Sworn to no master: A corporate and political history of Australian newspapers, 1941-2021

The Coral Thomas Fellowship, State Library of New South Wales, supporting new research into the history of Australian newspaper companies.

Sworn To No Master: A Corporate and Political History of Australian Newspapers, 1941-2021


Between the 1920s and 1950s, Australia’s largest newspaper companies began to expand and organise themselves into media empires controlling newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations.

This project draws upon the vast Fairfax Media Business Archive at the State Library of NSW as a primary source in telling the history of Australia’s major newspaper companies. This Archive is the most significant and comprehensive media company archive in Australia, and possibly the world. While its focus is on the iconic Fairfax company, and especially its day-to-day management, the Archive also includes a trove of valuable material on its allies and rivals, including the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), Associated Newspapers, News Limited and Consolidated Press.

Outcomes / activities

Following on from the publication of Paper Emperors: The Rise of Australia’s Newspaper Empires (UNSW Press, 2019), the Coral Thomas Fellowship is supporting the research and writing of a second volume of Australia’s corporate and political history from 1941.

Paper Emperors: The rise of Australia’s newspaper empires

Sally Young

Before newspapers were ravaged by the digital age, they were a powerful force, especially in Australia – a country of newspaper giants and kingmakers.

This magisterial book reveals who owned Australia’s newspapers and how they used them to wield political power. A corporate and political history of Australian newspapers spanning 140 years, it explains how Australia’s media system came to be dominated by a handful of empires and powerful family dynasties. Many are household names, even now: Murdoch, Fairfax, Syme, Packer. Written with verve and insight and showing unparalleled command of a vast range of sources, Sally Young shows how newspaper owners influenced policy-making, lobbied and bullied politicians, and shaped internal party politics.

The book begins in 1803 with Australia’s first newspaper owner – a convict who became a wealthy bank owner – giving the industry a blend of notoriety, power and wealth from the start. Throughout the twentieth century, Australians were unaware that they were reading newspapers owned by secret bankrupts and failed land boomers, powerful mining magnates Underbelly-style gangsters, bankers, and corporate titans. It ends with the downfall of Menzies in 1941 and his conviction that a handful of press barons brought him down. The intervening years are packed with political drama, business machinations and a struggle for readers, all while the newspaper barons are peddling power and influence.

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Paper Emperors: The rise of Australia's newspaper empires