Making a magazine

In the beginning, before there was Eureka Street and before anyone had heard of the internet, we invented Jesuit Publications.

Its home was not the shiny, tidy, professional suite it now occupies in Victoria Street, Richmond, but a trio of disused schoolrooms hired out by the parish of St Brigid, North Fitzroy. One served as the business office, one as a mail-order bookshop, and the other as the production room, which I occupied.

Most of this room was empty. There was a new Macintosh computer on a desk at one end, and there I spent my days unravelling the mysteries of desktop publishing, then a newfangled thing, and negotiating with the editors of the existing Jesuit magazines, The Messenger, Madonna, News from India and Jesuit Bulletin. And, in between all this, I talked to Michael Kelly and Adrian Lyons about a new project that would eventually become Eureka Street.

There were lots of arguments. And lots of people came to work at Jesuit Publications but stayed only a short time. Both these things continued after we moved to Richmond. But some people came and stayed: they included Morag Fraser, and Mike Harter, an American Jesuit who had been managing editor of America magazine, one of the models for Eureka Street.

At least, it was one of the intended models. What emerged from all the arguments and a year and a half of planning was not like America or The Month. It was not like The Tablet or Commonweal, either, and it did not owe much to earlier Australian attempts to publish a magazine of ideas and debate with a Catholic base, such as Catholic Worker. It had a distinctive look—which, I am pleased to see, mostly survived—and its pool of contributors was not confined to the usual ecclesiastical suspects. That drew readers who would not normally pick up a Catholic magazine on the stands, and it attracted the attention of the mainstream media, which began to quote Eureka Street and to interview its editor and writers. All of this is what we hoped would happen.

The circulation and the advertising revenues never approached the point of self-sufficiency, let alone profitability, but that point never does arrive for magazines of ideas in Australia. The available readership is simply too small. They do not survive without hefty subsidy, and it was a noble work of the Jesuits and the magazine’s other benefactors to have subsidised the print edition of Eureka Street for as long as they did.

The arguments continued all the while the magazine grew. Some of them were scarifying for all concerned. But they should be remembered and recorded because they are part of what made the magazine take the course that it did.

Yet when I think back on those experiences now, even the scarifying ones, it is not the emotions of conflict that stand out. It was the excitement of being involved in creating something new, which has justly left its mark on the Church and on Australia’s media. It would have been worth it all just for that, although those years transformed my life in other ways as well.

For one thing, while working in that office at Richmond I met Leonie Purcival, who became the mother of my children. For that gift alone, I am grateful to have been part of the Eureka Street project. I am grateful, too, to all the people I worked with, on all the publications, and whom I shall not attempt to name here lest I unintentionally omit someone from the list and give offence. As to what I may have given, others must judge. 

Ray Cassin worked at Jesuit Publications from 1989–95. He was Eureka Street’s production editor, its ‘Quixote’ columnist, a regular reviewer of films and books, and the obituarist of Yves Congar OP. He was also the founding editor of Eureka Street’s sister publication, Australian Catholics.

In 1994 he won the Walkley Award for best three headlines, for entries published in Eureka Street. They were: ‘The Rite Stuff’, ‘The odd angry Schacht’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’. The citation read: ‘Derived from book, film or song titles, the judges considered Ray Cassin’s sharp, clever headings to be far and away the best submitted.’

 

 

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