Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Headlines

It's New years Day, 2015.

My morning paper has an image on it from the celebrations in the city last night, much as it does every year. A quick glance around the web reveals many other media outlets, local and overseas, have followed suit.

A snap of the fireworks, or people watching the fireworks, has almost become a New Years Day news tradition.

But what about earlier years? A look back at newspapers from earlier times can tell us a lot about what was happening on New Years Day, back in the day.

The following are three front pages from Melbourne's now defunct The Argus newspaper, three decades apart,


The 1950s are often viewed as a staid decade, and this front page seems to capture some of that mood. About three quarters of it is taken up with Australia's Davis Cup tennis win over the United States, driven by two precocious 19 year old's destined to become stars of the game; Ken Rosewall (the 'Giant Killer' of the headline)  and Lew Hoad.

New Years Day celebrations are almost entirely absent from the cover, save for the plain sentence right at the top of the page; 'A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR READERS.'

The next largest story does have a New Years theme though, with the announcement of the Queens Honour's List. Eight Australians were knighted, which is about a decades supply in contemporary times, and the Prime Minister's wife (referred to as Mrs R.G.Menzies, rather than by her own christian name) was made a Dame.

In other news, Victoria's bookies indicated that they would start using an armoured car service to collect their take at the end of each race day. Previously, many had simply left their cash in a strong box in the city, but one of these had been cracked and emptied by thieves the previous week, with many thousands of pounds lost.

The Argus, December 29, 1953

Also worth noting is the ad (bottom right) for Gilbey's Gin, which includes a reference to a unit of measure, exotically named the 'Nobbler':

A 'nobbler' was a local term, used exclusively to describe a quantity of gin. It was effectively a nip, and 12 nobblers made up one quart. I was not able to locate the origin of the term, but a different local use for 'nobbler' at the time was to describe a person who illegally fixed horse races, usually by drugging a horse. So, a possible explanation could be that it drew a comparison between a drugged horse, and someone who had knocked back a few too many nips.


Going back ten years, 1944 finds a different world with the last full year of World War II about to start. No surprise then, that the front page of the paper is almost entirely taken up with the latest from the war's far flung theatres; the Red Army's dramatic advance towards the Polish border, and a landing of American Marines in New Guinea. Both pointers towards the Allies eventual victory. On a more sinister note, the Argus' correspondent in London comments on the growing size and might of the Red Army, useful for the Allies at this time, considerably less so when the Russians decided not to retreat again at war's end.

The only non-war related story is at bottom left, and again makes mention of the Honours List (although this time, the King's Honours List). Local boy Richard (later Baron) Casey had been made a Companion of Honour (CH), for his works in the civil service, also recognised when he was appointed Commonwealth Governor of Bengal the previous year. A reminder that this was still three years before India achieved independence.

To the right of the cover is an advertising panel, largely given over to promoting 'Vaxos No. 2 Oral Medicine'. Vaxos is described as a tonic, used to cure the bacteria that cause lumbago, neuritis and sciatica... none of which are caused by bacterial infection. Below this is a small ad for a play:

Peter Cheyney was a former British policemen who had found success writing pulpy crime fiction novels. This Man is Dangeous was his first book and featured his most famous creation, Private Investigator Lemmy Caution.  A number of Cheyney's novels were turned into plays and, later, films, perhaps most famously Alphaville, very loosely adapted by Jean-Luc Goddard,


Another ten year step back finds not only a different world, but a different newspaper. With the dense, narrowly columned sheet depicted above far removed from the big headlines and half page pictures of the 50s. Even the concept of 'news' is different, with what we might think of as important -local and international events, politics, sports - relegated to one column, on the far right. The other 6/7 of the page is given over to something more like what we would later know as classified ads; with births, deaths, marriages, even a lost and found section:

It's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a world where you could report a lost bag or pencil to the local paper, with any expectation of its return.

Also of interest is a small section listing 'Airway Services', which contains only two entries, both flights to Tasmania:

'Safety assured by 3 engines and 2 pilots' Hart Aircraft Services proclaimed, in a statement you think may have come back to haunt them.

Of the New Year there is nothing, save for one small private notice, at the centre top:

Placed by Frederick Sidney Jermaine-Lulham, a local dentist and leading Freemason, the message has an unfamiliar presentation, but content that would not look out of place on facebook today. 

And all at 9 pence a line.

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