Television came to Rockhampton and district in 1963. I was only a child. But I remember it well, for a particular reason, as my story will reveal.
Television had already been in Australia for 7 years. Two commercial stations, TCN9 Sydney and HSV7 Melbourne, commenced regular transmissions on 16 September 1956 and 4 November 1956 respectively. A national (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC) television service, ABN2 Sydney, began on 5 November 1956. Queensland’s first television station, QTQ9 Brisbane, was opened on 16 August 1959.
Come 1963. Residents of Rockhampton and district gained two television stations that year.
The first, RTQ7, a commercial station, was launched by Rockhampton Television Ltd on 7 September 1963 from studios in Dean Street, North Rockhampton. It was the third commercial station in Queensland outside of Brisbane. The second, ABRQ3, a national (ABC) television station, began transmission 3 months later, on 21 December 1963. It operated from studios in Quay Street, Rockhampton. It was the first national regional television station in Australia to operate independently from its own studios. Both Rockhampton stations boasted two studios each.
RTQ7 and ABRQ3 shared a transmission building and tower. They were located on Mount Hopeful near Bajool, south-west of Rockhampton. At 2088 feet (636 metres), this site was chosen in order to provide adequate coverage to Rockhampton and other towns within the two stations’ 40-60 mile (65-100 km) service area.
Do you remember the following personalities from the early days of RTQ7 and ABRQ3?
Des Connors was RTQ7’s first feature announcer and newsreader and Beris Dennis the station’s first weather presenter and hostess. At its opening ABRQ3 employed two full-time male presenters. They were Barry Eaton (aged 21), from Sydney, and Charles Paterson (aged 32), a Rockhampton commercial radio announcer for the previous 12 years. ABRQ3 also employed three casual female presenters: Edith Pearn, Barbara Grant and Lesley Smith.
PHOTO CAPTION: Weather Course for TV Hostess. ‘Mrs Beris Dennis, hostess at RTQ7, discusses weather movements with the chief meteorological officer at the Rockhampton airport, Mr V Jones. After the official opening of the station tonight RTQ7 will feature weather reports at 6.50 pm seven days a week. Mrs Dennis will present the information from Mondays to Fridays.’ (The Morning Bulletin, Saturday September 7, 1963, page 3.)
Programming was limited in the early days.
When RTQ7 commenced transmission in 1963, it had 37½ hours of programming each week. This equates to roughly 5½ hours of telecasting daily. That’s not much, by current standards. However, by March 1979, this figure had increased to 70 hours per week, and included up to 4½ hours of live local content. This was in addition to local news and weather.
Not everyone in Australia welcomed the advent of television.
Prior to its introduction, in the early 1950s, a number of politicians, Church leaders and educators warned the public about television’s likely negative effects, particularly on children. They were concerned about the impact of television on family life, children’s minds, and children’s time.
- Family life: The attraction of television would put an increased strain on family discipline and there would be less conversation between parents and children.
- Children’s minds: Television would fill young minds with negative thoughts, influence children’s preferences and lower educational standards.
- Children’s time: Time spent viewing television would mean less time in children’s lives for homework, reading, hobbies and play.
‘The Postmaster-General (Mr Anthony) said in the House of Representatives today that television placed a great strain on the discipline in the home because children could not be lured away from their sets. The Minister for National Development (Mr Casey) said television was something for the city and not for the country and would tend to draw people from the country to the city.‘
Extract from ‘Television Lure to Children’, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 13 October 1950, page 1.
‘With Australia virtually committed to the introduction of television within two years, prominent Church leaders, educationists and parliamentarians are uttering warnings against its dangers. The, dangers most commonly feared are that they will corrupt children’s standards, hinder education and eliminate ultimately reading, thought and conversation.
