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From before the flood



I’m not sure that my Greek grandchildren know the word antediluvian or whether they have heard of Methuselah, but they certainly consider me an ancient relic who occasionally tells tall tales and true from the legendary past. And from another land. Of course they are unable to conceive of life or domestic space without screens: even my youngest grandchild, who has just had her first birthday, knows when a Skype call is imminent, and coos accordingly. 

Neither can they quite believe that I started life pre-TV. I tell them the stirring tale of the household actually acquiring a TV set, but they become bemused again when I inform them that way back then there were only three channels, and that the viewer had to cross the room to the TV set and use the manual dial.

It seems fairly useless to go on about how we were all in thrall to radio, as differences in time and culture are just too much: I doubt, for example, that the grandchildren would warm to any episode of Dad and Dave in Snake Gully. But radio was an enormous influence in the Australia of 1930 -70. The National Film and Sound Archive’s list of programmes broadcast during that period runs to more than 200 pages, and is studded with many a familiar title. My mother listened to radio serials while she did the housework, and was firm in her opinion of the characters: ‘What a scheming wretch that Delia is!’ And she and Dad listened to a radio play every Sunday night, and to English comedy shows and quiz programmes on other nights. Music was important, too: they once woke me up so that I could listen to the 1812 Overture.

Of course we also had our routines, my sister and I, and homework was fitted in around them. Our parents were teachers, so we were predictably obsessed with Yes What? a popular Australian series about a school fourth form, in which the character Greenbottle, noted for his idiosyncratic lunacy, regularly drove his teacher mad. This show, which lasted only a brisk 12 minutes every time, ran to 520 episodes.

Then there was Lavender Grove, a fairly anodyne series about middle-class suburban life, followed by the detective adventures called No Holiday for Halliday (cue rueful chuckle from our editor?) Last show of the evening for us was When a Girl Marries: for all those who are in love or can remember… This was definitely propaganda for the times: even our mother was wont to intone that ‘All any woman wants is a husband, a home, and a family.’


"It seems to me now, in this age of high-tech super-communication, that my grandchildren are rather deprived. Everything is presented to them in glorious technicolour and perfect stereophonic or quadraphonic sound: where is there room for imagination?" 


I consulted a friend, who reminded me of the way things were in those bygone days. He said that he listened to Yes, What? but otherwise maintained that ‘we blokes didn’t listen to those girlie programmes.’ Blokes, then aged about ten, preferred Superman, Biggles, and Captain Marvel. The blokey exception to my listening was Hopalong Cassidy, ‘a knight of the range,’ played by William Boyd, who was considered to have a voice perfect for radio. When Boyd visited Adelaide in 1954, he was mobbed by a crowd of 100,000.

And then there was the Argonauts’ Club, which had a unique place in Australian radio, broadcasting for 28 years from the ABC and relayed via its regional stations. Children from the ages of 7 to 17 could join, and were duly presented with an enamelled badge of the ship Argo, and a membership certificate. They could contribute painting and writing and receive reward points. (I was the enthusiastic contributor known as Hippoclides 35, but never amassed a great number of points or rewards.) The Club had all cultural points covered, and various distinguished people had regular spots. Jeffrey Smart masqueraded as Pheidias and talked about art, Dame Mary Gilmore and A.D. Hope lectured on poetry, while distinguished actor Peter Finch was a guest speaker. There was always a serialised book, and segments on music and natural history: to children in remote areas the broadcasts were a vital part of life, a connection to a wider world.

Many famous Australians were members in childhood. Artist Ken Done and writer and broadcaster Robert Dessaix were members; Barry Humphries was another. His Club name was Ithome 32, which fact makes me feel connected to him, as Mt Ithome is not very far from where I live. Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland, later an internationally famous musical couple, were also members. Many people remained loyal to their memories, as I learned when I had to give a talk not too long ago. I had reason to mention the Argonauts’ Club, and people came up to me later, quoting their Club names: one very eminent retired judge said, rather shyly, ‘I’ve still got my badge.’

