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Travelling Home, 'Walkabout Magazine' and Mid-Twentieth-Century Australia

Travelling Home, 'Walkabout Magazine' and Mid-Twentieth-Century Australia

by Mitchell Rolls, Anna Johnston


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'Walkabout' was one of the most popular magazines in mid-twentieth century Australia, educating local and international readers about the Australian landscape, its peoples and industry. It featured many of the most interesting writers, natural scientists and commentators. This book investigates 'Walkabout’ magazine's pivotal role in Australian cultural history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785271908
Publisher: Anthem Press
Publication date: 09/25/2019
Series: Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture , #2
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mitchell Rolls is senior lecturer and programme director of Aboriginal Studies in the School of Humanities, University of Tasmania, Hobart, and president of the International Australian Studies Association. With a background in cultural anthropology, he works across disciplines to draw attention to the contextual subtleties underlying contemporary cultural constructions, identity politics and related postcolonial and settler colonial exigencies. He has published widely on these issues.

Anna Johnston is associate professor of English literature in the Institute for Advanced Studies, Humanities and the School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland. She is also an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. A literary studies scholar specializing in colonial and postcolonial studies, she has a long-standing scholarly commitment to understanding Australian literature and culture in a transnational context and to working across disciplines to explain the aftermath of colonialism.

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Travelling Home, Walkabout Magazine and Mid-Twentieth-Century Australia

By Mitchell Rolls, Anna Johnston

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2016 Mitchell Rolls and Anna Johnston
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78308-539-2



The editorial in the inaugural edition of Walkabout explained its projected charter. Signed by Charles (Chas) Lloyd Jones, chairman of the board of the expanding merchant store David Jones and acting chairman of the Australian National Travel Association (ANTA), it proclaimed that one of the principal aims of the 'travel magazine' was to educate.

[I]n publishing 'Walkabout', we have embarked on an educational crusade which will enable Australians and the people of other lands to learn more of the romantic Australia that exists beyond the cities and the enchanted South Sea Islands and New Zealand.

Travel itself was held to be instrumental to the sort of education Walkabout wanted to provide, as the editorial of the fifth edition (March 1935) made explicit. Far more than just learning the facts and figures of potential investment opportunities, or learning about geography, engineering feats and regional produce, travel itself was considered to impart significant social and personal benefits.

Travel is the most successful of the outdoor sports. It conditions the body, informs the mind, inspires the heart, and imparts a grace to our social intercourse. It is a university of experience. It teaches that the bigger drama of life is played in the open – out where ships speak as they pass in the night – where the glory of the mountain, plain, and desert awe us with a mystery that is forever new to the responsive traveller. Travel is the fifth dimension in Australia's system of educating all people. Travel is as much a part of life's necessary experience as is that of the school, the church, the library and the museum.

Whilst much of the travel promoted was beyond the reach of many, Walkabout was confident that its readership would gain valuable education travelling vicariously through its articles and photography: 'in adult and youth alike, [Walkabout] will inspire an infinitely greater knowledge and appreciation of their own and neighbouring lands.' In recognition of this objective Walkabout was from the very beginning envisaged as 'Australia's geographic magazine', a title and role formalized in later years. Walkabout's sense of itself as a geographic magazine gave the somewhat disparate assortment of photographs and articles a certain coherence.

Walkabout was published by ANTA. Established on 25 March 1929 with a grant from the federal government after some years of lobbying, which depended on its having solicited promissory funding from other interested parties including the Commonwealth and State Railways and the Hotel Associations amongst others, the association's purpose was to provide a national body that would oversee and coordinate the promotion of tourism both within and to Australia. It was also to promote Australia as a favourable continent to both invest in and emigrate to. The newly formed organization had lobbied and first met under the name 'Advertise Australia Movement', indicating its promotional aspirations. The first item of business at the inaugural meeting was to change the name to ANTA. This name too was soon under scrutiny, with board members feeling it did not adequately reflect the organization's activities. In 1933 the director proposed that the organization change its name to the Australian National Publicity Association (ANPA). The proposal was unsuccessful at that time, but in 1940 ANTA did change its name to ANPA because of concerns that the original name had misled people 'into believing that the Association – purely a publicity organisation – actually handled travel bookings'. The association reverted to its former title – ANTA – in September 1954.

ANTA itself did not run tourist ventures or engage in commercial enterprises for profit's sake. Its role was to produce and provide publicity and promotional material that would encourage tourism and entice investors and immigrants. Walkabout was expected not only to pay for itself but to produce a profit, and it was published on a commercial basis: any profits over and above expenses were to be expended supporting other ANTA activities, particularly the publication of material to be disseminated overseas. To this end ANTA was scrupulous in its accounting, and argued that Walkabout was an integral component of its overall work promoting national interests. Even those with commercial interests in the magazine accepted this was the case. Concerned about rising production costs in the mid-1940s, the editor, Charles (Chas) Holmes, submitted a detailed review to the board. In it he noted how the general manager of Gordon & Gotch, the distributor of Walkabout to retail outlets (newsagents in the main), had agreed to a significant reduction in costs (both for handling the magazine and its sale price to retailers), 'in view of the fact that the magazine is published in the national interests and not for private gain'.

