Magazines and journals have been part of New Zealand’s cultural landscape since the beginning of organised European settlement. The first settlers to Wellington carried with them a collection of books and periodicals for a public library to foster the colony’s intellectual life. Many settlers were avid readers of British and American periodicals, from the conservative Spectator, a weekly (published from 1828), to the radical quarterly Westminster Review (1823). Such periodicals carried analytical articles and commentary on the likes of literature, politics, culture, economy and the arts. This and their smaller format helped to distinguish them from daily and weekly newspapers.
From 1840 there were occasional attempts to create local versions of foreign periodicals aimed at a New Zealand readership and publishing the work of local writers. A guiding aim for many of them was to encourage a New Zealand literature that spoke to New Zealand issues and concerns. While many of these ventures were short-lived, new initiatives continued to form and seek an audience.
The first periodical was the New Zealand Journal, which was published in Wellington from February 1840 to 1852. Although it was a mouthpiece for the New Zealand Company and its settlements, it also carried a diverse range of letters from settlers about colonial life. In 1850 the quarterly New Zealand Magazine began in Wellington and lasted for two issues. It had a scientific bent, with articles on whaling, geology and Māori by writers like missionary Richard Taylor and attorney general William Swainson. In a similar vein was Chapman’s New Zealand Monthly Magazine, which produced three issues in Auckland in 1862.
In noting the arrival of the Southern Monthly Magazine, the Colonist newspaper bluntly observed that previous ventures of its kind had failed. The causes were numerous, it said. ‘Distance, sparsity of population, want of frequent postal communication from town to town … possibly preventing some distant litterateurs from contributing’ and a lack of ‘sufficient talent to give vitality and variety’ were the main reasons. Fortunately, the magazine’s content showed a ‘degree of excellence’ that suggested it might beat the odds.1
More successful was the Southern Monthly Magazine, another Auckland initiative that began in 1863 and ran for three years. It was aimed at the general reader and its content ranged from fiction and verse to current affairs and colonial experience. In 1867 the New Zealand Institute (later the Royal Society of New Zealand) established its Transactions and Proceedings, which became the main vehicle for the publication of scientific work.
During the 1860s short-lived imitations of the British humour and satirical magazine Punch began. The first was the fortnightly Taranaki Punch (1860–61), followed by the weeklies Canterbury Punch (1865), Otago Punch (1866–67) and Auckland Punch (1868–69). Their cartoons sent up local politicians and contributed to the creation of stock colonial types, such as the raffish but enterprising pastoralist. The Dunedin-produced weekly New Zealand Punch published a few issues in 1888.
Launched in Dunedin in 1876 as a quarterly journal of general literature, the New Zealand Magazine enlisted leading intellectuals like William Fox, Robert Stout and the Reverend William Salmond as writers, with articles on education and religion as well as social and political issues. One critic found the writing worthy but dense, warning that ‘unless the philosophy is leavened in future issues … the colonial reader will be disposed to skip many pages as unintelligible.’2 The magazine folded in 1877.
Zealandia’s promoters had three main aims, the Christchurch Star reported in 1889: ‘(1) fostering a national spirit in New Zealand literature, (2) materially assisting New Zealand authors, and (3) providing good-class literature, which shall be really attractive and of the best possible tone.’3
Formed in 1889, Zealandia aimed to publish primarily New Zealand content. The monthly magazine promised that readers would be spared the ‘stale extracts’ from British periodicals that had filled previous local magazines.4 Its writers included politician William Pember Reeves, poet Thomas Bracken and feminist Edith Searle. Reviews of New Zealand books and critical feedback to New Zealand authors were leading features, but there was some concession to popular taste in the form of girls’, boys’ and women’s pages, the last giving advice on matters of interest to women and such subjects as art furnishing (interior decoration). Zealandia lasted for 12 issues.
