On Monday 3 March, I launch Melbourne’s newest newspaper, Melbourne Sirius. I am giving out 525 copies of Sirius – one for every defunct newspaper made in the city between 1838 and now – outside newspaper buildings past and present.
Melbourne Sirius appears at a historic moment; eight days after the publication of the last broadsheet version of The Age and two days after the launch of The Saturday Paper, a new weekly newspaper being published by Morry Schwartz. Even more significant, perhaps, is the closure of The Age’s print plant at Tullamarine at the end of March. From next month, The Age will be printed at Ballarat.
The paper invites readers to stop and contemplate what this moment might mean for them and for their city. It asks you to read slowly. What other moments are suggested by the long list of dead newspapers and the radical variety in the lifespan, purpose and tone of each of these papers?
Sirius exists only as a paper object. There is no website to scan, no button to click, no link to share. The newspaper has been funded by a 2013-14 creative fellowship at the State Library of Victoria. I am the publisher, editor, researcher, writer, photographer, sub-editor and proof-reader. Please excuse any typos.
Typographer Stephen Banham (Letterbox) designed the paper and his colleague Heather Walker worked on the hundreds of mastheads I photographed, turning muddy digital files into sharp, clean ones.
Banham’s stunning red and white starburst front and back cover references the old masthead stamps that were once used to indicate different editions: city extra, city final, stumps. Red was also the preferred ink colour for the ‘Stop Press’ boxes that used to contain late-breaking news.
Inside is my illustrated obituary of newspapers. Aside from listing the birth and death dates of 525 dead newspapers, Sirius also includes a four-page centrespread of mastheads photographs. The mastheads are laid out alphabetically. The first is The Abstainer (the Official Organ of the Grand Lodge of Victoria), a bi-weekly made in Melbourne from May 1889 until May 1890. The last is Zundnadeln Blatter fur die heitere und ernste Welt (Paper for the serene and serious world). Only two issues of this small German-language paper were made, in March and May 1873 and it is cared for in the State Library’s rare newspapers collection.
Sirius has one more special feature: footnotes. It may be the first footnoted newspaper in the world but I want to assure readers that the footnotes are really just small colour stories. There are even some jokes.
The paper was printed by Arena in Fitzroy. Every aspect of Sirius pays homage to the beauty of newspapers and the mongrel creativity, ingenuity, passion and guts of the people who have manufactured them in Melbourne for the past 176 years.
I worked with some of these people while I was on staff at The Age (1993 – 2002) and over the past 10 years when I have been a regular contributor, writing columns, op-ed pieces, reviews and features for the paper. In 2012 and 2013, I reported on the serious economic, social and cultural implications of the collapse in newspaper manufacturing. You can read all about that in Stop Press: The Last Days of Newspapers (Scribe, 2013).
My dual careers as newspaper journalist and historian have lead me to this rather mad and unexpected moment of launching my own newspaper. I am roping two of my kids in as paper girls for the day. Let’s see if their sweet voices can match the clarion calls of the paper boys that once stood on so many Melbourne street corners.
Hand out times and places are as follows on Monday 3 March:
- Herald and Weekly Times (corner Flinders Street and Exhibition Street): 11am – 12pm
- Herald (Collins St, between Elizabeth and Swanston, outside Nespresso shop) 12.30-1.30pm
- Argus (corner Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets) 2-3pm
- Age (corner Spencer and Lonsdale Streets) 3.30pm-4pm
- Age Media House (corner Collins and Spencer St) 4.30-5.30pm
Melbourne Sirius is on my obituary list too. It rises and sets in one issue, like so many newspapers before it, utterly ephemeral but full of hope and purpose.