The move to an exclusively online presence by Australia’s least reliable and least profitable satirical newspaper is yet another step in The Bug’s long, proud and erratic history.
Originally founded in Brisbane in 1899 by twin brothers Horace and Ferdinand Milat, the paper billed itself as “Your Daily Laugh” (right). It soon found a strong following especially for its caustic anti-Federation articles and its fearless and cutting descriptions of public figures such as Sir Samuel Griffith as “that olde paunched and hair-faced reservoir of winbaggery”. And as you can see from the photograph, the paper was a pioneering employer and female staff were always allowed to sit at unoccupied journalists’ chairs during their short breaks from selling stationery at the front counter or making cups of tea.
In 1915 the Milat brothers handed the paper over to a people’s collective of writers drawn largely from Brisbane’s Russian community. The brothers had signed up to serve in Europe during World War I but were both unfortunately shot for desertion shortly after they arrived in France.
By the 1920s The Bug was flourishing when a new publisher took over, a youthful Frank Packer. The paper was so successful at the time as a daily publication that it needed a vast number of delivery boys (left) to ensure it reached its readers in all suburbs across the city every morning. However, Packer failed in his long-term strategy to turn the daily paper into a weekly magazine for women. He later bemoaned what became a financial disaster and laid the blame at his unwillingness to curb the paper’s blatant sexist and misogynistic content.
At the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s The Bug changed its slogan from “Tickling the Nation’s Funnybone” (right) to “Australia’s favourite funny paper” (below left) along with a change in editorial staff numbers from 147 to one.
Sam “Spittoon” Murdoch — a distant relative of the famous Murdoch ice chest family — was the owner, writer, advertising salesman, printer, and distributor of the newspaper, well known for his endearing habit of expelling phlegm in great quantities as he wrote, punctuated only by the occasional bushman’s hanky.
In the 1940s under Murdoch and an expanded staff, The Bug made a name for itself as a social trailblazer by becoming the first publication in Australia to employ a full-time poofreader (arrowed, below). The first occupant of the role, details of whose identity have been lost, was tasked with reading galley proofs of the paper and finding opportunities to insert gratuitous puns, jokes, or barbed put-downs about homosexuals and homosexuality which at the time were still illegal in all states.
The innovation proved a hit with readers despite a succession of poofreaders incurring heavy jail terms as any media focus on pillowbiters/shirtlifters/ backdoor bandits and their pillow-biting/shirtlifting and backdoor banditing ways was also illegal at that time.
The “Swinging 60s” saw The Bug take a serious turn with an editorial policy supporting Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a stance that provoked street protests (below, right). The shift in editorial policy also took its toll on circulation which plummeted to almost zero although readership remained at record highs according to measurement methodologies still used by News Corporation.
The paper’s brief period of ownership in the mid-1980s by a consortium consisting of the late Alan Bond, the late Christopher Skase, and former South African president the late PW Botha was attributed to a paperwork mix-up at the ASX.
As if to prove there had always been something fishy about the publication, it was relaunched in 1989 with an expanded title, The Moreton Bay Bug. The new owners had no idea why they did that but the really funny thing is that if they did it because of their love of seafood, they haven’t been able to afford to eat seafood since. Even more importantly, like all owners before them, they had absolutely no fucking idea how to monetise the project. Under their leadership, however, The Bug, as it inevitably became known as anyway, was one of Australia’s first newspapers to go online, which helped enhance year-by-year losses. It lasted in print and ‘net form until 2007 where the owners looked at other ways to lose money.
At the height of its online presence, up to a thousand people at any one time were online seeking The Bug’s help, mostly young men consulting Doctor Dick about a pathetically small penis, or US farmers seeking solutions to pest problems in their alfalfa crops.
The Bug briefly made a comeback in the early 2010s when the owners leased the title out to the management of the Arthur Dingwell Gorrie Centre, a high-security institute for the criminally insane near Palmwoods on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where resident physicians and psychiatrists thought publishing the paper would be an ideal remedial exercise for patients. Unfortunately, it floundered after one edition after inmates gave one another serious paper cuts, some fatal.
The title reverted to its most recent owners and today The Bug, like all modern news outlets, is published online to reach a global audience and meets its readers’ changing needs and expectations. It is supported by an array of writing, design, and production staff all based offshore in low-wage jurisdictions with minimal occupation health and safety demands, and backed by a parent entity headquartered in the US state of Delaware with associated satellite entities in the Channel Isles (UK) and Bermuda to reduce tax liabilities.