State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 53 October 1994

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Early Sporting Newspapers

Mirrors of Australian Society

The Newspaper Collection of the State Library of Victoria is the largest and most comprehensive collection in Australia. Among the unique and important items in the collection are many special interest newspapers. They are important, not only for the information that they contain but because they reflect the growth and development of Australian society.
The collection includes feminist newspapers, Labor history newspapers, communist and socialist newspapers, trade newspapers and sporting newspapers. This article is intended to give a brief introduction to one group of special interest newspapers, namely the sporting newspapers of the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century published in Victoria.
Since the first official race meeting in New South Wales was announced and later reported in the Sydney Gazette in 1810, (Sydney Gazette 6 October 1810) Australian newspapers and the sport of horse racing have been essential to each others existence. Newspapers have promoted horseracing, reported on it, discussed it and even contributed to its development and growth.
The sporting newspapers are of particular interest as they reflect many of the changes, interests and structures of our country. Whilst there have been many newspapers which were published to promote a particular sport such as golf, football, coursing and hockey, the sporting newspaper was one which had a significant proportion of its content devoted to horse racing in one form or another. Other sports were token contribution and their inclusion in sporting papers merely reflected the sporting (i.e. racing) man's general interest in the football or boxing etc. There was rarely a balanced coverage of all sports. The articles about various other sports and the quantity of coverage and type of sport suggested the readers for whom the papers were published. Quite a number of these sporting papers were also combined with theatrical reviews and news which was indicative of the status of horse racing at the time. Often the inclusion of other sports was as a result of the availability of gambling on these sports, boxing was a very common sport included in the sporting newspapers which were really tipping services.
The one assumption that can be made from the content and number of these sporting papers is the importance of horse racing to this country in the years in which they flourished. Interest in horse racing in Australia has crossed
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all barriers all state and colonial borders. It may be the sport of Kings but in Australia it has also been the one sport which has appealed to country and city people, people of all background and spread over all class backgrounds. We still take great pride in stopping the country on the first Tuesday in November to listen to a horse race.
“These papers promoted the occasional animal such as Ajax, Carbine and Phar Lap into the role of national hero.”
Racing was a subject covered by all the major papers of any given period, but many of the sporting papers that came and went in the late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, seem to have been published because of a great discontent in the way the sport was being reported and promoted in major papers, and consequently they were not afraid to criticise them. This strong published criticism of a sport that was largely administered by the wealthy and the early squattocracy can be taken as a reflection of many of the changes to Australian society that were developing during the period. Of course one of the strong traditions of Australian racing has been the tradition of the battler and the bush horse taking on the traditional racing establishment and winning. Many of the sporting newspapers reflect this tradition of the Australian battler.
The sporting newspapers tend to be focused toward two groups of readers but the lines are by no means sharply delineated. There are the newspapers which focus on the racing establishment. They tend to report news, social gossip and have articles on breeding and the horses themselves. The other papers were intended for the middle class racegoers and working class whose interest in racing was either as an entertainment or for the gambling connections, and the focus is far more critical of the administration of racing (especially in the gambling orientated newspapers). These newspapers include articles about the personalities and had large tipping articles and gave only a little attention to the animals themselves. One of the notable differences of focus between the two extremes is that the gentleman's papers tended to emphasise the sporting element whilst the racegoers and observers papers tended to emphasise the professionalism and the development of the racing industry. It is of interest to note that the papers aimed at the racing establishment tended to concentrate on the breeding and the connections of the animals, rather than individual horses. In the newspapers aimed at the racegoers and working classes, the emphasis on the horses was generally limited to their form and recent performances. However, it was also these papers which promoted the occasional animal such as Ajax, Carbine and Phar Lap into the role of national hero and thereby attributed almost national ownership to the animal.
This is a non-comprehensive but representative description of many of the sporting newspapers in the State Library of Victoria collection and it will give some indication of the variety, content and focus of the collection.
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Vol. 1. No. 1, page 1 of B. Vockler (Authentic) Extraordinary Cup Edition, 1 November 1932. The lead story tips Peter Pan to win the Melbourne Cup. Peter Pan did win that year, and won again in 1934.

