March 3, 2024

The Rise and Fall of Australia’s Trailblazing Rock Press

There was a literary, film, television, and music press.

I needed to read Samuel J. Fell’s Full Coverage, the first (and surely only) ever history of Australia’s rock press, for selfish reasons: I consider my tastes and values to have been significantly shaped by the phenomenon.

Fell’s 300-page survey of local rock music coverage (mostly national) magazines examines the most eccentric and committed writers, editors, and publishers that made the biggest impact.

In 1980, my first piece of music was published in Vox – the short-lived “muzpaper” tabloid – but I continued to dabble in the field for over a decade.

In the “journalism career,” I had the good fortune to leave a few short years before the Internet began to take hold; I was more interested in colour magazines for teenagers (mostly pop-oriented), than the Australian rock press. Nevertheless, I read rock publications avidly and never missed the chance to contribute.

In my 10 or more years of working in Sydney’s publishing industry in the 1980s, I met or befriended many people who are named in this novel. Fell’s story has an odd, dreamlike feel to me.

In Full Coverage I discovered some fascinating background information and connections amongst certain writers, editors, and publishers. I also gained a better historical understanding of this field. Fell left out some things.

Molly, Lily, and Go-Set

In 1966, after a few brave but short-lived attempts, the Australian music media began in earnest with the Melbourne-based Go-Set. Go-Set was founded by students whose previous experience only included Monash University’s newspaper. It quickly became a source of information and connections for pop fans.

Lily Brett and Ian (Molly) Meldrum were among the enthusiastic writers who conveyed inside stories of celebrities and musicians, but still maintained a level of accessibility that was particularly appealing to their “teens-and-twenties” audience.

This book does not include Meldrum’s famous story of being told that the Beatles would break up by John Lennon (Meldrum did not quite understand it, and it was only after someone at Go-Set heard the interview tape that he sent from London that it “broke”).

Brett’s testimony about the global pop stars she spoke to one-on-one – Janisjoplin, the Mamas and the Papas, and Jimi Hendrix — gives us an idea of the importance the mag held for its readers.

Philip Frazer brought a Rolling Stone brand to Australia in a haphazard manner.

Since then, “Stone”, or as Fell insists on calling it with his informants, has run locally. It co-existed in its early years with two key tabloids of the 1970s and 80s: Rock Australia Magazine and Juke.

Four Corners Go-Set

In the early 90s, Toby Creswell, Lesa-Belle Furhagen, and other members of the Rolling Stone staff broke away from its publisher, Philip Keir, to start their own magazine, Juice. The reasons for the split are different according to each player.

Fell spends many pages comparing Juice to the American spin before noting that some of its editorial content was licensed directly from this publication. The Spin logo appeared on the front cover of the first issue.

Street papers: ‘uniquely Australian’

Fell claims that the “street papers” were an Australian invention. The publications were free because of their extensive advertising revenue, which came from record companies, venues, and other related industries.

The street paper was far, far less expensive than RAM and Juke. Full Coverage ends with the slow-motion demise of print-based music media due to social media. COVID’s pillow on the face has thankfully accelerated this decline.

Fell is a fan of the “street newspapers,” and he would have happily written about them on his own. He admits that he spent less time on the editorial side of them compared to other publications, like Juke and RAM (or even Vox! ).

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