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Historical newspapers are a world of wonderful surprises — anywhere you land within them. For example, in Smith’s Weekly, on Saturday 1 March 1919:

Jimmy Lee, model, 6 years old, reading newspaper, 1946
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‘For every day that the restrictions are so stringently imposed, so the financial snowball grows. Debts are mounting up. Even the proposed Government relief will not appreciably lighten them. People do not want charity, they want the restrictions lifted at the earliest possible moment so that they may once more become producers.'

The Smith’s Weekly writer could well have been penning a March 2020 pandemic editorial! Newsapers give us insights into very particular places and times, but they also tell us how universal and repeatable history is.

In 2012, the New South Wales Government provided funding to the State Library of NSW to establish the Digital Excellence Program — to digitise and make accessible its most significant and important collections.

A focus of this digitisation program has been newspapers and so, over the last eight years in conjunction with with the National Library of Australia, the State Library has funded the digitisation of over 250 NSW newspapers, an extraordinary resource for academic scholars, local historians, family genealogists and the just plain curious. These papers have been digitised from microfilm rather than the more fragile original print copy, as it is cheaper, more efficient and easier to handle. They are now available on Trove free for all to see and read and enjoy. Indeed Trove is the envy of the world. Most digitised newspapers in other countries sit behind paywalls.

5 P.M. aboard South Steyne, 1938-1974
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Newspapers from far and wide across New South Wales — Adelong to Armidale, Balranald to Byron Bay, Campbelltown to Crookwell, Daysdale to Dungog all the way through to Wagga Wagga, Warialda and Wellington.

Libraries have digitised newspapers from the earliest days of colonisation across Australia until the mid-1950s. Copyright legislation means libraries cannot digitise papers published after 1955 unless specific permission is given by the publisher. The earliest newspaper digitised by the Library’s Digital Excellence Program, and the fourth published in New South Wales, after the already digitised The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (1803–42), The Australian (1824–48) and The Monitor (1826–28), was The Gleaner that gleaned only briefly from 5 April 1827 to 29 September 1827. All New South Wales newspapers published before 1850 are available free online. World War I period newspapers have been prioritised, enabling a reading of life in small towns, large towns and cities across New South Wales as 164,030 people from the state enlisted to serve.

Major Sydney newspapers from the 19th and 20th century have also been digitised: Evening News (1869–1931); The Daily Telegraph (1883–1954); Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (1891–1954); Truth (1894–1954); The Sun (1910–54) and Smith’s Weekly (1919–50). These complement other Sydney newspapers that were already digitised including the Sydney Morning Herald (1831–1954).

The first newspaper in a language other than English was published in South Australia. The Library holds rare copies of Die Deutsche Post für die Australischen Colonien = The German Australian Post which is now available in Trove. The digitisation of further newspapers in languages other than English are in the pipeline too.

A complete list of New South Wales newspapers funded by the State Library of New South Wales’ Digital Excellence Program can be searched here. With the further New South Wales newspapers digitised by the National Library of Australia and various partners under the Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program, a total of 494 New South Wales newspapers are now available online. They can be found by browsing on ‘Place’ here. Readers are encouraged to transcribe newspaper text on Trove which enables all readers to benefit from better searching and easier browsing (further information on how to contribute is at available here.

Trove is a truly national project. Supported by both the Federal and in the case of the State Library of NSW, the New South Wales government, Trove can be truly said to have transformed Australian scholarship and research.

Brendan Somes, 
Collection Strategy Specialist

This blog was recently published on Trove.

Banner from the Bathurst Advocate, 1 January 1848
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