Local Media Pty Ltd has its origins dating back to September 14, 1969, with the founding of the Melbourne Observer newspaper by IPEC transport magnate Gordon Barton.
The newspaper was sold at milk bars for 12 cents a copy, the first issues were co-printed at three suburban printeries: Peter Isaacson Publications at Prahran, Progress Press and Waverley Offset Printers. A Goss Urbanite press, imported from England, was installed at Fisherman’s Bend later in the year.
Barton, co-owner of IPEC, was active in politics, first with the Liberal Reform Group and later with the Australia Party. In 1969, Australia was in the final part of the 27-year reign of the Liberal conservative government, most of it led by Sir Robert Menzies.
Barton was Melbourne’s first major independent press operator.He took on the media giants of the day: The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd; John Fairfax & Sons/David Syme & Co.; Australian Consolidated Press (Packer family); and the growing News Limited (Murdoch family).
The Observer proved a costly experiment for Gordon Barton and his business partner Greg Farrell. The project lost $1.5 million in just 18 months. The final of 78 issues of the Observer was published on March 7, 1971.
A weekly feature in the Observer was the colour comics section, starting as an eight-page liftout. The comic strips included Dick Tracy, Big Ben Bolt, Mickey Mouse, Rick O’Shaw, Scamp, Johnny Hazard, The Flintstones, Prince Valiant, Hi and Lois, Donald Duck, Alley Oop, Brenda Starr Reporter, Pogo, Tarzan, Dennis The Menace, Yogi Bear, Nancy, Bugs Bunny.
On September 28, 1969. the Observer brought Sunday morning reporting of the VFL Grand Final to Melbourne for the first time. Richmond 12.13 (85) d Carlton 8.12 (60).
On November 29. 1970, the Sunday Observer trialled another of its full-colour front pages, which was a new development in Melbourne newspapers. At the daily Sun News-Pictorial and The Herald, any colour pages had to be pre-printed days earlier at Herald Gravure Printers. This copy of the Sunday Observer sold well as it featured the Australian visit of Pope Paul.
On October 11, 1970, the Observer launched the first issue of the Sunday Review, later to be known as The Review, then Nation Review. The first ad for the Sunday Review appeared in the Sunday Observer.
Four very different men have been proprietors of the Observer over its 50 years: Gordon Barton (1969-1971), Maxwell Newton (1971-1977), Peter Isaacson (1977-1989) and Ash Long (2002-).