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Sporting papers varied in size, focus and format. They range from broadsheets to very small tabloid. Many are printed on coloured paper to distinguish them from other papers (often pink sometimes green).
The B. Vockler (Authentic) Turf Wasp and the B. Vockler Turf and Sports Life
(1 November 1932–17 April 1942)
This paper is a distinctive racegoer's paper, rather than a participant's paper. It is a classic racing paper printed on the obligatory pink paper and published by one B. Vockler under the company name B. Vockler Sporting Service. In the third issue the purpose for which the paper was published, is explained.
The B. Vockler (Authentic) Turf Wasp has been produced with the intention of giving the racing public a paper unbiased in its policy and unafraid to explode anything unsavoury in the Sport of Kings (19 November 1932, p. 1)
The paper was not without its own unsavoury content. The Vockler family were well-known sporting identities who were not above airing family difficulties in print.
The paper is in fact a tipping service and Mr B. Vockler (the publisher) was taken to court for selling tips. However he was acquitted on the grounds that he was a turf adviser not a tipster and that the tipping service was in fact run by Mr H. Vockler (a coal miner) and Mr Tom Pedlar (3 December 1932, p. 1.)
The case was foreshadowed in early publications when the reader is informed that:
B. Vockler Service (the publisher) is in no way connected with Vockler's Searchlight, Harry Vockler and Tom Pedlar. (31 December 1932, p. 1)
We also find in another issue that tells of the sporting history of the Vockler family where it is said of Harry Vockler:
It is to H. Vockler's credit that he made a much better coal miner than turf adviser. (26 November 1932, p. 1)
The paper also contains articles on performance, articles about controversial subjects such as “Will broadcasting the races cause attendances to fall off”, selections of winners, future meetings and articles about horses, turf identities and track information.
Sporting Globe
(22 June 1922 —)
The Sporting Globe was published by the Herald and Weekly Times as its flagship for sport. It was published before Sun News Pictorial and was a newspaper for racegoers and working men rather than the gentleman participant. For many years it was famous for its pink pages.
This paper was one sporting paper which from the beginning shared football news with racing news In fact the racing content was comparatively small compared to other sporting papers. In the early years horse racing covered about 6 pages of the paper's 12–16 pages. The Sporting Globe was one of the few to contain a more balanced coverage of all sports and probably reflects the changing emphasis and class structure after World War I in Melbourne.
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Articles include betting information, turf personalities and information on breeders and breeding. It is the only representative sporting paper still in print.
Sporting Don
(September 1924 — November 1924)
This was another obligatory pink paper and was basically a paper for a tipping service. Published in North Carlton, it gave tips, studies on turf personages and a few reports from a gamblers point view about boxing. It was very representative of the tipping service papers which were meant for circulation throughout Melbourne pubs.

The 26 August 1890 edition of Sporting Standard contains a profile on Mr William T Jones, the owner of Bravo, the 1889 Melbourne Cup winner. The list of early starters for the 1890 Melbourne Cup has Carbine at odds of 100 to 7 against.