Founded in Dunedin in 1893, the Triad emphasised music, literature and art. The acerbic wit of its colourful editor, Charles Baeyertz, saw the magazine gain a strong following. The issuing of free art and music supplements as well as readers’ competitions also increased circulation. In 1905 Frank Morton became a staff writer. His liberal views on sex and other issues stirred up debate and increased sales.
For some rural New Zealanders the Triad was a cultural lifeline. In 1909 Jane Mander wrote: ‘What have I ever done to the Triad but seize it from the post, and, deserting all else, rejoice in it alone? Why, the only thing that keeps me from preaching temperance … or marrying a Sunday School teacher in this brain-benumbing, stimulus-stifling, sense stultifying, soul-searing silence is the invasion of the Triad.’1
Contributing writers included Alfred Grace, Godfrey Turner and Alice Kenny. But its negative 1910s reviews of modernist poets and painters like Ezra Pound and Frances Hodgkins suggested it was anti-modern. In 1915 the editorial office moved to Sydney. By 1920 the Triad boasted a trans-Tasman readership of 100,000. But when singer Philip Newbury successfully sued it for libel – a review had referred to ‘‘the peculiar trussed turkey quality of his squawk’2 – the awarding of £500 damages was crippling. Declining circulation thereafter led to the magazine’s closure in 1926.
The monthly New Zealand Illustrated Magazine was founded in Auckland in 1899 with a desire to foster New Zealand literature and art. It featured the work of leading writers and poets, including Jessie Mackay, James Cowan, G. B. Lancaster and Dora Wilcox. Among the artists were Frances Hodgkins and Trevor Lloyd. The magazine also covered current events, music, sport and Māori traditions. It received strong support from the intelligentsia but, in ceasing publication in 1905, it conceded that the wider public preferred its overseas equivalents.
Beginning in 1928 under the conservative editorship of Charles Marris, Art in New Zealand was a high-quality arts quarterly that also covered literature, publishing work from emerging writers and poets like Robin Hyde and Allen Curnow. In the early 1940s it pursued a more radical direction under Howard Wadman and Eric Lee-Johnson, a move that saw the journal lose support and then close in 1946.
Beginning as an Australian soldiers’ magazine in France during the First World War, the monthly Aussie published a New Zealand supplement from 1923 to 1932, edited by journalist Pat Lawlor. Comprising largely cartoons and humorous stories – based on racial or cultural stereotypes – it also included verse and prose from writers like Robin Hyde and A. R. D. Fairburn.
In 1933 a young Frank Sargeson submitted a story, ‘Mamie’s urge’, to the Mirror. In rejecting the story, the magazine called it ‘[v]ery fair. Marred by an overdose of up-to-date slang. Make your dialogue more convincing.’1 Sargeson went on to become a successful writer whose stories were acclaimed for their distinctive vernacular language and dialogue.
Established in 1922, the monthly Mirror followed the New Zealand Graphic and Ladies’ Journal (published from 1890 to 1908) as a periodical aimed at middle-class women. Its content was royal tours, society weddings and Māori maidens; overt political comment was avoided. The Mirror’s literary standards were deeply conservative. It carried genre fiction – courtship, romance, adventure and mystery – from popular writers like Dorothy Eden and Essie Summers. By the early 1960s the Mirror had lost ground to other magazines. It folded in 1963.
The first issue of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly came out in December 1932 and by the end of 1934 it had a circulation of 22,500. The magazine’s focus on domesticity, the royal family and celebrity culture found a strong readership. Its ability to remain contemporary and reflect the changing roles of women helped explain its longevity.
Following in the wake of the Union Steam Ship Company’s travel magazine The Red Funnel (1905–9), the popular monthly New Zealand Railways Magazine was published by the Railways Department from 1926. Its literary editor was Pat Lawlor, who took a conservative approach, promoting New Zealand content and avoiding political protest. Contributors included writers and poets James Cowan, G. G. Stewart, Robin Hyde, Denis Glover and Eva Langby. The magazine closed in 1940 as a war measure.
