How we heard about the war

bad news: Clipping from the Kiama Independent from August 1914.
bad news: Clipping from the Kiama Independent from August 1914.

To people living in the Shoalhaven in August 1914,  events in Europe must have seemed very far away.

But over the next four years the conflict would touch the lives of people in every community across the country.

Today marks 100 years since Australia’s entry into World War I and I wondered how local newspapers of the time reported this news.

In early newspapers, items were neatly set out in single columns, so that major international news could sit below an item providing tips on “The Ailments of Ducks” or  advice on “Scolding Children”. 

Considering newspapers were produced very differently then, with each letter being set by hand, it’s remarkable how up to date they were.

With timeliness that rivals our internet reporting today, the Illawarra Mercury carried the news of Australia joining the war on the same day it was announced. 

In its edition of August 4, 1914 under the banner Latest Cable: Sydney, 1pm Tuesday, a paragraph appeared reading:  “A cable has been received from the New York Press Association stating that Great Britain has declared war against Germany.”

A column higher up on the page, probably placed some hours earlier, read “The excitement over the outbreak of hostilities in Europe has overshadowed all other events locally, and keen interest is taken in all news concerning it. By many the grim possibilities of the outbreak has not as yet been fully realised.”

By the next edition on August 7, the news had sunk in, with a sobering editorial urging for “cool heads”, saying there should be “no occasion for panic of any kind”. 

“The war is the all absorbing topic of the day. Our telephone has been kept busy owing to the anxiety of people to learn the very latest news. One such call came all the way from Jamberoo.”

Fears were expressed that Port Kembla harbour might come under attack with readers very worried about the effect on the local coal mining industry.

The Shoalhaven Telegraph reported the news one day after the announcement, saying, “War matters have moved rapidly in  Europe during the last few days, and all the Great Powers are now in the fight, which gives promise of being one of the most momentous in history. The Commonwealth Government has placed the Australian fleet at the disposal of the Imperial authorities.”

The Kiama Independent also had the story by August 5 with a long explanation of how events unfolded, under the heading “How The War Came”.  The August 8 edition proved that life did go on, war or no war.  

Items in the columns bore headlines including “Early Tomatoes,” “Phases of the Moon” and “Magnificent Carnations” telling of the extraordinary blooms produced by a Miss Ethel Bailey. 


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