It seems to me now, in this age of high-tech super-communication, that my grandchildren are rather deprived. Everything is presented to them in glorious technicolour and perfect stereophonic or quadraphonic sound: where is there room for imagination? When we compared notes, the blokey one and I discovered that we had both played at being Hopalong Cassidy in the open spaces near our respective homes. We galloped around with our home-made lariats, our cowboy hats, and our cap guns, yelling ‘Giddyup!’ to Topper at regular intervals. We were Hopalong.

My contemporary enlightened me further. ‘We used to think (well, hope would be closer) that if we wore a cape, shouted Up, up and away,’ stuck our hands out in front of us we’d be able to fly. It didn’t seem to work. Similarly, if we shouted ‘Shazam!’ we’d turn into Captain Marvel. No luck on that one, either.

The matter of no luck didn’t seem important, somehow. I was hooked on the Argonauts’ serialisation of the swashbuckling novel The Children of the New Forest. I didn’t need the then new-fangled Cinemascope. Captain Marryat’s prose and my imagination were enough to turn me into a Cavalier child hiding deep in the forest while the Roundheads swarmed.

But perhaps I’m wrong about my grandchildren’s deprivation. My youngest grandson, who is eight, spent much of his Christmas holidays reading the Harry Potter series. Interestingly, he has never taken to the films. While various forms of chaos (siblings, cousins) erupted around him, he read on, shaken by an occasional laugh. My other grandsons seem addicted to watching sport but, when younger, would also spend hours building ‘aeroplanes’ out of the planks of wood and other bits and pieces lying around outside. They would take to the ‘controls,’ and never seemed to worry that their home-made machines never left the ground. I have to believe that their imaginations did the work.


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Chris Johnson illustration. 

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras



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…and as we mentioned, in the evening there was “Address Unknown”, “Night Beat” (”I cover the night beat for the Daily”), “D24”, and on Monday night, “The Happy Gang”.

Peter Tibbles | 25 January 2022  

Thank you, Gillian, for stirring up the ‘wonder of childhood’ with memoirs of playful imagination in my own heart and I am sure that of many others readers too.

Imagination playful speculation
Mirroring the day into play
Action not a distraction
Giving life to the inner light
Innocent course spiritual source

Neither knowing which way we go we trust in the flow
Awesome thought can I stay true to the source
Timeless way, rest at play
Invocation into heartful meditation
Or has the Ode of Cain
Now become the game

Perhaps today the parable of the Sower would contain another category of catastrophe that The Word (Seed) has to contend with that is of it been lost before it touches the ground, caught in the wind of mass communications never to be embedded within the hearts of so many young minds and others today who will surely will never truly know themselves.

The effect of evil is everywhere but do we relate any of this to ourselves or do we see it as due solely to external forces.

Many believe that they are essentially good but it could be said that without the love/knowledge of God many live in a state of illusion.

St. Paul tells us that the goodness of God leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4)

To look upon His living Word (Will) honestly leads us into a state of humility, as we see the reality of our fallen human nature; in effect, we have nowhere to hide as we look upon the reality of our own hearts before Him.

Nevertheless, then we will know who we are because no matter how ‘Broken’ any child of God may be or how worldly a man’s heart may become, it could be said, that when true humility is found, in ‘Childlike Wonder’, we walk anew upon holy ground.

kevin your brother
In Christ

Kevin Walters | 25 January 2022  

Excellent article, Gillian, thank you. I was slightly disturbed to see the attached sermonette from a somewhat Mannichean viewpoint of innocent childhood by Kevin Walters. My own religious take is, like the Quakers, that there is 'that of God' in all of us and that we need to be encouraged to access it. Getting back to your article... Greece, of course, is where the saga really originated in the West. The Harry Potter books and films are a saga of the triumph of good over evil. They are similar in viewpoint, but not as dark in part as 'Lord of the Rings'. Playing with stuff is like reading. It makes the soul soar. These days we need to encourage that!

