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Panpa Bulletin : July 2006
46 | PANPA BULLETIN July 2006 The foundational elements of APN News & Media Ltd, which owns 14 regional dai- lies on the Australian east coast and nine dailies in New Zealand, were put together nearly 40 years ago by half a dozen Queensland news- paper families with their roots set firmly in the 19th century. This is the first part of a two-part article that sets out to tell the story of the formation of PNQ, or Provin- cial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd, which Irishman Tony O'Reilly and his In- dependent News PLC acquired in 1988 in the wake of Rupert Murdo- ch's 1987 takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd. History shows that PNQ was the building block for APN which apart from newspapers, now controls 12 Australian metropolitan radio licences and 117 radio stations in New Zealand and a booming out- door advertising enterprise. In the 1950s, the most prominent Queensland provincial newspaper family was the Dunn family, with dailies in Rockhampton, Mary- borough and Toowoomba. It had owned newspapers in Queensland since 1891. At one stage (1929-36) the family had owned five dailies, including two in Rockhampton and one at Warwick. The Dunns had closed the Evening News in Rockhampton in 1941, largely be- cause of the economic pressures of WorldWar II. In the late 1950s, an ageing wid- ow, Muriel Hooper Barton, who had become involved in the Bun- daberg News-Mail only upon the death on September 6, 1931 of her husband, Sidney Howard Barton its dynamic 44-year-old managing editor decided it was time to ex- plore life outside newspapers. By December 1958 she had ap- proached A. Dunn and Co. Pty. Ltd. to determine whether it was inter- ested in buying the 51.8 per cent controlling interest she held with her daughter, Betty Young. Barton, who owned slightly more than half of the family's 12,714 shares, was not prepared to sell to one of her directors, Bundaberg businessman Carl Nielson, who held a 20 per cent interest. Nielson said in 1992 he still did not know the full reason for Bar- ton's refusal to sell to him, but part of the reason was possibly that he was "not from the industry". Niel- son ran an electrical retail business in Bundaberg and had been one of the biggest advertisers with the News-Mail when he was invited to join the board. On Muriel Barton's departure, the News-Mail commented: "Re- alisation of the responsibility which the newspaper bore to the com- munity of Bundaberg impelled Mrs Barton to ensure that when she made the decision to retire from the company's administration and to relinquish her financial interests in the firm, those interests would be transferred to persons who were fully cogniscent [sic] of the needs of such an important provincial city like Bundaberg. This has been achieved, because the company which has acquired those interests has established over many years an intimate association with Queens- land's newspaper profession." When the Dunn board met in February 1959, some members re- ported on discussions and negotia- tions for acquiring an interest in the News-Mail. The directors hesitated, but Barton approached Jack Man- ning, the chairman of the Queens- land Division of the Australian Provincial Daily Press Ltd, suggest- ing member newspapers might be interested in combining to buy the Barton family interest in the News- Mail. Manning persuaded Lex Dunn and onOctober 28,1960, theDunns decided that its three subsidiary newspaper companies would par- ticipate with the Townsville Daily Bulletin, the Daily Mercury, Mackay (of which Manning was chairman), the Queensland Times, Ipswich (owned by the Kippens, Parkinsons and Stephensons), the Warwick Daily News (Irwins), and the Cairns Post to buy the Barton interest in the News-Mail. Central to the scheme was for- mation of a holding company Provincial Investments Pty. Ltd. in which the eight dailies would have equal interests. In acquiring the Barton interest, Provincial Invest- ments paid £100,000 ($200,000). The Bundaberg daily had taken its net profit from £8520 ($17,040) in 1955-56 to £22,066 ($44,132) in 1959-60. When L.W.H. Butts, a member of the legal firm of Mor- ris, Fletcher and Cross, and a lead- ing authority on company law and promotion, was asked by Jack Man- ning to study the Bundaberg bal- ance sheet, his advice was: "Accept the offer." Only once previously in his expe- rience, Butts told Manning, had he seen anything so attractive. At this stage, the Dunns must have been kicking themselves. With a little foresight, they could have acquired a controlling interest in Bundaberg on their own. In 1964 the Dunn board asked Andrew Dunn, Rowley Dunn and Toowoomba Chronicle manager Walter Bruce, on February 25 to visit Nambour, a sugar-cane and pineapple growing town on the still-sleepy Sunshine Coast, to in- vestigate the possibility of buying the Nambour Chronicle. The three directors reported favourably on March 20. The board decidedto offer aprice not exceeding £90,142 ($180,284) to the two McFadden brothers surviv- ing from the trio who had run the paper since thedeathof their father, Andrew Alfred McFadden, in 1923. A. Dunn and Co. Pty. Ltd. took over from the McFaddens at the Nambour Chronicle on July 1, 1964. This was the first step in estab- lishing the most successful new Queensland provincial daily news- paper the Sunshine Coast Daily, launched at Maroochydore on July 7, 1980 since the first decade of the century. Although Clarrie Manning, a former chairman of the Queens- land Division of the Regional Dai- lies of Australia Ltd, has scoffed at the idea that Provincial Invest- ments Pty. Ltd provided some sort of a model and inspiration for the eventual formation of PNQ, there seems little doubt that the holding company for the Bundaberg op- eration planted the seed of an idea in the fertile minds of newspaper proprietors eager to protect their investments from the predatory metropolitan media. Certainly Carl Nielson, a Bun- daberg director, suggested this was so. And Don Morris, the secretary of Provincial Investments Pty Ltd, agreed,sayingtheeventualdecision to have serious discussions about a holding company "was enhanced by the successful Provincial Invest- ments Pty Ltd". Each of the com- panies in the proposed merger, to- gether with Townsville and Cairns, had a 12.5 per cent shareholding in Provincial Investments. From1963to1968theDunnshad mergers on their minds. As early as October 1963 the Dunn board had decided to send Peter Dunn and its Toowoomba general manager Walter Bruce north to find out from one of australia’s biggest media empires started with just a small group of family There seems little doubt that the holding company for the Bundaberg operation planted the seed of an idea in the fertile minds of newspaper proprietors eager to protect their investments from the predatory metropolitan media. A provincial tale of