In the circumstances the natural thing is to turn to other countries and seek, to profit from their experience. In this case America would appear to offer the most fruitful field of study, since television there follows a pattern most likely to be adopted in this country. Today there are more than 100 television stations in U.S.A., transmitting to some 14,000,000 sets throughout the country. On special occasions it is estimated that there are fully 30,000,000 viewers. The television set has become the focal point for millions of families who sit quietly in darkened rooms staring at a flickering screen.’
Extract from ‘Television Thoughts’, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 12 December 1952, page 6.
In 1963 when television came to Rockhampton and district, I was one of those susceptible children.
I was in Grade 7 at Frenchville State School, one of 37 pupils in the Grade 7 class. Our teacher was Mr (“Harry”) Weir. Mr Weir was an inspirational teacher, and much-loved. I haven’t forgotten him.
Mr Weir taught us about John Logie Baird, a Scottish engineer, one of the inventors of television. Baird demonstrated the first working television system, on 26 January 1926, more than 37 years before television came to Rockhampton.
Harry Weir, my Grade 7 teacher
Clearly, our teacher Mr Weir looked forward to the advent of television. His son John recalls that the family had a television set in their home for months before the launch of Rockhampton’s first television station (RTQ7). “Dad, Mum, my sister and I—we used to sit in our lounge room and watch the test patterns, for hours. Sometimes we would pick up a rogue station, from Western Australia for example, but of course the picture was all snowy.”
Harry Irvine Weir (1913-1986) was the son of well-known Mount Morgan residents Henry Irvine and Lena Weir.
In 1929, at just 16, Harry entered the Queensland teaching service. His first appointment was Mount Morgan Central State School, where he taught for 18 years. He spent a number of years in relieving positions, as Headmaster, while based at Mount Morgan. When his father died in 1949, pupils of Mount Morgan Central State School lined each side of the roadway in Morgan Street as the funeral corsage passed by, as a sign of respect for their beloved teacher.
Harry Weir’s parents were devout Christians, musically gifted and community-minded, and Harry followed in their footsteps. For many years, until December 1960, Harry was organist, choirmaster and a lay preacher at St Enoch’s Presbyterian Church. He conducted the Mount Morgan Choral Society choir and the Mount Morgan Brass Band for a time. He contributed much to the Mount Morgan community and participated in local politics. At Queensland State elections in 1944 and 1947, he stood as a candidate for the seat of Fitzroy, although without success.
In December 1960, Harry and his wife Eirlys and family moved to Rockhampton.
For a couple of years, Harry played the organ at the Frenchville Presbyterian Church, Dean Street, and conducted the Rockhampton Georgian Choir. From the mid-1960s to 1978, he and his wife and family attended St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Harry was the church organist.
“Mr Weir” (as I knew him) joined the teaching staff at Frenchville State School in 1961. From 1961 to 1972, he was the Grade 7 teacher. As well, he conducted the school choirs, which he entered in the Rockhampton Eisteddfod each year with much success. From 1972 until his retirement on 30 August 1974, he was employed as the school’s first full-time music specialist, a role he absolutely loved.
Mr Weir made us aware that some people in the community were concerned that television may have a negative impact on children (like us).
I’m not sure whose idea it was (Mr Weir’s or the pupils’), but we decided to write to Mr Max Keogh, the manager of Rockhampton’s new television station (RTQ7). In our letter we wanted to respond positively to these concerns and congratulate Mr Keogh and his staff on the opening of Rockhampton’s first television station.
Mr Weir chose me to write the letter on behalf of the class. I wrote it by hand and all 37 of us signed the letter. This is what I wrote:
Dear Mr Keogh
The teacher and pupils of Grade VII would like to congratulate you and your staff on the opening of RTQ7 and express our best wishes for the station’s future.
We are old enough to realise how fortunate we are to be able to learn so much through television, and we look forward to many years of happy viewing.
We have assured our teacher that we shall not neglect our homework.
To all those who did so much to bring television to Rockhampton, and district, we say “Thank you”.
