The School Magazine: going strong since 1916

A small history of a big magazine

Drawing from 1916 Back in 1916, as the world grappled with the horrors of World War I, the New South Wales Department of Education had a brave and brilliant idea: to give primary school children their own free high-quality literary magazine. So while hardships related to the War abounded, Australian children gained something remarkable: their own magazines to read and to treasure. The first 16-page-issue was published in February 1916, with editor Stephen Henry Smith at the helm. Doris Chadwick, the second editor, followed in 1922 and headed up the magazines through the turbulence of the Great Depression and World War II, all the way until 1959, when Noreen Shelley took up the reins for over another decade. Shelley has been followed by a luminous string of Editors, including some prominent  children's book creators— the legendary Patricia Wrightson (winner of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal), Lilith Norman, Duncan Ball, Anna Fienberg and Tohby Riddle among them. Past staff members have included respected writers Cassandra Golds and Ursula Dubosarsky.

Cover of the very first School Magazine.

The cover of the very first The School Magazine


Although The School Magazine started small, it soon grew. And over the years, it has never skipped a beat, not even during World War II or during the tough years of the Depression (although the magazine was temporarily reduced in size then to save paper and expenses). Particularly during the early days, when many school libraries were limited—if they existed at all—the arrival of The School Magazine at schools inspired cheers. For most students it was their main source of reading for pleasure. No wonder that so many older Australians recall the magazines with smiles.

Illustration from 1916 During the 1960s with Noreen Shelly as Editor, the magazines were published in four different formats to cater more specifically to the reading needs of different levels. In 1985 the black-and-white artwork became two-colour artwork. And by 1999, dazzling full-colour artwork filled all thirty-six pages of every publication. Today's magazine artists are some of the most outstanding of all those working in Australian children's literature. They are part of a tradition of attracting the highest talent available in this country. May Gibbs's work can be found in The School Magazine over the years, as well as that of Pamela Allen. Noela Young, whose images for The Muddle-headed Wombat by Ruth Park are deliciously familiar to Australians, has been contributing her wonderful artwork for over sixty years.

The publications have also given many Australian writers a foot in the publishing door. People such as Robin Klein, Joanne Horniman, John Heffernan, Sophie Masson and Pamela Freeman all got their start in these pages.

As the Magazine approaches its centenary, a number of components  have changed. Many parts of The School Magazine are continuing to evolve, as the publication keeps step with the times and with its young readers. What remains steady is its underlying determination to provide Australian children with an entertaining and engaging beautifully illustrated high-quality literary magazine.