E. C. Sommerlad, courtesy of Sommerlad family.

Ernest Christian Sommerlad

1886-1952    |    NSW    |    Publisher

Sommerlad was a giant in the NSW provincial press for a quarter of a century. As an editor and proprietor he set the standard for local campaigning to achieve community improvements. An astute and prescient businessman, he organised mergers of rival bi-weeklies in Glen Innes, Inverell and Armidale. He was the first to recognise the potential of links between country papers and commercial radio, established a country newspaper advertising arm and was president and secretary of the NSW Country Press Association for nearly 20 years. 

 “It is a thrilling experience deliberately to set about achieving a certain end through the use of the press, and to feel your reading public react to the lead given them. To me it is like sitting at the controls of some mighty machine...”

E. C. Sommerlad 


Ernest Christian Sommerlad


Ernest Christian Sommerlad articulated the standards for provincial newspaper editors in the second half of the twentieth century. In Sommerlad’s view, the provincial editor who had “a right conception of his office”, and was not afraid to offer constructive criticism, was the most important citizen in the community. “He can be a local king-maker if he guards jealously the sacred flame and wins and holds the confidence of his readers.”

Sommerlad told a New South Wales Country Press Association (NSWCPA) conference that he was always “deeply pained” when he saw a country paper, no matter how small, without an editorial. Such a paper was “like a man without a head”; it was ‘immobilising itself and voluntarily surrendering one of the most effective weapons in its armoury”.

When he was editing the Glen Innes Examiner in the early 1920s, Sommerlad would sometimes put a banner across the front page, below the masthead, declaring  “The Examiner Does Not Shirk a Clear Cut Editorial Opinion”. Sommerlad said it was an unchallengeable fact that when newspapers respected the privilege and responsibility society accorded them, and were actuated by sincere motives, the influence they wielded through the editorial column was still one of the great factors in moulding public opinion.

He said : “It is a thrilling experience deliberately to set about achieving a certain end through the use of the press, and to feel your reading public react to the lead given them. To me it is like sitting at the controls of some mighty machine ...”

Born in 1886 at Tenterfield, in northern New South Wales, Sommerlad left school at eleven to help on the family farm. Restless, he read widely, especially the Bible. Aged 21 he went to Newington College, Sydney, and, overcoming the gibes of his fourteen-year-old schoolfellows, passed the junior public examination in 1908.

Accepted as a candidate for the Methodist ministry, Sommerlad trained at the Theological Institution, Stanmore. In March 1911 he left for Fiji as a missionary, but after six months returned to Sydney with a throat infection which prevented him from preaching regularly. Nonetheless, he remained closely connected with the Methodist Church as an occasional lay preacher and for ten years was secretary of its young people's department.

Turning to journalism, Sommerlad worked briefly as a reporter on the Inverell Times from February 1912. In June he moved to the rival Inverell Argus and within three months was editor. With a bank loan guaranteed by local businessmen, he bought the Glen Innes Examiner in May 1918. His paper was his pulpit. Editorials promoted such advances as a bacon factory, improvements to the town's parks and the local horticultural society (he was president in 1927). From 1924 he organised mergers of rival bi-weeklies at Glen Innes, Inverell and Armidale. He was a founder and managing director of Northern Newspapers Pty Ltd (1926-52) and a State director of Australian United Press Ltd (1939-52).

Sommerlad was a life-member of the Australian Provincial Press Association, and president (1927-28) and later secretary (1940-45) of the NSWCPA. In February 1929 he moved to Sydney to become general manager of the Country Press Co-operative Co. of Australia Ltd (soon Country Press Ltd). An astute businessman, he was the company's managing director (1932-52) and chairman (1948-52). Establishing its advertising arm as a separate company, Gotham (A'sia) Pty Ltd, he became managing director and forged links between country press and radio. He was a director of Northern Broadcasters Ltd and negotiated the issue of licences for radio stations 2LV Inverell and 2AD Armidale.

A founder of the Country Party and State chairman (1950-52), Sommerlad was treasurer of the Northern New State Movement. He wrote much of the party's publicity material for Federal and State elections from the 1930s, as well as press and radio material for primary industry and referenda campaigns. He also contributed several editorials a week to the northern newspapers. A staunch and uncompromising moralist, he saw issues in black and white. Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1932, he was elected to the reconstituted council in November 1933. In the 1930s he helped the Premier, Sir Bertram Stevens, to organise publicity.

Sommerlad published several local histories, including Inverell (Sydney, 1917) and Land of the Beardies (Glen Innes, 1922), and a handbook on journalism, Mightier than the Sword (1950). He was a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales (1930-52), a vice-president of the National Roads and Motorists' Association and chairman of the publicity committee for the sesquicentennial celebrations. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1938. In addition, E.C. Sommerlad’s influence extended throughout the 1930s and 1940s, when he was managing Country Press affairs from Sydney, as he wrote at least one editorial a week, some strongly supportive of the Country Party.  He distributed them to the Glen Innes Examiner and other country papers.

After Sommerlad died of leukemia at his home on 6 September 1952, the NSWCPA established the annual E.C. Sommerlad Memorial Awards for Journalism, with one award specifically for distinguished editorial leadership. Sommerlad, as editor of the Inverell Argus and the Glen Innes Examiner, practised what he would later preach. His newspapers were innovative in reporting their communities and the editorial columns bustled with views strongly expressed. He appointed editors who shared his belief in vigorous editorial leadership – men such as Harold Thomas Knapton at Inverell, and Ian Clive Stevenson, at Glen Innes and, later, Inverell. Sommerlad passed on the editorial torch to his second son, David, who became editor of various newspapers, including the Inverell Times and the Armidale Express.

Rod Kirkpatrick has written seven books on Australian newspaper history and lectured in journalism at three Australian universities over 25 years. He is a former editor of the Central Western Daily, Orange, NSW (1982-87), and the Manning River Times, Taree, NSW (1971-72). He has a PhD in history from the University of Queensland.


A young E. C. Sommerlad, courtesy of Sommerlad family.

Portrait of E.C. Sommerlad, courtesy of the Sommerlad family.



Further reading


'Sommerlad, Ernest Christian (1886–1952)', Rod Kirkpatrick, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1990.


Mightier Than the Sword: A Handbook on Journalism, Broadcasting, Propaganda, Public Relations and Advertising, E.C. Sommerlad, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1950.

Country Conscience: A History of the New South Wales Provincial Press, 1841-1995, Rod Kirkpatrick, Infinite Harvest, Canberra, 2000.