Edward Fido | 26 January 2022  

I'm a bit younger than Gillian but became a big fan of the BBC's Goon Show, which the ABC replayed for years. Thanks for reminding me of how much fun radio can be.

Stephen Hicks | 26 January 2022  

'Good rowing Argonauts!'
Gillian - hopefully you will return to this moment and sift through the rich lode that is not just a slice of many readers memories but has its own suggestions of how we may foster childhood enjoyments in our grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Bill Burke | 27 January 2022  

I wrote on a book-lovers' thread just two days ago - a discussion on language - that in the New England region of NSW where I grew up (way back then) that "we double-dinked on our pushbikes and went catching crawbobs in Goonoo Goonoo Creek"! No, no TV in our rural household till I was gone away to university - but the radio - overhearing when at home during school holidays the original soapies Portia Faces Life and another called Dr Paul? They meant nothing to me per se but I never forgot another - a serialisation of Betty Jeffrey's "White Coolies" - which inspired many decades later the film "Paradise Road". "Life with Dexter" (Willie Fennell, Amber May Cecil et al) was an evening program we enjoyed in the 1950s, 1960s. Then there was "Mrs 'Obbs" (Dan Agar) and husband (Owen Ainley) Mrs Bottomley (Rita Pauncfort), Mrs Jeffreys (Nellie Lamport) and "that" Mrs Jupley (Fifi Banvard). But those things aside - homework done, rides on our pushbikes - "getting up to mischief" down Goonoo Goonoo Creek - chores - and reading - that's the childhood I recall. A nostalgic read, Gillian. Thanks. And despite the technology of these days - I think the young ones are as able to enter into their imaginative processes - if in slightly different ways - as were we - as you seem to conclude.

Jim KABLE | 28 January 2022  

A lovely nostalgic read, Gillian. Access even to the radio was pretty strictly defined in our household, but who could forget Uncle Norman and Aunt Binnie and the Peters Icecream song, not to mention The Goons and Take It from Here.
The good thing about the radio was that, like TV, it was often enjoyed by the family, not alone with a screen.
Reading Harry Potter at the age of 8 seems Very Advanced!

Juliet | 28 January 2022  

Thank you Gillian for this walk down memory lane. Our listening habits seem very similar even if the programmes may have varied a bit. I think it is very important that we have confidence in what we achieved in the past and celebrate our luck in having survived to see the present. Ian Hislop is celebrating the fact that he started his television career in black and white , ‘ Desert Island Discs is celebrating its 70th anniversary and is still a favourite as is ‘ the Archers’ which started as a farming programme giving advice after the war and is still a popular radio soap dealing with contemporary rural issues.
I don’t think we need worry about the young of today any more than our parents worried about how we would deal with the developing world and what would be lost in the transition.

Maggie | 02 February 2022  

In the BTV era, "'Gandy' has left chocolate frogs in the refrigerator for Billy and his friends as they celebrate his sixth birthday!" announced the radio in a daily after-school children's program sponsored by MacRobertson's Confectionaries. Episodes of "Smokey Dawson", "Captain Silver and the Sea Hound" (sponsored by Peters), and "Hop Harrigan" followed. In the same era, Saturday night dinner parties were often organised around the mystery/thriller "Dossier on Dumetrius" and, on Sunday evening, "The Catholic Hour" featuring the talks of Bishop Fulton Sheen, attracted what for its day was a surprisingly ecumenical audience. The beauty of many radio programs (and who could forget Marius Goring's "The Scarlet Pimpernel"!) was the space they created and respected for the play of listeners' own imaginations and the backyard games they inspired. Yet we still somehow found time for footy and cricket in the street. And homework!

John Kelly | 03 February 2022  

Thanks Gillian for your trip down memory lane. It evoked many memories for me.
I believe that something important has been lost since those days, in spite of the marvels we have now. I do believe that simplicity itself can enrich. I believe in adage of ‘less is more,’ because the flood of today’s many options can so often be quite draining.

John Whitehead | 06 February 2022  

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