In the late 19th century newspapers and journals flourished in Australia as they never had before (and perhaps since). Dozens of papers and journals boomed as a result of revolutionary new technologies such as steam presses, telephones and the telegraph. Newspapers such as the Argus, Punch and the Bulletin were read avidly by an increasing literate and affluent public, hungry for information and self-education in a rapidly changing world.
Publishing was in the McKinley blood. After publisher James McKinley migrated to Melbourne in about 1857, his sons Alexander and James began a lifelong involvement in publishing newspapers. These included the Talbot Leader, Saturday Night (later Once A Week), the Melbourne Bulletin, the Jewish Herald, Australasian Schoolmaster, the Herald and the Daily Telegraph.
However it was Punch that was Alexander’s main concern for an amazing period of 39 years. He bought it with his brother in 1871 and became sole proprietor in 1881 although James was editor until he died in 1908. Through Punch’s famous cartoons and satire we can trace the great events and debates of the period including federation. The Bulletin was the flagship of Australian nationalism, preaching an independent stance on political, economic and cultural issues even after it dropped its demands for a republic.
Alexander was a strong supporter of federation and newspapers such as Punch were formidable political weapons to influence opinion. The 1890’s crash severely hurt his newspaper business and in 1892 he won the seat of Toorak seeking to restore prosperity and sound government. He was also mayor of Malvern council three times between 1901 and 1919. His home was in Tooronga Road. As chairman of the Children’s Court for 20 years and president of the Children’s Welfare Organisation, he was active in child welfare reform and in 1917 was largely responsible for the Children’s Court Amending Act.
Like the McKinleys, Frederick Haddon loved the smell of newsprint. In his case it was the Argus where he became editor at 28 years of age in 1867 and maintained that role for 31 years.
He was a strong campaigner for federation, which he saw as the destination of Australia. Haddon foresaw “that an unfederated Australia would very quickly become a country of hostile states striking at each other’s commerce and general business interests.” Despite setbacks the Argus ‘kept the cause of federation to the front’. The support of the media such as the Argus and the Age in the constitutional referendums of 1898 was a factor in the high ‘yes’ vote in Victoria.
Haddon was however a supporter of the Upper House seeing its existence threatened by popular radicalism. He opposed the Unlock the Lands land reform campaign which was intended to ‘unlock’ the grip of powerful squatters in favour of small farmers or selectors. Possibly he foresaw the abuses of the laws by the squatters which followed. He campaigned to defend rural tariffs and fought against political interference in education and railways. At his death he was president of the Victorian Poultry and Kennel Club. His home was 30 Anderson Street, South Yarra. A large and distinguished ‘who’s who’ of media, business, political and social leaders attended his funeral at St Kilda Cemetery on the 9 March 1906.