than its own were not given prominence. An editorial in 1946 stated that the paper 'does not pretend, as do most organs of the free press to be neutral in the battle of life, and to present an unbiased view of current affairs' (Northern Standard, 31 May 1946). After 1946, it often supported communist positions. Prominent Darwin journalist Douglas Lockwood argued that by then it 'still less reflected the moods of the town', leading to 'a lack of confidence of the townspeople' (Lockwood, 1968: 180).

The Northern Standard was the only Territory newspaper between 1932 and 1941, except for the brief appearance of the communist Proletarian in 1934. In October 1941, with large numbers of soldiers stationed in Darwin, the weekly Army News commenced. The army had been concerned for some time about the Northern Standard because of its supposed sympathy for communism. When Darwin was bombed for the first time in February 1942, the Northern Standard suspended publication until February 1946 and the Army News remained the sole Territory paper until the war finished (Davis, n.d.: 1, James, n.d.: 1).

The Sydney public relations firm Eric White Associates started the Northern Territory News in 1952 as a weekly tabloid to counter-balance the Northern Standard, which it had forced out of business by 1955. Initial efforts by the federal government to counter the Standard's influence had been shelved in 1942, and revived in 1949 amid the rising hysteria of the early Cold War. John Coleman was appointed publisher and allocated 1000 [pounds sterling] worth of shares, with Whitington and White (and through them the Chifley Labor government) retaining a controlling interest in the paper (Whitington, 1977: 110).

The first issue was published on 8 February 1952. After appearing as a weekly for its first two years, it moved to twice-weekly afternoon publication, then tri-weekly in 1960, and became an afternoon daily (Monday to Friday) in 1964. It published its first Saturday edition on 20 April 1968.

In the days following Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve 1974, staff produced an information sheet from a small press in the Darwin Police Station. The first four-page post-cyclone edition appeared from the repaired press on 31 December 1974, listing the dead and injured, and providing advice on evacuation. The Northern Territory News then recommenced as an afternoon daily, published Monday to Friday, from February 1975.

In 1977, a new web off-set press was installed, bringing a long overdue shift to modern photo-composition. A Saturday edition was reintroduced in July 1979, and the paper reverted to morning publication in 1991, a schedule it has since retained. A sister paper, the Sunday Territorian, was launched on 7 October 1984, edited by Gary Shipway. The NT News, as it was renamed in 2010, celebrated its 60th anniversary on 8 February 2012 by publishing its first full-colour edition. In March 2013, the NT News had a weekday circulation of 16,508, rising to 25,375 for the Saturday edition (ABC, August 2013).

The first editor was Mac Jeffries, who declared the newspaper's intention to 'fight for North Australia' and 'work for the progress and prosperity of everyone in the Northern Territory' (Northern Territory News, 8 February 1952). Jim Bowditch was appointed editor in 1955. He was to head the newspaper for eighteen years, win a Walkley Award (1959) and become well known for crusading on many issues, from supporting the Gurindji people's land claims following their walk-off from Wave Hill Station in 1966, to promoting self-governance for the Northern Territory (Jolly, 2008: 48-50).

Swan Breweries bought John Coleman's shares in the paper in 1960 (Northern Territory News, 9 February 1987). Around the same time, Whitington and White sold their controlling interest in the paper to News Limited, which took full control of the paper in 1964 (Cowley, 1985: 6). In 2012, News Limited showed confidence in the paper's editorial staff and its future profitability with its investment in a new $18 million printing press.

Although the NT News began life with an avowedly anti-communist stance, over the years it has often adopted liberal causes, particularly during Bowditch's editorial reign. In more recent decades, it has taken a more neutral political line, even though it remains highly parochial and a staunch supporter of statehood for the Territory. Along with much of the Australian mainstream media, the News has been subject to criticism for its representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (e.g. see Aikman, 2013), but it is probably also correct to say that it is just as likely to expose institutional and casual racism in the Territory as to perpetuate it.

From its earliest days, the NT News was central to the life of Darwin and the wider Territory. It remains one of the main sources of information about events in the city, from social gossip and sporting results to cyclone warnings and the Territory's often fraught relationship with the Commonwealth government.

It is unconcerned by criticism of its tabloid editorial style, seeing itself as an expression of Territorians' unique view of the world, epitomised by its website slogan, 'Only in the Territory' ('Only in the Territory', 2013). In covering its 50th anniversary in February 2011, ABC TV's 7.30 Report described it as 'Australia's most outrageous newspaper': 'It's bizarre and offbeat and a little bit wild and I think that is great,' senior NT News journalist Nigel Adlam remarked (ABC TV, 15 February 2011: 1). Known today for its garish covers, often featuring photo-montages of rampaging crocodiles, and its tongue-in-cheek headlines about UFO sightings and public nudity, the NT News is a staple of life in the Territory. Many (though, of course, not all) long-term Territorians bristle at criticism of their paper, which they regard as giving voice to their unique perspective on a place whose isolation means that other national dailies usually arrive a day or even two after publication and typically cost twice their masthead price.

After the early 1970s, various smaller newspapers--such as the weekly Darwin Star--attempted to challenge the dominance of the Northern Territory News, but with little success. Between 1992 and 2005, the Northern Territory University/Charles Darwin University Student Union in Darwin published the monthly the Big Spit and Delirra (Northern Territory Newspapers, n.d.: 2-4).