Founded by the government in 1939 to publicise radio listings, the weekly New Zealand Listener extended its brief to cover current affairs, opinion and the arts. Its early editors, Oliver Duff and Monte Holcroft, established a tradition of supporting literary talent. Among the writers featured in its pages were Maurice Duggan, Noel Hilliard, Keith Sinclair, Janet Frame, Maurice Shadbolt, Fiona Kidman and Joy Cowley; poets included James K. Baxter, Allen Curnow, Ruth Gilbert and Ruth France. Circulation peaked in 1982 at 375,885, falling thereafter due to the loss of the magazine’s television listings monopoly. In 1990 the Listener was privatised. By the 2010s it had become more a lifestyle magazine, but remained committed to art and literary criticism.
Between 1930 and 1950 there were renewed attempts to establish arts and literary journals. The aim of many was to foster a nationalist literature that told New Zealand stories and stressed a New Zealand sense of place.
Phoenix was first published in 1932 by Auckland University students. Despite lasting just four quarterly issues, it has been pored over by many literary scholars. Styled after the modernist New Adelphi journal, Phoenix was important less for its content and more as an outlet for writers who became influential in developing a nationalist New Zealand literature. These included James Bertram, R. A. K. Mason, Allen Curnow, Charles Brasch, J. C. Beaglehole and A. R. D. Fairburn.
Denis Glover wrote, ‘Under Bertram it [Phoenix] certainly smelt slightly scholarly: it was serious in a literary way. Under Mason it went ramping red. Marxism was the caper.’1
Bertram edited the first two issues and then left for overseas study. His successor was Mason, who transformed it from a mainly literary and aesthetic journal into a left-wing political platform. The other major contribution Phoenix made was in typographical design. Bob Lowry’s clean layout and use of new type and bold linocuts were strikingly modern.
The artist and political radical Kennaway Henderson founded the fortnightly magazine Tomorrow in Christchurch in 1934, in reaction to what he saw as New Zealand’s stagnant culture. Tomorrow’s purpose was to encourage free expression on important subjects. Its main focus was politics, but it was also a literary vehicle. Contributors included Allen Curnow, John A. Lee, R. A. K. Mason, Denis Glover, Robin Hyde, Frank Sargeson, Freda Cook, Muriel Innes and A. R. D. Fairburn. Tomorrow fostered debate about a nationalist New Zealand literature, which was influential in shaping New Zealand literary criticism. Henderson’s searing critique of capitalism and authority figures put him offside with the government, which saw the magazine as subversive and closed it down in May 1940.
Other journals originating in the 1930s and 1940s included:
In 1947 Caxton Press began the quarterly Landfall under the editorship of Charles Brasch. He soon made it New Zealand’s pre-eminent literary journal, a status successive editors have maintained. Landfall featured new fiction and poetry, cultural commentary and criticism, and reviews of literature and the arts. Its list of important contributors was extensive, and included Allen Curnow, James K. Baxter, Robert Chapman, Janet Frame, Bruce Mason and James Courage. In 1994 Otago University Press took over Landfall and in 2014 it was published biannually.
Periodicals representing or serving community or special interest groups had existed since the colonial period. These included journals like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s monthly White Ribbon (1895–1960) and New Zealand Building Progress (1905–24), the latter with the tag line ‘For Those Interested in the Development of Building in Our Own Country.’ The number of such publications increased during the 20th century and included:
In the late 1940s many young architects thought Home and Building promoted mediocrity. In 1947 the iconoclast Bill Wilson outlined a four-step strategy for architectural success: firstly, find out what the client wants; secondly, give it to him; thirdly, sprinkle delicately with ‘good taste’; and fourthly, submit to Home and Building.
From the 1920s student associations at a number of university colleges began publishing weekly magazines during semester time. These provided news and information for students as well as opinion pieces and commentary, often of a political and satirical nature. Many writers and editors of student magazines, such as Geoffrey Palmer (a Salient editor in 1963), went on to careers in journalism or politics. The main student magazines were:
Many student newspaper editors saw it as their role to test social conventions and defend freedom of expression. In March 2000 Craccum published an article entitled ‘Suicide and how to do it’; in 2009 Salient published ‘How to rip off WINZ’ (the government social-welfare agency). Both articles caused a storm of protest both on and off campus, leading to apologies from editors.
