The battle of Mort Street

6 Jul 2014

By the time the first edition of the Australian hit the streets almost fifty years ago, a vital part of Rupert Murdoch’s strategy had already run into trouble.

David Bowman’s first inkling of the tidal wave about to strike Canberra was a chance encounter at Parliament House in late February 1964. Bowman, editor of the Canberra Times for the past eighteen months, had accompanied the paper’s chairman to a reception in King’s Hall to celebrate the opening of parliament.

“There were six or eight of us in a small group. Rupert Murdoch was there. Arthur Shakespeare, our chairman, was there. I was there. Silence fell — one of those awkward silences — and Shakespeare turned to Murdoch and said abruptly, ‘What are you going to do with that land in Mort Street?’” Murdoch, Shakespeare knew, had bought a block in the same street as the Canberra Times. “Rupert paused for a moment, and then said, ‘Run you out of business!’” Everybody laughed, says Bowman, but “the comment was double-edged.”

Double-edged in more ways than one, as it turned out. Not much more than a year later it was Murdoch’s new paper, the Australian, that came close to going out of business. Just nine months after its first edition, with one editor already dispatched, Murdoch told senior staff that the News Ltd board had decided to close the paper. Although they soon changed their minds, the attempt to take over or kill off the Canberra Times had almost fatally undermined Murdoch’s longer-term strategy…

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Photo: Canberra Times

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