We all know where to go to access Australia’s historic newspapers online – the National Library of Australia’s Trove website. This site has deservedly received heaps of praise. It has a good search facility, there is no charge for use of the website and it has an effective means of correcting errors in the optical character recognition (OCR) reading of the newspaper text – crowd-sourced transcription. The list of newspapers available on this website is impressive and growing.
Digitising Australia’s newspapers is a herculean task. For the size of the population Australia had a large number of newspapers – just take a look at the list of newspapers published in the central goldfields region of Victoria between 1851 and 1901 (Hughes, 2003, pp. 18-48). Elizabeth Morrison notes that a directory of newspapers published in 1888 recorded nearly 600 newspapers being published in Australia at the time (Morrison, 2001), p. 471). Many issues of old Australian newspapers have not been kept, but even so the libraries in Australia face a time-consuming and expensive task to digitise those that have remained. While the Trove database is wonderful, historians need to be ever-conscious that not all newspapers have been digitised and some significant newspapers in Australia’s history such as Queensland’s Worker, and Melbourne’s, The Age, are not available on the Trove website.
Google News Archive
Yesterday through Twitter we discovered that some old copies of The Age are available online through the Google News Archive. There were mutterings of disappointment earlier this year when Google announced that it would no longer be adding new material to this project, but the digitised newspapers that have already been placed online through this project are still available. A list of newspapers on this site is available but it does not include the places where the newspapers were published and it is very difficult to tell from the titles. I thought I would trawl through the titles and try to identify the Australian papers that are on the list. I have probably missed some – please write a comment to let me know of others and I will add them to this list. I have not listed those newspapers that are also available on Trove because you will want to access them on Trove as it has better facilities for users.
Not all issues of these newspapers are available on Google News Archive. They can be searched by date, but from what I can see there is no facility to search the text of the newspapers. However, we can be grateful that we can read them online rather than having to go into a library and load up a microfilm reader. I am trying to work out how to search the text but haven’t succeeded. I tried the google news advanced search but it didn’t return any results for a word that I knew was used multiple times in the Port Phillip Herald. If you have any hints on searching the text of these newspapers, please share them in comments to this post!
So it is great that there are a few more old Australian newspapers out there that have been digitised and are available online. But I reckon that it might be possible to take this a step further. According to the Boston Phoenix newspaper, Google has said that they are happy to give the digitised images back to the suppliers of them and allow them to be published elsewhere for no charge. Could the National Library of Australia arrange to include the newspapers digitised by Google on Trove? I realise that there will be copyright issues with post-1954 newspapers and there may be a host of technical issues, but I think that this might be worth exploring if it hasn’t already.
The Power of Twitter
I mentioned earlier that I learned about the presence of old Australian newspapers on Google News Archive through Twitter. I would never have known about this or written this post if it wasn’t for Twitter and those who use it to ask questions and share ideas online. Yes, Twitter can be used to learn about the details of someone’s cold, or their night at the pub, but there are also many people who share their learning and explore ideas. It is easy to hook into these conversations and ignore those who only share the ephemera of their daily lives.
The Twitter conversation was started by Jenny Sinclair who, like so many of us, loves the valuable resource provided through Trove but is not too shy to say she would like more! Yesterday she sent the following tweet:
I’ve also heard a lot of demand for the Mackay Daily Mercury. OK FINE MAINLY FROM ME. RT @PRO_Vic MT why isn’t the Age on Trove?
@Library_VicState Library of Vic
But in the meantime Trove hit the jackpot – old copies of The Agewere available on the Google News Archive:
This is a really good example of the benefits of twitter and the type of collaboration that it facilitates which can benefit many people. Thankyou to Jenny Sinclair, the Public Records Office of Victoria, Trove Australia, State Library of Victoria and Gabriella Haynes for your contributions!
There is a lot of information about the historic publication of newspapers in Australia. Here are just a few to get you started:
- ‘History of Australian Newspapers‘: This page from the National Library of Australia gives a brief overview of newspapers in Australian history and some further links to get you started.
- Hughes, Sue, A Gazetteer of Newspapers from the Central Victorian Goldfields (1851-1901), available on the Charles Sturt University Institute for Land, Water and Society website, (Albury, 2003).
- The Women’s Pages: Australian Women and Journalism since 1850: Women tend to disappear from the pages of history so I try to make a point of actively searching for their contributions. This website includes a short historical overview of their role, biographies of some female journalists, Walkley Awards won by women and further resources for those interested in researching this area.
- Morrison, Elizabeth, ‘Newspapers’, in Graeme Davison, John Hirst, Stuart Macintyre, eds., The Oxford Companion to Australian History, (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 470-472.
- There are numerous histories and bibliographies about Australian newspapers available on the University of Queensland UQ eSpace website.
I have corrected the original caption to the photo on this post. At first glance at the headline article on unemployment in Australia I thought, “yes, that is shocking – unemployment at 18.7%”. However on more careful reading I found that what shocked Australians at the time was that the unemployment rate had taken a “leap” to… 1.7% seasonally adjusted! My 21st century experience had seen the figure 18.7%, which was the drop in unfilled vacancies in one month quoted in the opening paragraph, and assumed that this was the unemployment rate. So why were people so shocked about these unemployment figures? I couldn’t find the 1974 unemployment figures online, but taking Kenneth Davidson’s figures on seasonally adjusted unemployment in his article on page 1, unemployment increased by over 19% in one month. That is a scary rate of increase! In the same article Kenneth Davidson refers to the underlying inflation rate being 16-17%. This was the era of stagflation.
- Kenneth Davidson, ‘Shock result for experts, Govt fears now reality’, The Age, 12 August 1974, p.1
On a more minor note, I have taken the opportunity to correct my age when the newspaper was published – I’d had my birthday that year.