Judith Proposch (pupil)
These pupils also signed the letter:
Patricia Hughes, Kerry Taylor, Susan Hughes, Doris Hixon, Joan Anderson, Beverley Wall, Hazel Stock, Lynette Fallen, Helen Twiner, Susan Lilley, Pamela Gottke, Anne Logan, Anne Rees, Desley German, Bronwyn Welsh, Michelle Frainey, Helen Murphy, Leonie Stones, Michael Whelan, Graeme Millar, Bernard Withers, Denis Schofield, Lawrence Dingwall, Eric Evans, Leigh Joyner, Neil Wigginton, Paul Wilson, Darryl Smith, Rod Rowland, Ron Rowland, James Stevenson, Leonard Holland, Alan Thomasson, David Tarvit, Alan Dyer, Michael Crocker.
Much to our surprise, the next edition of TV Week (28 September 1963) featured our letter.
TV Week published our entire letter, and listed all our names as well. We were so excited and proud. I’m sure the Frenchville School Headmaster (Mr Hedges) and our teacher Mr Weir were delighted too.
But that was not the end of the matter.
One month later, on 29 October 1963, Mr Keogh replied to our letter. It came addressed to me, on RTQ7 letterhead. Mr Keogh thanked us for our letter and good wishes. He mentioned the TV Week article that featured our letter and apologised for not replying earlier. We were thrilled to receive his personal reply and, of course, I was especially pleased.
Mr Weir allowed me to keep Mr Keogh’s letter (given it was addressed to me). I still have it in my collection of memorabilia.
Actually, I didn’t start viewing television until 1964.
My parents bought our family’s first television set in 1964. I don’t remember exactly when they bought it, but I recall watching on television the Beatles’ visit to Australia, and that was in June 1964.
In the early days of television, when most families didn’t have a television set at home, it was not uncommon to see folk standing in the street, watching TV through a shop window. For many residents of Rockhampton and district, this was probably their first experience of TV viewing.
It’s a wonder my parents could afford to buy a television set.
In 1963-64, a television set cost between 99 and 199 guineas (that is, £103/19/- to £208/19/-). Today’s equivalent is approximately $2,800 to $5,700. It was expensive to buy a television set. That’s why TV rental companies that sprung up in the 1960s did a roaring trade.
If you couldn’t afford to buy a television set, you could rent one. Radio Rentals, at the time the biggest television rental company in the world, used several catch-phrases to entice people into the TV rental market. “Don’t buy a TV set – It’s smarter to rent one.” or “You wouldn’t catch me buying a TV! It’s smarter to rent.” In fact, my teacher Mr Weir was one of the “smart” ones who rented a TV set from Radio Rentals even before the advent of television, according to his son John. You may remember that TV rental company advertisements flooded The Morning Bulletin daily and for years.
What are your memories of TV viewing in the mid-late 1960s? These are some of mine.
For TV viewing a household had to possess a television viewer’s licence. (You had to have a licence to listen to radio broadcasts too.) From 1 January 1957, one adult per household was required to pay the Postmaster-General’s Department £5 a year for the family’s viewing pleasure and an additional £2/15/- for radio. £5 in 1957 is equivalent to about $150 today. Non-payment was a punishable offence with fines of up to £50 (about $1500 today) per breach (National Film and Sound Archive). The Whitlam Labour Government abolished these licence fees in 1974.
My parents’ first television set was an Australian-made AWA Radiola Deep Image receiver. It looked just like a timber cabinet, a piece of furniture, and took pride of place in our lounge room. The 23” (60 cm) screen was small by today’s standards, rectangular in shape with rounded corners, the surface slightly curved. The unit had several dials or sliders on the front panel: one to change the channel, another to adjust the volume and one to adjust the picture quality.
The television set came with an indoor antenna. It was a large metal coil, gold in colour, attached to a movable hard plastic stand which you placed on top of the unit. You had to move this strange contraption around until you found the best reception. The picture wasn’t very clear in those days and ghosting was common.
