The Fairfax Media Business Archive

New acquisitions

Sydney Morning Herald typesetters  preparing the paper with news appearing on the front page for the first time. 1944
Sydney Morning Herald typesetters preparing the paper with news appearing on the front page for the first time. 1944

The State Library of New South Wales has recently acquired what must certainly be the most significant and comprehensive media business archive in Australia. The Fairfax Media Limited’s business archive consists of over 2000 boxes of company records, ranging in date from the 1830s until 1991.  The next challenge for the Library is  organising and cataloguing  the archive for researchers to access.

Fairfax Media Limited, as it is currently known, began as The Sydney Herald in April 1831, seven years before John Fairfax arrived in Australia from Warwick, England. John Fairfax was an established newspaper proprietor having founded the Leamington Spa Courier in 1828. Forced into insolvency after successfully defending a libel case against him, he left England with his mother, wife and three children arriving in Australia in 1838.

The Sydney Herald was purchased by John Fairfax in partnership with Charles Kemp in 1841 and renamed the Sydney Morning Herald the following year. In 1853 John Fairfax bought Kemp’s interest in the company and three years later, with his two sons James Reading and Charles, formed the company John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd.  For the next 133 years the company was continuously controlled by John Fairfax’s descendants until the company went into receivership in 1990, one year shy of the 150 year anniversary of Fairfax ownership.

At its peak John Fairfax & Sons published nine major newspapers and a number of magazines in NSW, Victoria, and the ACT. It operated radio broadcasting and television stations, was a joint owner in a newsprint mill, and had offices in major cities throughout Australia with overseas subsidiaries based in London and New York. 

Through this enormous archive we obtain an incredible and rare insight into the boardrooms, offices and press rooms of this iconic company.  This is a rich collection full of events, drama, and intrigue, with characters from the world of finance, politics and media empires.  Over the coming months we will bring you highlights and stories from the collection as we work our way through it.


Peter Arfanis, Project Lead, State Library of New South Wales, 2017