Aussie invention used to create television

Media release: Thursday, 13 August 2015

In 1934 Brisbane was the first city in Australia to have regular television broadcasts – although only for one hour a day to 18 receivers. It wasn't until 1956 that mainstream professional television was launched in Sydney.

'While the Menzies government announced the gradual introduction of television in Australia in 1950, it had actually started much earlier,' said Greg Cope from the National Archives in Brisbane, who has been delving into the history of television in Australia.

He is giving two public talks on the subject, at 10am on Wednesday 19 August and 2pm, Friday 21 August.

'While Scotsman John Logie Baird is credited with inventing television, many people contributed to its development,' said Greg Cope. 'They included Australian Henry Sutton who invented the 'telephane' – the forerunner of television – three years before John Logie Baird was born.'

In 1885 Sutton had transmitted the Melbourne Cup race to Ballarat through his 'telephane'. In 1890 he demonstrated his invention to the scientific community in England and France and, 43 years later, John Logie Baird used its principles to invent television.

The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne were a major driving force behind the official introduction of television to Australia. In June 1948 the Chifley Labor government had opted to follow the British model of publicly funded television however, when the Menzies Liberal government won power in 1949, it permitted commercial stations as well.

'The Menzies government didn't trust the long-term viability of the new industry and therefore granted the first commercial licences to established print media owners, expecting them to subsidise the new medium from their press profits,' said Greg Cope.

It was difficult and expensive to record programs so most local content was broadcast live to air. Many programs were based on popular radio formats, with musical variety and quiz shows being the most popular. An interview with Mrs Edna Everage (Barry Humphreys' character) was one of the programs screened on HSV-7's first day of broadcast in 1956.

In the late 1950s a television set cost up to 10 weeks' wages and fewer than 1 per cent of Sydney households owned one.

For the first few years the government did not act to enforced local content quotas and, from 1956 to 1963, 97 per cent of all television drama was imported from the United States. But local production gradually increased, with Homicide beginning in 1964, Bellbird on the ABC in 1967, Four Corners in 1961 and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo in 1968.

Telly for a nation: a history of TV in Oz is a free public talk at the National Archives of Australia, 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill. Bookings are essential on (07) 3249 4224.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0417 247 157 e
  • Greg Cope (Director, Queensland State Office)
    t (07) 3249 4224 m 0400 753 854

Twitter: naagovau

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016