We take for granted the availability of television and media in this day and age. Information readily streamed into our own homes via broadcast channels working 24/7 to keep us all abreast and informed about the goings on both locally and abroad.
After recently speaking to my Grandpa I learnt that Australia’s affinity with television hasn’t always been the same.
Meet Ross Macdonald. Recently retired, family loving man, born in the quiet suburban streets of Sydney (Concord West). Yesterday I set up a Skype conversation to recall his first memories of television, his thoughts, emotions and his views on the current landscape of Australian television. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Pa: “When television commenced transmission in Australia in 1956 I was just 10 years old. Regarding the viewing of television, one of the shops in the strip was an Electrical Appliance and Record store and they had one TV in the store window, which was hooked up to a speaker outside the store just under the awning.
They used to have it turned on in the evening from about 6pm (just after the pubs closed) and the locals including my Mum and Dad, together with brother Malcolm (Mal was 4 years old) and myself would gather and bond outside the shop for about one hour to watch whatever was being broadcasted.
In the very early days in Sydney there were only 3 channels i.e. ABN Channel 2, ATN Channel 7 and TCN Channel 9. Most of the day all they transmitted was a Test Pattern until about 6pm when they usually broadcast the News and a few other programmes until about 10pm when they would close with the National Anthem. Nothing that would really excite a 10 year old.
However 1956 was also the year of the of Olympic Games in Melbourne. My Dad arranged for the family to travel by train to Melbourne (travel by air was ridiculously expensive compared to today) so that we could experience this “once in a lifetime opportunity” (if only they had known what the future would bring!).
There was no need to pre-purchase tickets as you could just buy them at the gate on the day, however most of the events were either shown live or filmed (no video then) and would be on the TV later that evening. The best thing that ever happened to increase the sale of Television sets in Australia during 1956 was the Olympic Games. They were not cheap but everyone wanted one!
During the first week of the games my grandparents purchased a HMV (His Masters Voice) TV, which I suspect they probably went into some sort of a hire purchase agreement to buy. The surge in sales together with the popularity of the games changed the whole dynamics of TV programming with longer hours including movies, serials and live variety shows starting to fill the viewing hours.
This was where the real excitement of TV began for me!!! It probably also spelt the beginning of the end for the Saturday matinee at the local movie theatre since pretty much what they were showing started slowly to appear on TV. When we returned to home after the Olympic Games the pressure was on for the purchase of a TV which I think my dad held out for about another 3 years when he finally rented one. By this time the programmes would start at midday (usually with a movie) and run until midnight still finishing with the anthem”.
Taking a look at the direction television has taken today my Grandpa summed it up very nicely; “well all you have is reality programs that aren’t a true reflection of reality”. When asked about the future of Australian television his response was “I think Australian television is coming to a defining moment in its short history. Technology is easily winning the battle. Very much the same as the matinee was destroyed by television, mobile tablets and high speed Internet are destroying television”.
Again these are statement that I agree with wholeheartedly.
The boundaries between audiences and spaces are being removed. “Family bonding” as my Grandpa described it is no longer part of Australian culture. As we become more reliant on convergent media and devices, we become less reliant on spending time building relationships around us.
Does this mean that all family values are forsaken? Probably not. However Hardenbergh describes the viewing of television as a “presentational environment” (2010, pg.171). No longer do we occupy and share the same spaces to view our media. As a prime example of this fundamental shift, currently two of my housemates and myself are all watching the same program in three separate parts of the house. We have a communal lounge area with a television; however the program we are watching is easily streamed online.
Hardenbergh’s statement regarding the superiority of television “ it was the greatest mass medium” (2010, pg.171) is a bold statement of which has some merit in today’s media environment. Technologies will inevitably come and go but the legacy that a medium leaves on a generation can never be forgotten. Television changed the lives and introduced many to the world.
As for my Grandpa’s thoughts on the best show on television at the moment. “It is still the 7pm ABC News Luke”.
Some old habits will die-hard.
What are your first recollections of television? Mine are the ABC educational/ entertainment programs, of which included Lift Off. Memory lane :). Feel free to leave a comment or tweet me at fluke_aus with your favourite TV memories.
Hardenbergh, M. (2010). The death of television. ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA240918884&v=2.1&u=uow&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w, accessed 22nd August 2013
2nd Year Media & Communication & Commerce Student @UOW
Majoring in Digital Communication & Marketing