Eventually, my parents had an outdoor antenna installed on our roof, which made a big difference to the quality of the picture.
Our television set didn’t come with a remote control. You had to get up out of your chair to change the channel or adjust the volume or picture! And, like most families in the 1960s and 1970s, we bought a couple of comfortable “TV chairs” for our lounge room, to enhance our viewing experience.
Throughout my high school years, Dad and I used to sit side by side in these chairs every Friday evening. We’d watch a crime or spy drama (The Avengers, for example) and share a block of Cadbury’s chocolate. (I don’t think we ate the whole block of chocolate at one sitting!) My mother never joined us. She didn’t take to TV viewing until years later. It was something my father and I did together for an hour or so each week: Just the two of us. We shared our thoughts and opinions about what we were watching, enjoyed a laugh or two, and talked about our week’s activities. I remember this fondly – it was a special time, part of our weekly routine.
When television came to Rockhampton in 1963, transmission was in black and white (or shades of grey). At the time, I don’t think I considered the possibility of colour. Black and white television was the norm, and quite acceptable. So it was a novelty when, on 1 March 1975, RTQ7 began transmission in colour. Of course, you had to buy a new “colour” television set in order to view your favourite programs in colour. Rockhampton’s national station, ABRQ3, didn’t commence colour transmission until September 1979.
The advent of television was a significant milestone in Rockhampton’s history.
Fifty-four (54) years have passed since the Postmaster-General, the Honorable Mr C. W. Davidson, officially opened Rockhampton’s first television station, RTQ7, at 7.00 pm on Saturday 7 September 1963. It was a momentous occasion (even though a rare simultaneous failure of the main transmitter and a standby transmitter marred the official opening). In his opening address Mr Davidson told the people of Central Queensland they were now served by ”the most powerful entertainment medium ever devised – television”. That was a bold claim!
So, what about me?
Television didn’t have a negative impact on me, or our family life. My parents never had to “lure” me away from the television set. Sure, as a child, I watched some TV shows, which I enjoyed, but my television viewing didn’t interfere with my schoolwork or other interests. What I wrote in the 1963 letter to Mr Keogh about homework came to pass. I was a diligent student and I always did my homework, TV or no TV.
I think Mr Weir would have been proud of me.
1949. Obituary: Mr H. I. Weir. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Saturday 16 July 1949, page 3. Online: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/56910919
1950. Television Lure to Children. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 13 October 1950, page 1. Online: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/56960405
1952. Television Thoughts. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Friday 12 December 1952, page 6. Online: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/57309105
1952. Television and children. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Friday 19 December 1952, page 2. Online: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/47527716
1963. New National TV Stations to Open. Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 – 1995), Saturday 23 March 1963, page 5. Online: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/104592106
1963. RTQ7 Feature. The Morning Bulletin, Saturday 7 September 1963, pages 11ff.
1963. Powerful Entertainment in C.Q. The Morning Bulletin, Monday 9 September 1963, page 1.
1963. Rare fault mars TV Station opening. The Morning Bulletin, Monday 9 September 1963, page 1.
1963. ABRQ Channel 3 Feature. The Morning Bulletin, Saturday 21 December 1963, pages 1-2.
1965. TV Guide Tuesday 16 February 1965 – Rockhampton. Source: TV Week, 13 February 1965. Online: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/134908/20160911-0011/televisionau.com/classic-tv-guides/tv160265.html
1981.McDonald, Lorna. Rockhampton: History of City and District. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
2007. Hunt unearths treasure trove of regional history. CQ Uni News Archive. Online: http://uninewsarchive.cqu.edu.au/uninews.cqu.edu.au/UniNews/viewStory34ba.html?story=4641
Undated. Tully, Helen. Subscriptions – Where it all began. National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) website. Online: https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/radio-and-tv-licences
Television.AU – The History of Australian Television. Website. Online: http://televisionau.com/