After serving as a navigator during World War Two, T. M. Fitzgerald began a career in journalism on his return to Australia. Working first as a financial journalist for the Bulletin, he enhanced his reputation as editor of the associated Wildcat Monthly, prompting an offer of employment from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1950. As editor of the financial pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, Fitzgerald experienced the restrictions sometimes placed upon a journalist's freedom of expression when his column displeased the newspaper's proprietor Warwick Fairfax. By 1956, fed up with the situation, he planned to resign and establish an independent periodical with the cooperation of Fairfax's rival Frank Packer. However, Fitzgerald's contribution to the Sydney Morning Herald was so valued he was urged to remain and given the freedom to establish his independent periodical. Mortgaging his home, Fitzgerald raised the funds to begin production of a small magazine. The first issue of Nation appeared in September 1958.
Nation printed no verse and only once printed fiction, building its reputation with commentary on a wide range of public affairs and reviews of books, theatre, films and television. Critical of the major political parties, Nation sought to raise the level of debate, eventually having a significant impact on the quality of journalism in Australia. Fitzgerald actively recruited contributors from all of Australia's major cities, giving the new periodical an immediate national character. Many contributors who worked for other major publications chose to use pseudonyms to protect their opinions on current affairs. In addition, Fitzgerald and his business manager, George Munster, frequently contributed pseudonymously, the latter using as many as ten names.
Unlike many small magazines, Nation was committed to paying contributors from the beginning, accumulating a loyal group of contributors during its twenty-four years. Contributors included L. J. Clancy, Manning Clark, Bob Ellis, Max Harris, Robert Hughes, Ken Inglis, Brian Johns, H. G. Kippax, Sylvia Lawson, Mungo MacCallum, W. McMahon Ball, Cyril Pearl, Hugh Stretton, Claire Wagner and Judah Waten.
By 1960, Nation had a circulation of ten thousand and regular advertisers, but Fitzgerald often relied on his income from the Sydney Morning Herald to pay the bills. Several times Fitzgerald was offered assistance by wealthy businessmen such as Peter Abeles, but he was determined that the magazine remain independent of outside influences. Nation continued throughout the 1960s with circulation as high as twelve thousand, but by the early 1970s, Fitzgerald's energy was spent. He left the Sydney Morning Herald for a position as editorial director of News Ltd., using his superannuation contributions to the former to pay some of Nation's debts.
Unable to continue offering payment, many of the earlier contributors disappeared from the pages of Nation and the magazine lost much of its vitality, especially when compared with 'younger' publications such as the Sunday Review and the National Times. The decline of the Nation could not be averted, and the magazine was eventually sold to Gordon Barton who merged Nation with the Sunday Review to form a new magazine, the Nation Review. The last issue of Nation appeared on 22 July 1972.