Australia’s Historic Newspapers Online

Me reading an old copy of The Age in front of 2 monitors

When I was 10 I kept a newspaper recording a leap in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Australia to 1.7%! This newspaper also reported on the first days of President Ford in office. However, increasingly old newspapers are freely available online.

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:

Jenny Sinclair

@jenny_sinclair Jenny Sinclair
Can anyone tell me why the Age isn’t on Trove? I’m getting spoiled – want to search online as much as I can. Libraries are fine, home nicer.
This was retweeted by the Public Records Office of Victoria who I follow, so I decided to put my vote in for having old copies of The Age available on Trove and bring the people behind Trove into the conversation:
Yvonne Perkins

@perkinsyYvonne Perkins

It’s so good @TroveAustralia We want more! RT @pro_vic: MT @jenny_sinclair: why isn’t the Age on Trove? I’m getting spoiled…

PhD student, Gabriella Haynes, was listening in from Mackay.  She pitched in for a Mackay newspaper to be digitised:
GHaynes

@gabfishbiteGHaynes

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?

Trove responded:
Trove

@TroveAustraliaTrove

@jenny_sinclair @perkinsy @gabfishbite @PRO_Vic Decision made by @Library_Vic see http://bit.ly/pXKjjlfor info on title selection

And the State Library of Victoria entered the discussion:

State Library of Vic

@Library_VicState Library of Vic

@TroveAustralia @jenny_sinclair @perkinsy @gabfishbite @PRO_Vic yep too recent for Trove but if you’re a cardholder use our PressDisplay

I didn’t know what ‘PressDisplay’ was, so I quickly went onto the State Library of Victoria website and found that it was an online database of recently published newspapers.  I shared the information:
Yvonne Perkins

@perkinsyYvonne Perkins

@jenny_sinclair @perkinsy @gabfishbite @PRO_Vic Found PressDisplay http://ow.ly/6hgo0Looks good for 21stC issues of newspapers

But in the meantime Trove hit the jackpot – old copies of The Agewere available on the Google News Archive:

Trove

@TroveAustraliaTrove

@jenny_sinclair @perkinsy @gabfishbite @PRO_Vic The Age is in the Google news archive: http://bit.ly/qYxpyBif you want to browse from home.

I certainly retweeted this one!  Jenny Sinclair came back online and was amazed at the progress that had been made on the matter:
Jenny Sinclair

jenny_sinclairJenny Sinclair

@TroveAustralia @perkinsy @gabfishbite @PRO_Vic my goodness. go away for an hour and see what great stuff happens. Thanks! (dives in)

The Public Records Office of Victoria summed up our twitter collaboration nicely:

@PRO_Vic Aug 31, 6:04pM

@jenny_sinclair @TroveAustralia @perkinsy @gabfishbite public service!

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!

Further References

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.

Correction

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.

10 thoughts on “Australia’s Historic Newspapers Online

    • Thankyou Brett for your detailed instructions. I carefully copied what you had done and found that I could replicate it. One thing that had confused me is that in the advanced search it allows the user to nominate “Return articles added to Google News between”. I was looking for a word in a 19th century copy of the Port Phillip Heraldso it certainly was not added to Google at this date! However this is where the date of publication of the newspaper should be entered.

      I still had trouble finding words from the 3/1/1840 issue of the Port Phillip Herald. I suspect that either no optical character recognition (OCR) has been run on this issue, or the OCR has not worked very well. At least thanks to you we know that there is a search facility on Google News Archive which could prove useful to others.

  1. You used to be able to search old issues of The Age using the advanced search at Google but that seems to no longer work, articles I found using this search no longer appear in the results, I would guess they have removed these newspapers from the index.

    Even if Google was to give the National Library the page images (and I’m not sure they would, my understanding is that the supplier of the papers for imaging was Fairfax, so their promise to give back the images would be to them) I believe the major cost in getting a newspaper into Trove is not the actual imaging but the OCR, segmentation and manual entry of the first four lines of each article.

  2. Hi – thanks for this! Nice to know about these different digitsation options even though my plea for the paper I am surveying for my research isn’t going to work out! It’s an interesting thought that this may make a significant difference to what I do – at the moment, trawling through Mackay-based paper on microfilm takes me about an hour per printed month – and I need to look over 60 years worth! Plus it is only available to me in queensland,and I am based in Melbourne. So I would have such a different insight if it were to be digitised, instead of seeing if I have enough time to do it the old-fashioned way. Not complaining – it has just brought home the MASSIVE difference this can make to the insights we can find as historians.

    • @Library_Vic just tweeted the list of newspapers that the National Library of Australia are hoping will be added to Trove this financial year. One of the papers that I have been hoping to be digitised is on the list which is great. However, as you said, the newspaper you would like to be digitised is not on the list. You have an enormous task ahead of you! I don’t have a problem using microfilm readers but it is easy to miss things and after several hours I develop a crick in my neck.

  3. Thank you for this. I’m delighted to have found your website.
    And I agree with you that some of the gaps in Trove are a problem. It’s getting better, but to begin with this tends to cause a bias towards ‘papers of record’ and capital cities. And by the way, Another provincial paper that has been digitized is the Nambour Chronicle – http://www.nambour-chronicle.com/

    • … and I am delighted that you have found my blog and left a link to your blog. I’m looking forward to reading your posts!

      Thanks for letting us know about the Nambour Chronicle being on Trove. I’ll check it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s