As a small-town crusading newspaper proprietor and pioneer printer, Alfred Amory George typifies a school of radical journalism that has almost entirely disappeared from New Zealand life. His New Zealand Bulletin was published weekly in Hastings, probably from 1896 until at least 1915. It sold for one penny, opposed the conservative establishment in local politics, criticised public officials in derisive and sometimes offensive language, made sensational disclosures, and advocated a number of popular liberal and early socialist causes.
Alfred Amory George was born on 20 April 1854 at Holborn, London, England, into a family who had been printers for four generations. His parents were Rosa Ann Pratt and her husband, George Thomas George, a lithographer. In 1864 the family emigrated to Dunedin, New Zealand, where Alfred learned lithography from his father and letterpress printing on the Otago Daily Times. He married Euphemia Morrison Simpson at Dunedin on 22 May 1875; they were to have eight children. In 1876 George took a small printing press to the Tapanui goldfields, where he produced the Tapanui Courier. Later he worked in Gisborne and Napier on several papers, established the first job-printing works in Hastings in 1886, and edited and published the Hastings Evening Star from 1886 to 1888.
Throughout his life Alfred George took an energetic part in a wide range of civic and cultural activities. He was a band conductor, the first conductor of the Hastings Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society, and at the time of his death held office in a number of sports organisations. However, his chief accomplishment was the editing, printing and publishing of the Bulletin. The paper was machined on newsprint, with a red paper cover in imitation of its famous Australian counterpart. It contained a mixture of advertisements, local news and pungent editorial commentary on civic affairs. As a member of the Hastings Borough Council and a lieutenant and secretary of the Hastings Volunteer Fire Brigade, George was assured of a plentiful supply of copy. One dramatic report gave a lurid account of the brigade battling against 'a roaring Sheol of vari-colored flame' and staggering in 'a maelstrom of acrid smoke and fumes.'
Through the Bulletin George criticised the mayor, his fellow councillors, and civic and government officials in provocative language that sometimes resulted in defamation proceedings. In 1905 an account of police methods used to entrap sly groggers and prostitutes brought him before the Napier Supreme Court on a charge of defamatory libel, but the jury failed to agree and he was discharged.
The Bulletin provides a useful source of information about the detail of daily life and manners in a turn-of-the-century rural township. George brought his talent for derisive rhetoric to bear against prohibitionists, William Massey's Reform government, the New Zealand Farmers' Union, the landed gentry and big business; and used it to champion the rural working class, small tradespeople, the emerging labour movement and the Liberal League of New Zealand (formed in 1906). He advocated freehold land title and state control of liquor, under the editorial slogan, 'Whatever is required by the people should be under the direct control of all the people – that is the State.' George's editorial style and sympathies were influenced by the New Zealand Truth, which began publication in Wellington in 1905; in its early years this paper crusaded on behalf of the working class, supported the labour movement and attacked its enemies with virulent sensationalism.
A visionary, Utopian element was contributed to the Bulletin by lighter items, such as illustrations of the travel possibilities of the ocean liners of the future and the delights of a proposed 'Aerial Hippodrome' at Coney Island, New York. George published a report on the Wagner festival at Bayreuth, and notes on Peer Gynt which the Hastings Orchestral Society performed in 1913. His response to the First World War was to denounce war profiteering by shopkeepers and to condemn the 'shoddy' patriotism, 'sillyfool talk' and 'cowboy rubbish' spoken about the supposed capabilities of New Zealand soldiers.
George's versatile energies, his broad-ranging engagement in the social and political life of the community, and his dedication to the role of independent commentator and crusader have parallels in the careers of other small-town journalists who flourished in New Zealand until the early part of the twentieth century. The typical journalist-printer would usually maintain his own equipment and often operated it as a family concern. Most did commercial jobbing and sold stationery; one ran a picture theatre, others did studio photography. George had a music shop which he advertised in the Bulletin. Alfred George died at Hastings on 13 October 1930; Euphemia George died in April 1933. His job-printing business was carried on by his daughter Alice, whom he had trained as a compositor, and his son Percy.