The Digger

Alternative counter-culture magazine

Publication dates: 1972-1975

High Times Pty. Ltd., Middle Park, Victoria

Nos. 1 - 48, 1972-75


The Digger, launched in 1972, was an alternative-culture fortnightly publication. It was established by Philip Frazer (Go-Set, Gas, Revolution) with Gary Hutchinson and Bruce Hanford. Phil Pinder2 records that it was the only 'underground' magazine with a collective ownership, and as in the early days of Double Jay, Digger's editorial policy was decided collectively, with any individual member having the right of veto on a story or cartoon. Bruce Hanford, a US draft dodger, has been credited with introducing the 'new journalism' of Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson into Australia through the pages of The Age's "ill-fated venture into dissent", Broadside.

The Digger continued Philip Frazer's attempts to create an Australian 'counterculture' publication like Rolling Stone or the LA Free Press, and it succeeded his earlier magazines Revolution and High Times

In 1973, The Digger changed from fortnightly to monthly publication, backed by Community Aid Abroad's 'Light, Powder and Construction Works'. By this time the editorial collective included Frazer, Jon Hawkes, his then partnerphotographer Ponch Hawkes (now a noted photographer), school teacher and future novelist Helen Garner and the late Terry Cleary, the long-serving Go-Set staffer who had returned to work with Frazer after a stint with Gudinski's abortive rival Planet

As he did at Go-Set, Terry Cleary's work role as sales manager and "vibe" man  was a crucial part of the operation, and Pinder says The Digger survived largely on "Terry Cleary's ability to get money from people who didn't have any". The Digger also managed to solve -- at least for a time -- the perennial problem of getting distribution by creating a 'locked' package deal of Australian Rolling Stone and Digger, so that newsagents couldn't take one without the other. 

The Digger was an important outlet for political and satirical cartoons and published the work of many noted artists of the period. Contributors included renowned cartoonist and designer Ron Cobb (who designed the cover of Jefferson Airplane's second LP and was a major contributor to Alien), Ian McCausland (Go-SetHigh Times, Planet), Bob Daly, Patrick Cook, Michael Leunig, Neil McLean and Phil Pinder.

Problems with content dogged the paper throughout its life. Pinder recalls that a Neil McLean front-page cartoon was rejected because one of editorial collective (Garner) objected to it on the grounds that it was sexist -- because you couldn't tell the gender of one of the figures. Philip Frazer asked McLean to do more cartoons for Digger but he declined the offer and went to work for Living Daylights instead.

In April 1974 The Digger was found guilty of obscenity in a case stemming from two of its articles -- one by Beatrice Faust, which was found to have been accompanied by "obscene" illustrations, and another on sex education by Helen Garner. The $1350 fine crippled The Digger, which had operated on a financial knife edge, and it was eventually forced to close some time in 1975.

Original copies of The Digger are now undoubtedly very rare -- according to the distribution details listed on the Nation Review website2  only 240 copies of the first edition were issued in Melbourne, and 78 of those were returned unsold. Sales figures from Melbourne and Latrobe universities indicate that later editions only sold a few dozen copies at most at these outlets. 

Jon and Ponch Hawkes -- who taught herself to use a camera while writing for The Digger and had her first photographs published in the magazine -- were founding members of the Australian Performing Group (APG) and Ponch subsequently joined Circus Oz, where she was the lighting director for ten years, and she photographed both troupes many times.

In a memoir of his time with the Australian Perporming Group, performer Mic Conway (Captain Matchbox) said that it a Digger article by Helen Garner spurred him to visit the Pram Factory and led to his long association with APG and the subsequent formation of Soapbox Circus and Matchbox. 

References / Links

Thanks to John Low.

1. Phil Pinder
Down Underground Comix (Penguin, 1983)

2. Nation Review