For this blog post, I interviewed (recorded with permission) my 60yr old uncle born in 1957 about his childhood experience with the introduction of television. He was born in Port Hedland in an isolated town in the remote Pilbara region of WA where food would only come by ship just once every month. Although television was first broadcast in WA in 1959, it wasn’t until his family moved back to Perth in 1960 that he first encountered one in real life. The first sighting was a television in a shop window, he described the experience as “Amazing!… A bit like a cat, [I was] looking around the side of a box to see how they put the people in there”. When I asked him what was playing on the small “scratchy” black and white television he avidly remarked “The Premiere of Mr. Squiggle!” which was released a year earlier in 1959.
A while after his first encounter and more moving around through remote areas without access to television his family finally purchased their first black and white television. Their home was reorganised to accommodate the family’s new investment, the television was placed next to the focal point of their house, a fireplace, with a bookshelf being moved to create enough space. In his mind, the television was related and understood through familiar pre-existing forms of entertainment “… A radio with pictures, there were fairly clear voices but the pictures weren’t that great…” and also “A book that was in front of you with the story moving through and being read aloud by someone in a box”. The television became considered a key part of their family time outside their frequent outdoor adventures, “It was [the content] very ‘Australian‘, didn’t see anything else… Strictly controlled by parents or babysitters… Probably watched 4-5 hrs a week”. The programs that they did often watch included The ABC News, Bellbird and then Mr. Squiggle after preschool and school. These shows particularly Bellbird and then Mr. Squiggle taught him ‘Australian‘ values that would be discussed and affirmed as a family.
At around the age of nine or ten the first “unsheltered” significant event was witnessed by him on television with the broadcast of the Former Prime Minister Harold Holt’s disappearance and death in 1967. As an avid beach visitor and lover this knowledge via the television, including the circumstances of what had happened, greatly saddened and scared him. However, another significant event played a role in shaping his remembrance of historical events and perception of the link between television and reality. A role and effect of television that was noted in Turning Points in Australian History by Crotty & Roberts 2009 (pp. 155-156). The Queen was in Australia and kids (including himself) lined up for hours waiting for a two-second glimpse at the royal cars as they drove by. This real-life experience and thrill could then be re-lived in more detail later that day on his television, in effect affirming and adding to what he had already experienced in his own life. This event also helped him learn to separate the difference between a fictional piece, like the drama Bellbird and the storytelling of Mr. Squiggle from matters of reality. This, when followed up with the developments of television technologies such as the addition of colour, allowed him to experience and be connected to a far broader world than the remote areas and limited patterns that his family followed.