Holmes was one of the principal protagonists urging the formation of a body to 'advertise Australia'. Following five years in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Holmes held a number of different positions. First working in London with the Army Bureau helping soldiers gain nonmilitary employment, upon returning to Australia he became secretary to a Victorian Railways commissioner. His work with the railways provided an outlet for his prodigious energy and talents. It also afforded him the opportunity to gain the experience and expertise that would stand him in good stead in his future role in ANTA and subsequently Walkabout. In turn he was appointed a 'prosecuting officer to the Railways Board of Discipline', 'Commissioners' Advocate before a State Industrial Tribunal', then secretary to Harold Winthrop Clapp, the hard-working, innovative and reforming chairman of the Victorian Railways commissioners. In his letter of application to the position of director of ANTA, Holmes writes that it was in his role as secretary to Clapp where he 'was trained in organisation, administration, and publicity'. It was training he had ample opportunity to put to good use, for following 12 months as Clapp's secretary he was appointed chairman of the Victorian Railways Betterment and Publicity Board. Amongst other duties in this position Holmes was responsible for 'all railway publicity, including the writing of tourist booklets and pamphlets, press replies and articles for newspapers and journals, the railways magazine, pamphlets and posters to assist primary production'. He wrote the promotional pamphlet Australia Calls You, first published in 1926 (200,000 copies) and reprinted in 1927 and 1928. He also oversaw its distribution, primarily throughout Great Britain and the United States. Additionally, Holmes was responsible for organizing and running another of Clapp's initiatives, the Victorian National Resources Development Train. Introduced in 1922, the 'Reso' trains, as they became known, took 'leading city and country men' and other potential investors 'on a week's luxury train journey' through rural Victoria in an attempt to promote greater investment in the regions and to showcase the regions as desirable places to live.

Holmes had travelled extensively in Australia, including central Australia, the remote regions of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. His 1932 book We Find Australia was based on these travels. Given his interest in regional and remote Australia – not only in terms of the perceived potential for investment and development but his genuine fondness for these regions, love of travel, considerable organizational, promotional and publishing skills and position as director of ANTA – it is unsurprising thatWalkabout was an early initiative of ANTA. Later described as Holmes's 'brain child', it was formally established at ANTA's 16th board meeting, held in Sydney in May 1934.

General approval was given to the idea of the Association publishing a Travel Magazine which, it was believed, would not only pay for itself, but would enhance the prestige of the Association and assist the cause of travel generally. The Director was given the authority to go into the matter and submit a report covering details and economics.

That the magazine was launched in November the same year with no sign that its publication was rushed suggests preparations were well under way prior to formal approval by the board. It was also decided at this board meeting to employ a staff photographer for the purposes of improving 'the quality of "arresting pictures" that were being forwarded to overseas papers and magazines'. Roy Dunstan, a Victorian Railways employee, whom presumably Holmes knew due to them both working for the railways, was appointed on a weekly salary of £9 with all expenses paid. This was increased to £10 per week from 1 September 1938.

Holmes became Walkabout's founding managing editor, a position he held until his retirement in August 1957. A series of editors followed Holmes: Basil Atkinson until January 1960; then Graham Tucker followed by Brian McArdle from January 1961. John Ross took on the editorship in December 1969, and soon after the role appears to have bounced here and there. From June 1936 Holmes was paid an annual allowance of £250 for his editorial responsibilities. At the same time C. S. Weetman was appointed associate editor on an annual allowance of £100. Both allowances were conditional on Walkabout continuing to realize a 'worth-while profit', and both were paid from the magazine's funds.

Ostensibly Walkabout was one of ANTA's marketing strategies promoting travel to and within Australia, and promoting Australia as a country with considerable investment potential and as a desirable nation in which to live. ANTA's 1936 annual report stresses these objectives.

Advertising our country overseas not only creates understanding and goodwill and a more favourable background for trade, but also leads to a wider recognition of Australia's possibilities as a field for investment and industrial expansion, and to the winning of new citizens and settlers possessed of means.

Although Walkabout was a component of ANTA's overall investment, touristic and emigration promotional strategies, from the outset it reached beyond these instrumentalist objectives. ANTA's other promotional material was so extraordinarily abundant that it was hardly necessary forWalkabout's energies to be so narrowly focussed or as explicitly constrained by the particularities of specific marketing objectives. An array of other ANTA material fulfilled the latter. Pamphlets, posters, flyers, brochures, small books including yearbooks, photographs and other promotional ephemera marketed Australia as a travel destination, as a desirable country to emigrate to and as providing an array of attractions, both scenic and in terms of opportunities to make one's living. Lifestyle featured heavily in this promotional material, especially the recreational possibilities, from beach life to forest walks to game fishing, to museums and galleries. The sheer quantity of this material is staggering. By May 1939 ANTA reported that it had distributed 6,500,000 folders and booklets, 280,000 posters and 170,000 photographs. Annually, more than 500,000 pieces of publicity were distributed through travel offices: Australian posters were on permanent display at 3,000 sites in 20 different countries. In addition:

Attractive photographs and interesting new items and articles are syndicated regularly, without charge, to the leading newspapers and magazines of the English-speaking world, and the clippings received as a result of this syndication service totalled 80,000 single-column inches of space for the year just ended.