Sporting Wire
(3 August 1889 — 9 November 1889)
This paper was a very early sporting paper, one of the earliest newspapers published for the working class and middle-class racegoers rather than the established racing fraternity. It had the announced intention of holding the racing administrators to account. This is probably the first paper to recognise that racing was a sport to be taken seriously for all Victorians. It is of interest that this publication coincided with the emergence of Carbine as a national hero. ABLY as our three weekly journals (The Leader, The Australasian and The Weekly Times) are conducted they cannot afford to
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devote a sufficient portion of their space to the complete and exhaustive treatment of that branch of journalism that goes under the heading of ‘sporting’ … a vigorous cry has been running out for a truly representative organ which shall be a LIVE, BOLD AND RELIABLE source of information. (3 August 1889, p. 1)
The other paper a “class paper for sporting friends” (The Sportsman) is described as “having an absence of go and spice, a disposition to feed its patrons with heavy meats and monotonous dishes on which course of diet an inevitable nausea has supervened.” (3 August 1889, p. 1)
Sporting Echo
(2 December 1889 — 31 January 1890)
The Sporting Wire lasted only to December/in spite or maybe because of its controversial focus. It was superseded immediately by a paper called the Sporting Echo. The Sporting Echo's birth was proclaimed for the following reason:
“The pronounced success achieved by the Sporting Wire from its inception and the very fact that only the grossest mismanagement permitted that paper from becoming a highly remunerative property are the principal factors which have caused us to present the Sporting Echo before our readers.” (2 December 1889)
However as the Sporting Echo tried to cover much the same subject matter and even had the same advertisements as the Sporting Wire, it would appear that it was not a highly remunerative property because it folded after 17 issues on 31 January 1890.
Sportsman
(1881–3 May 1904)
This is the paper referred to above as one which caused the inevitable nausea. It is very much the traditional sporting newspaper for the racing establishment, very much the gentleman's paper. It was a newspaper which included articles about the racing club committees, future programs, very polite articles about noted turf people and track reports from the sporting gentleman's view. It was intended to support the establishment and was without controversy.
Its purpose and target audience is reflected in this editorial statement:
It is satisfactory to find sportsmen of every class are beginning to perceive the immense advantage of making sporting announcements through the medium of one recognised journal especially devoted to sport (5 February 1882)
It incorporated the Sporting Standard in September 1893 and was incorporated by the Sporting Judge in 1904.
Illustrated Sport and Dramatic News
(July 1904 — August 1911) and
Sport and Playgoer, Sport,
(1 May 1908 — 30 November 1917)
These papers were representative of the type of paper which as the title suggests had combined coverage of theatre and racing and a few other sports. It was not an unusual combination in the late nineteenth century-early twentieth century. The combination of theatre and sport can lead one to assume that both theatre and racing were seen and promoted
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as entertainment and there was no talk that sports or racing was anything but a sport not the business that it was called to give them legitimacy in present times where professionalism is the standard for excellence. The papers tended to be aimed at the middle-class racegoer and sporting enthusiast but, unlike other papers that were not specifically supporting the racing establishment, they were not intended to support the gambling side of racing.
Harry Stone's Sporting Budget
(29 September 1922–9 February 1923)
In spite of a title which fails to mention any theatrical interest, this newspaper mostly covered horse racing, theatrical news and boxing, the connection apparently an obvious one to all its readers. However unlike other sporting/theatrical newspapers this one was not a newspaper which had a moderate view of its role. It saw itself as a counterbalance to the mainstream papers of the time.
That certain Melbourne papers are woefully lacking when it comes to supplying correct details in regard to sporting fixtures, readers by the leagues are well aware. Go to the races any Saturday and closely follow the racing. Then read the various accounts of the equine contests and you will find them bristling with inaccuracies. (13 October 1922, vol. 1 no. 3, p. 1)
Leader
(5 January 1856 — 26 June 1957),
Australian
(1 October 1864 — 6 April 1946)
Weekly Times
(11 September 1869 —)
These are the newspapers spoken of in the Sporting Wire as the ones which can only give lip service to sports because they have a commitment to other areas. These newspapers are major sources of much sporting history in Victoria, in particular any history of racing. All these newspapers had a strong agricultural content and their main readers were country people. Because many of the members of the early racing establishment were country people, the newspapers tended to support the establishment in their reporting of racing.
