Another small independent publication has almost bitten the dust — but seems to have been rescued by a mysterious Gold Coast philanthropist who made his money from mathematics.

Tomorrow the internet-based journal New Matilda, launched two and a half years ago amidst great idealism, is almost certain to be sold to the mysterious Duncan Turpie for the princely sum of just $10.

The chairman of the New Matilda board, Jesuit priest Michael Kelly, said this morning that New Matilda had been facing closure until Turpie stepped in with an offer to keep subsidising it.

New Matilda was launched two and a half years ago on the back of donations from a bunch of well-meaning lefties, led by former senior public servant John Menadue AO. Others included former Labor Minister John Button, publisher Hilary McPhee, speechwriter to Labor luminaries, Graham Freudenberg and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court.

Menadue said at the time that New Matilda was planned as a response to the media’s failure to hold government to account, which he described as “one of the greatest institutional failures of our time”.

As well as putting out a weekly publication, largely consisting of opinion pieces by unpaid contributors, New Matilda also attempted to act as a forum for the development of policy, a mix that Menadue acknowledged in a letter to shareholders last week “on reflection… didn’t fit easily together”.

Menadue now plans to set up a stand-alone policy think tank, but the rest of the New Matilda crew will not be involved and he will not be able to use the New Matilda name, which will be sold to Turpie.

Shareholders will vote on the move at the Annual General Meeting to be held tomorrow. Kelly said he expected some complaints from shareholders, but there were really no options for the publication other than Turpie’s offer. “We were facing the wall,” he said.

Turpie will take over all the liabilities and assets of the company which made a $118,800 loss in the last financial year, and continue to employ two of its staff including editor Jose Borghino. He is said to be willing to subsidise the magazine indefinitely.

The take-over vehicle, the suggestively named “Complex Number Pty Ltd” was registered just last week with Turpie as the sole director and shareholder.

Turpie, who lives in the Gold Coast hinterland, is described as “a lefty mathematician who made his money from smart algorithms”. He has been a board member of New Matilda for some time. His profile on the New Matilda site says only that he believes a well-informed public is fundamental to a healthy democracy and that Australia’s mainstream media is failing in this task.

Turpie told Crikey he didn’t want to talk about his plans for the magazine until after the sale had gone through.

Editor Jose Borghino said subscriptions had been hovering just under the target of 5,000, and the challenge for the future was to find new readers.

Mick Kelly, though, is clear-eyed about the prospects. “I have been quite frank with Duncan Turpie. I think all small magazines in Australia are in some way subsidised, and New Matilda will need that indefinitely”.

The move seems to have come as a surprise to shareholders in New Matilda, who put up cash to help it launch. Some of the notable shareholders who appear to have lost their money — who between them stumped up $315,000 — include McPhee ($5,000), Freudenberg ($5,000), Holmes a Court ($20,000), former Labor pollster Rod Cameron ($20,000), former investment banker Rob Ferguson ($10,000) and publisher Morry Schwartz ($5,000).


New Matilda board member Susie Carleton writes: Are we all on different pages in our songsters? New Matilda’s white knight was in fact an existing investor and director of NM, supported by my further investment, a founding director. Doesn’t sound like we believe we “lost our dosh”. The level of new and needed investment required a changed governance structure which included the sale of the company. Same editor, same staff, same office, same computers – but new ideas and a site upgrading. No failure, no loss, just growth and development. Grahame Young, Trevor Cook and others etc who are themselves trying to blog out a living were saddened by NM’s flaws, growing pains and inevitable demise. Sorry. But New Matilda survives … and is committed to continuing to provide the same highest quality articles from the same “best of” Australian writers while still remaining unmoved by fear, favour or profit. 

Peter Fray

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