By 1955 the association was reporting it had produced more than 10,000,000 booklets and posters, and it was distributing 250,000 items of publicity overseas annually. Included in this was the association's Australian Handbook, which précised the national economy. Its purpose was to induce 'potential investors to combine possible business with pleasure and "look Australia over"'.

Although some publications had a select distribution, others were disseminated widely. In 1961–62, ANTA's monthly puff piece, Australian Travel News, designed for the overseas travel trade, was distributed free of charge to 7,200 outlets in 72 countries. Nearly all of ANTA's promotional material was free. In the same year subscribers to Walkabout itself came from 91 different countries. Whilst Walkabout's net profit contributed to the production and distribution of this material, and during the lean years when commonwealth government funding was suspended these profits largely underwrote this expenditure, its existence allowed the magazine the freedom to pursue objectives more aligned with the interests of a geographic magazine than those of explicit promotion. This notwithstanding, the magazine did on occasion dress the latter in the garb of the former.

Walkabout's readers did travel. A survey of readership conducted in November 1961 – under the banner 'getting to know you' – revealed that 29 per cent of respondents travelled widely in Australia, and 62 per cent travelled 'a little'. On average readers had visited three states other than their own, with New South Wales (including the ACT), Victoria, South Australia and Queensland being the most popular. That New South Wales and Victoria were the states most visited by readers (83 per cent and 80 per cent respectively), with only 21 per cent of readers visiting the Northern Territory, suggests that Walkabout was providing vicarious travel experiences to the more remote regions of Australia, despite these regions featuring prominently in the magazine. Although travel into central Australia and much of the Northern Territory was difficult and mostly unsupported by touristic infrastructure when Walkabout commenced in 1934, World War II troop movement and growing interest in the region had certainly increased (and significantly improved) available services and opportunities by 1961 when the survey was conducted. In 1933, for example, the year before Walkabout commenced publication, the population of Alice Springs was a mere 526. By 1941 it had only doubled, and whilst there were tourists, the industry itself was minimal. As the travel writer, journalist and sometimesWalkabout contributor Frank Clune noted, it was the arrival of 8,000 troops in Alice Springs in 1942 that 'put the Red Heart on the map'.

Walkabout's interest in the centre preceded 1942. Many if not most issues, including the regular feature 'Our Cameraman's Walkabout', showcased a photograph or two of a central Australian theme, from gum trees on the banks of the Todd River near Alice Springs, ghost gums (Figure 1.1), the aforementioned mob of camels, to the Arltunga Police Station in the 'Never Never' country, east of the Alice (Figure 1.2). In the same period up to 1942, some 23 articles, often with accompanying photographs, described some aspect of central Australian life, including Aborigines, scenery, flora and fauna and accounts of early explorers who traversed the region. Other articles raised its economic potential and canvassed conjectured schemes such as irrigation that would increase productivity. Personal travel narratives also featured. A. B. Haines writes of his journey by train and road from Adelaide to Darwin, and describes Alice Springs as a desirable and interesting place to visit. In a 1940 edition, the regular outback visitor C. A. Mansbridge describes a long 'caravan' journey he and his wife took from Melbourne through central Australia to the far north before returning to Victoria along coastal Western Australia. Mansbridge counters the myth that the interior is a 'waste land, with no growth and no water, where man and beast could never live' (Figure 1.3). Also in 1940, Bertha Strehlow, the wife of the anthropologist T. G. H. (Ted) Strehlow, writes of a journey she undertook with her husband from Hermannsburg (131km southwest of Alice Springs) to Macumba Station in the far north of South Australia.


Excerpted from Travelling Home, Walkabout Magazine and Mid-Twentieth-Century Australia by Mitchell Rolls, Anna Johnston. Copyright © 2016 Mitchell Rolls and Anna Johnston. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Making Mid-Twentieth-Century Opinion; 1. Walkabout: The Magazine; 2. Writing Walkabout; 3. Peopling Australia: Writers, Anthropologists and Aborigines; 4. Advertising Australia: Development, Modernity and Commerce; 5. Transforming Country: Natural History and Walkabout; 6. Knowing Our Neighbours: The Pacific Region; Conclusion: ‘Walkabout Rocks’

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From the Publisher

'Walkabout magazine was one of the most influential and innovative Australian magazines across much of the twentieth century and it is long overdue for an extended, appreciative study of its internal and external dynamics. Mitchell Rolls and Anna Johnston provide the significant and innovative study the magazine deserves drawing attention to its complex engagement with the natural environment and the land as resource, with history and heritage, with Aboriginal and Pacific Island cultures.' —David Carter, Fellow at Australian Academy of the Humanities

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