In July 1946, the Territory's second largest town, Alice Springs, acquired its first newspaper, The Dead Heart? Ten months later, on 24 May 1947, it was replaced by the twice-weekly Centralian Advocate, owned by the well-known local businessman C.H. 'Pop' Chapman, with Walter Allan as its short-lived first editor (Donovan, 1988: 227, 229). Jim Bowditch was editor between 1950 and 1954, using the paper to fight for the right of Aboriginal people with white heritage to receive full citizenship (Jolly, 2008: 49). During the 1950s, the Centralian Advocate experienced frequent ownership changes and numerous production issues. News Limited took over the Centralian Advocate in 1966, providing access to much more capital than had been available previously. The paper showed little concern with the wider world, maintaining a strong local focus and not being afraid on occasions to criticise the Alice Springs Town Council or significant commercial interests (Donovan, 1988: 236, 240, 248, 281, 303-4; Kirkpatrick, n.d.: 1). In September 1968, it attacked the local tourist industry, saying that tourist accommodation in Alice Springs was generally poor and service standards were abysmal (Centralian Advocate, 19 September 1968).

The Alice Springs Times, which claimed to 'carry the torch for northern development', had a brief existence between September 1965 and August 1966. The weekly Alice Springs News--which is still being published--began in March 1994, but with a considerably smaller circulation than the Centralian Advocate (Northern Territory Newspapers, n.d.: 1)

In the post-World War II period, the Territory's smaller towns also acquired newspapers as their populations increased. These included the Tennant and District Times (Tennant Creek, est. 1978), the Alyangula Newsletter (1980-89), the Jabiru Rag (est. 1982), the Katherine Times (est. 1983), the Barkly Regional (Tennant Creek, 1985-89), the Eylandt Echo (Groote Eylandt, est. 1989), the Arafura Times (Nhulunbuy, est. 1996) and the Palmerston Sun (est. 2000). From the 1970s, the Territory also saw numerous, often transitory, 'throw-away' newspapers. The most important of these was the weekly Darwin Sun, which began publication in March 2000 (Northern Territory Newspapers, n.d.: 1-12).

The history of the Northern Territory press is poorly documented. Information in various secondary sources is incomplete and sometimes contradictory. Douglas Lockwood's The Front Door: Darwin, 1869-1969 (1968) gives the most detailed published history of Darwin's newspapers, but this only extends until the late 1960s. Other journalists' accounts, such as Jim Bowditch's Whispers from the North: Tales of the Northern Territory (1993), are generally impressionistic and uneven. Three brief historical surveys by Alan Davis (2011), Barbara James (n.d.) and Rod Kirkpatrick (n.d.), together with the Northern Territory Library's annotated list of newspapers and magazines (Northern Territory Newspapers, n.d.), all on the library's website, provide the only overviews.


Aikman, A. 2013, 'Community Sidelined by Anti-Bush Agenda', The Australian, 14 September.

Australian Bureau of Circulation (ABC), Circulation figures, ABC_circulation_Aug2013.pdf.

Bowditch, J. 1993, Whispers From the North: Tales of the Northern Territory, Northern Territory University Press, Darwin.

Brian, B. 2001, 'The Northern Territory's One Big Union: The Rise and Fall of the North Australian Workers' Union, 1911-1972', PhD thesis, Northern Territory University.

Centralian Advocate, 19 September 1968.

Cowley, K. 1985, 'The News Limited Way', in Doing the Impossible: The Northern Territory News, Northern Territory News, Darwin.

Davis, A. 2011, 'History of Newspapers in the Northern Territory', au/northern-territory-library/collection^_territory_newspapers/history-of-newspapers-in-the northern-territory.

Donovan, P. 1988, Alice Springs: Its History & the People Who Made it, Alice Springs Town Council, Alice Springs.

James, B. n.d., 'Historical Introduction to Northern Territory Newspapers', http://artsandmuseums. northern_territory_newspapers (an earlier and longer version of this used in 2011 is no longer accessible on the website).

Jolly, R. 2008, 'Bowditch, James (Jim)', in D. Carment, C. Edward, B. James, R. Maynard, A. Powell and H.J. Wilson, Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, rev. edn, Charles Darwin University Press, Darwin.

Kirkpatrick, R. n.d., 'History of Northern Territory Regional Newspapers', http://artsandmuseums. regional-newspapers.

Lockwood, D. 1968, The Front Door: Darwin, 1868-1969, Rigby, Adelaide. North Australian, 25 May 1889.

North Australian Workers Union n.d., 'Trade Union Entry--Australian Trade Union Archives', n.d.,

Northern Standard, 31 May 1946.

Northern Territory News, 8 February 1952, 9 February 1987.

Northern Territory Newspapers n.d., Department of Arts and Museums, http://artsandmuseums.

'Only in the Territory' 2013,

ABC TV 2011, The 7.30 Report,

Whitington, D. 1977, Strive to be Fair: An Unfinished Autobiography, ANU Press, Canberra.

Stephen Hamilton is a University Fellow in the School of Creative Arts and Humanities at Charles Darwin University.

David Carment is Emeritus Professor of History at Charles Darwin University.
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Author:Hamilton, Stephen; Carment, David
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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