The second half of the 20th century saw the emergence of magazines and periodicals that spoke to the identity politics of groups including Māori, women, and lesbians and gay men. Among them were:
In 1971 Eve magazine carried out a survey to find the New Zealand politician with the most sex appeal. The cherubic Robert Muldoon won.
The late 1970s and 1980s saw the emergence of new magazines such as monthlies Metro (1981–2020) and North and South (1986–). Metro was a self-styled ‘city magazine’ aimed at urbane Aucklanders. Its famous 1987 cover story about unorthodox research on women at Greenlane Hospital – ‘The unfortunate experiment’ – led to a judicial enquiry and law changes.
North and South was a regional version of Metro ‘without the hard-edged, rapacious bastards, glass towers, Jafa image’.1 In the 1980s Wellington launched its own city magazines, including Wellington Cosmo and W5, but both proved uneconomic and were short-lived. They did not have a replacement until the launch of Capital magazine in 2013.
A number of national titles aimed at women appeared from the early 1980s, including More (1983–1996) which had a readership of around 60,000 in the mid-1980s. It aimed for a different market than popular magazines such as the Woman’s Weekly, and ran national Businesswoman of the Year awards as well as stories on drug abuse, AIDS and infertility. More was followed by Next (1991–2020) and Grace (1999–2001).
Other specialist and lifestyle magazines include:
By the end of the 1960s new generations of writers and poets began to react against the modernist and nationalist bent of New Zealand literary culture, which they saw as antiquated, white and male-dominated. This led to the creation of literary magazines that were influenced by new literary theories like postmodernism, and emphasised the political and cultural contexts of writing and issues like gender, race and diversity. Among the new magazines were:
In 2013 Sport magazine received a severe shock when it was refused a publishing grant from the government arts-funding agency Creative New Zealand. This highlighted how the government was a pivotal supporter of New Zealand’s literary production. However, its 42nd issue appeared in March 2014 after Victoria University of Wellington stepped into the breach with a grant.
The 1970s saw the first of a number of new magazines that profiled and promoted contemporary art. Some also considered literature. These included:
The rise of the internet at the start of the 21st century challenged traditional periodical publishing. During the early 2000s the circulations of magazines like the Listener and the Woman’s Weekly declined steeply, although many specialist titles maintained or increased their circulation. One reason for the fall was the growing availability of periodicals on the internet. Many print publications, including New Zealand Gardener and the Listener, responded to the change by creating their own websites where readers could access both current and archival content.
In 2010 Woman’s Day editor Sarah Henry doubted the internet would threaten print editions of newspapers and magazines: ‘You don’t go to your laptop and log-on and go “I’m going to read the Dominion Post online”, because that would be ridiculous.’ 1 In the same year the iPad (tablet computer) was released, making it easy for many readers to do just that.
The internet encouraged most literary magazines to create an online presence while also leading to the creation of new digital magazines. Following in the tradition of Phoenix, many of these were student initiatives. In 2014 they included Trout (Auckland University), Three Islands Magazine (Victoria University) and Deep South (Otago University).
Barrowman, Rachel. A popular vision: the arts and the left in New Zealand, 1930–1950. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1991.
Evans, Patrick. The long forgetting: post-colonial literary culture in New Zealand. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2007.
Hamilton, S. D. ‘New Zealand English language periodicals of literary interest active 1920s–1960s.’ PhD thesis, University of Auckland, 1996.
McEldowney, Dennis. ‘Publishing, patronage, literary magazines.’ In The Oxford history of New Zealand literature in English, edited by Terry Sturm, 631–694. Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Woods, Joanna. Facing the music: Charles Baeyertz and the Triad. Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2008.