'Bush bible' celebrates as News cues Melbourne press project

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A celebratory and dinner this Wednesday attended by Victorian governor Linda Dessau will mark the 150th anniversary of Australian 'bush bible' the Weekly Times.

The country newspaper - a key part of the Herald & Weekly Times business proudly acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 1987, having been managed by his father - first appeared September 11, 1869.

Murdoch ordered new printing presses for News' Australian and UK operations that year, and is expected to announce a new facility to replace the ageing Westgate Park, Melbourne, print centre shortly.

News Corp Australia will celebrate the anniversary this Wednesday (also September 11) with a special edition featuring a 20-page wrap and reproduction of the original edition. The governor of Victoria will be among 150 guests at a celebratory event in Melbourne that evening.

News has also announced a 30-minute documentary on Foxtel's History Channel starting this Sunday. Episodes will celebrate "milestone moments" from Australia's rural history, including Ned Kelly's last stand, Don Bradman's standing ovation, the highs of the Gold Rush to the lows of the Great Depression, "from the devastation of drought, flood and fire to the rural renaissance that has seen agribusiness and farming flourish into the 21st Century".

Editor Ed Gannon says it will showcase how "the paper with the iconic orange cover" became and remains a window to the world for those in rural and regional Australia.

The Weekly Times claims to be Australia's most widely read rural newspaper with print readership of 126,000 and total reach of 699,000, and earlier this year launched a 40-page magazine, AgJournal, to tap into the $60 billion agriculture and food fibre industry.

Gannon says the paper's longevity was due to its ability to adapt and find new ways to put readers and their communities first: "This is a 150-year old institution first published the same year as War and Peace, with a life spanning three separate centuries.

"It's now well positioned for new successes having successfully adapted to the digital era by becoming a dependable and trusted digital companion for those who work on the land and who live in regional and rural Australia."

Herald & Weekly Times chairman Penny Fowler - who is Rupert Murdoch's niece - said the paper was an essential part of the fabric of regional and rural Australia. "Every week for 150 years, generations of farmers and rural dwellers have looked forward to the delivery of their paper, poring over its pages, soaking up the latest general and agribusiness news, practical farm advice and entertaining stories of rural life.

"The story of The Weekly Times is the story of our country community and as a company we are extremely proud to be celebrating its 150th year."

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