Slice of Australian history ends with last 'Bulletin'

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The Independent Online

It was founded before Australia became a nation and it helped to define Australian identity and values. But yesterday, the country's most venerable news magazine, the 128-year-oldBulletin, was axed, a victim of falling sales and competition from the internet.

Staff were told about the closure as they were putting together next week's edition of the magazine, which – during the past century – has showcased some of Australia's most talented writers. The final edition includes contributions from Tom Keneally, Frank Moorhouse and Richard Flanagan, three of the country's leading novelists.

The closure was a shock but not a surprise. TheBulletin had been bleeding readers for years. Circulation had halved to 57,000 last September from more than 100,000 in the mid-1990s.

Founded in Sydney in 1880, in an era when swathes of rural Australia were being settled by pastoralists, it became known as the "Bushman's Bible", bringing news of the outside world to isolated areas, and reflecting and shaping the views of people on the land at a time of social and political upheaval. Circulation had grown to 80,000 within a decade.

The Bulletin campaigned vigorously for the six British colonies to become a federated nation, which happened in 1901. Fiercely nationalistic, the magazine's masthead slogan – abandoned only in 1960 – was "Australia for the White Man". It also favoured conscription, an issue that divided the country during the First World War.

But from its earliest days, the Bulletin also promoted the work of Australia's finest writers, such as Andrew "Banjo" Paterson, author of the unforgettable poem The Man from Snowy River, and, more recently, Peter Carey. Cartoons were contributed by artists of the calibre of Norman Lindsay.

Even as it struggled to stay afloat in recent times, the magazine continued to break major political and business stories, often setting the weekly news agenda. One commentator described it yesterday as "a singular voice that has brayed, bellowed, cajoled and caressed Australian life and literature since colonial times".

Since 1960, the Bulletin had been owned by Australian Consolidated Press (ACP), the magazine empire headed by Frank Packer, then his son Kerry. Kerry Packer had a soft spot for the Bulletin and, as Australia's richest man, he could absorb its losses. But he died two years ago and last year his son James sold most of ACP's parent company to a foreign equity firm. Sentiment no longer figured.

In a statement, ACP said the Bulletin's problems were typical of those faced by weekly news magazines globally. "This is a sad day for all of us," said Scott Lorson, chief executive of ACP Magazines. "The Bulletin has been an institution in Australian publishing and has provided... the best quality, in-depth news and current affairs analysis in the country."

One of the country's most respected political commentators, Laurie Oakes, a Bulletin columnist for the past 24 years, said: "I got an email from a friend this morning saying he could hear Kerry Packer rolling in his grave, and there's some truth in that, I think... It's not just a great magazine. It's part of Austalia's history.

"There's no longer a magazine... that will give an Australian perspective on Australian society, on events, on politics, on the arts."

That was the Bulletin's function from its earliest days. One historian, Michael McKernan, said: "It quickly earned the title of the 'Bushman's Bible'. In other words, it was talking to Australians in rural Australia about an Australia they were proud of and living in. It gave Australian readers a perspective on Australia that possibly they weren't getting in their newspapers."

But it was never a commercial success. Bob Carr, a former premier of New South Wales who wrote for it in the 1970s, said that even then "it was being kept going as a bit of charity, really, by the Packer family".

Fittingly, given the magazine's history, the final cover story is, "Why We Love Australia".

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