Dictionary of Sydney

The Dictionary of Sydney was archived in 2021.

Gay, John James

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Gay, John James

John James Gay was a journalist and newspaper proprietor who, by the 1920s, had established a creditable reputation in the country and to a lesser extent in Sydney.[1] Born in 1879, the son of James Joseph Gay, grazier, and Elizabeth Gay at Cullingar near Cootamundra, New South Wales, [2] Gay worked for a short while as a machinery representative for Massey Harris Farming Machinery. While travelling for that firm in Australia and New Zealand, he developed an interest in regional and rural newspapers. An ambitious youth, Gay eventually promoted himself as the 'apostle of the penny paper'. [3]

By 1900, Gay was working as a journalist on the Cootamundra Herald. He acquired the Queanbeyan Age in late 1901, moving to the town to run the paper. Three years later he married Fanny Lucy Collet, daughter of local alderman Thomas Collet and Emma Collet. [4] After the first of their three children was born in 1905, Gay bought the Ballina Beacon and the family moved to that town.

Gay built the business up and in 1911 he sold out in order to purchase the Dubbo Dispatch which was reputed to be one of the foremost rural newspapers in the state. [5] Moving to Dubbo in that year, Gay threw himself into civic affairs, a commercial and political strategy which he was to later adopt on the north shore of Sydney. Not long after his arrival, he was elected an alderman on the Dubbo Municipal Council, a position which he held until resigning in March 1921. [6]

Commercial success in rural New South Wales led Gay to try his hand at publishing a metropolitan newspaper. Late in 1920, having sold the Dubbo Dispatch, he moved to Sydney to establish the Daily Mail he was principal shareholder, managing director and founding manager. [7]

The first issue of the Daily Mail appeared on Australia Day 1922, but an appeal to patriotism proved inadequate protection against takeovers. Ownership of the paper changed hands after fierce litigation and it was reissued under new management from 27 January 1924 as the Daily News. [8] Gay moved to Chatswood in that year and reinvested his capital and his country-town, rural values in the construction of a newspaper plant and factory – the Suburban Herald Printery – at 420 Lane Cove Road (later Pacific Highway), Crows Nest.

Out of his league in major metropolitan publishing, Gay re-established himself as a local newspaper proprietor and journalist. Nestled within an area of rising middle-class suburbs, his commercial flight to the north shore indicated astute local business acumen. He also brought with him the bitter experience of failure in Sydney's central business district. This, however, he attributed to the inherent nature of the city and not to any personal shortcomings. His views were shared by many on the north side, who saw Sydney as a source of competition and corruption.


[1] Death notice, St Paul's Gazette, vol 32 no 24, 1948, Mitchell Library, ML box MLK 118

[2] John James Gray, birth certificate, Mitchell Library, ML box MLK 118

[3] Buffalo Courier Express, 23 December 1928

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 1904

[5] North Coast Beacon, 29 March 1911

[6] Dubbo Dispatch, 25 March 1925, p 5

[7] Dubbo Dispatch, 25 March 1925, p 5

[8] Australian Encyclopaedia, vol 6, Grolier Society of Australia, Sydney 1963, p 328