The Leader did not commence publication as a paper with a strong sporting interest. In 1860 its banner proclaimed it to be “a weekly journal of news politics and literature” and it contains only a small amount of sporting news. By the 1870s, however its masthead was claiming it to be “A weekly journal of news politics literature science agriculture and sporting” and it devoted much more of its columns to sporting events particularly horse racing. By the 1880s when weekly news journals all took over the role of the illustrated newspapers and included large photographic spreads and illustrated articles, sports and particularly horseracing with the emphasis on people, the social atmosphere and the horses themselves were an important part of the content of the Leader.
The Weekly Times also described itself as a “A journal of society and politics, literature science agriculture and sport” and whilst its articles were written from
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the farmer's view and aimed strongly toward the agricultural community and the landed agricultural community at that, its coverage of horse racing and growth as a sporting newspaper was much the same as the development of the Leader.
The Australian offers no real description of its aims. However like the other papers it had a definite agricultural focus and from its earliest years it devoted a considerable space to a sportsman page which was mostly racing news. This coverage increased as the illustrated content became a major editorial focus.
Sporting Standard
(5 August 1890 — 5 September 1893).
This was a newspaper run by the publishers of the Evening Standard. It was published in opposition to the Sportsman but was very similar in content and focus. Eventually it was incorporated into the Sportsman.
The Winner
(29 July 1914–12 June 1918)
The Winner is one of the earliest papers which developed around the first world war and early twenties and reflects the changing focus of interest in racing.
The Winner in itself supplies the best answer as to whether a want exists in the sporting world of Australia for Newspaper representation in the best and fuller sense. (29 July 1914, p. 1)
It is something of a hybrid between the establishment newspapers and the more outspoken punter's papers, covering sporting news in all parts of the country, turf gossip, reports of race meetings, stories about sporting identities. However its hybrid nature did not contribute to a double readership and the paper folded in 1918.
Racing Review
(19 February 1925–17 September 1926)
This paper is described as being “Connected by Artie E. Powells and E. Nykler.” It is a tipster's newspaper and obviously intended for circulation in hotels. It is concerned with racing systems and form predictions and its advertisements are for bookmakers and hotels around inner Melbourne.
Sporting Judge
(21 May 1892 — 4 August 1965)
This newspaper commenced publication as a broadsheet but by the mid 1920s had been reduced to a tabloid to remain in competition with its new rival the Sporting Globe. It was a fairly conservative newspaper but its market was obviously the general racing public with a strong emphasis on gambling aspects of the sport. The newspaper published mostly reports on race meetings, some material on other sports especially boxing, track reports, race results, weights for major races and some stage and theatrical notices. It was published and printed by E.C. Treadwell who worked from the appropriate address “behind Kirk's Horse Bazaar, Melbourne”. Like its rival the Sporting Globe, it avoided controversy or criticism which together with a willingness to diversify into other sports may account for the fact that these
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two papers were the only ones that survived after the Second World War.

Sport and Playgoer, 7 January 1910. In the late 19th and early 20th century it was not unusual for newspapers to combine sport and drama. They tended to support the sporting, rather than gambling, side of racing.

Winning Post
(15 March 1919 — 20 February 1920)
This newspaper is another paper which was intended for the hotel and gambling trade. Its stated purpose is to give the latest information on sport especially racing and boxing and all other sports are lumped under the heading of ‘etc’. Like many other newspapers which were published for the hotel trade and the bookmakers, the actual ownership of the newspaper is not acknowledged.
Regrettably the interest in horseracing is probably far less now than in the years when ‘sporting’, that is, racing newspapers were a major area of publication in Victoria. However it is significant that these newspapers flourished in the fifty years between 1890 and 1940 which was a time of many changes to the social structure in Victoria. These newspapers represent far more than just the history of horse racing however. They represent the social development of Victoria and the changing focus of life in the state and as such are important assets to anyone looking at our past.
Library staff are in the process of developing a comprehensive bibliography of the sporting and sports newspapers. It is hoped that increasing the accessibility of these newspapers and by making them available in a more useable format (microfilm) will provide great assistance to the ever increasing interest in sporting history in Victoria.
Deirdre Willmott