Guess who’s turning 90? Hint: There are two answers.
Ninety years ago the first issue of the Canberra Times rolled off the presses at the newspaper’s headquarters on the corner of Cooyong and Mort Street in Civic. Very much a family affair, numerous members of Managing Director Thomas Shakespeare’s family worked in the business. Selling for threepence a piece, 1800 copies of the 16-page weekly broadsheet were sold – an admirable level of penetration for a city with a population of 6600. By 29 February 1928 the paper had justified its existence and moved to the daily that we are familiar with today.
As Jack Waterford wrote in a piece on the history of the Canberra Times in March 2013, Thomas Shakespeare had local and national ambitions for the paper:
Shakespeare wanted his newspaper to be the newspaper of Canberra, the champion of Canberra and its people, and the newspaper that anyone coming to Canberra would have to read to understand what was happening in the city. But he understood also that the city was the nation's capital, and that great matters of legislation, policy and administration would be determined here, and that such matters would be the business of the people of Canberra - the sort of thing that they knew about, talked about, and needed information about. Because politics, statecraft and administration - and the development of Australia as a nation - was the fundamental business of Canberra, it had, necessarily, to be the business of The Canberra Times and its reporters.
A perfect example of this approach to reporting appears on page 8 of the first issue on Friday 3 September 1926. The article ‘Prince’s Visit – Accommodation Problems – Camping & Parking areas’ centres on the impending visit by the Duke of York to open the newly-constructed and-purpose built federal Parliament House on 9 May 1927. The building in the nation’s capital would witness great matters of legislation, policy and administration and was central to the development of Australia as a nation but first it needed to be opened by royalty. Oh, and before that there was the issue of accommodating the untold number of visitors and vehicles that were expected to flood into Canberra for the much anticipated royal visit. The Federal Capital Commission, responsible for the transfer of the seat of federal parliament from Melbourne, was now clearly and no doubt reluctantly in the car parking and camping business.
Over the next eight months we will follow the preparations leading up to the 90th anniversary of a momentous occasion in Canberra’s history, the opening of the federal Parliament House on 9 May 1927. Referring to that local stalwart, the Canberra Times, we will revel in the serious and the frivolous news of the week and the expectations, anxieties and pleasures surrounding the opening of what would become one of Australia’s most iconic buildings. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter - it promises to be a blast from the past.