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Article  •  16 September 2016


Hands of time

An educational object dear to many thousands of Australian hearts.

In his book The History of Australia in 100 Objects, former Rolling Stone editor Toby Creswell pays homage to the things that have helped shape our national identity. From Ned Kelly’s armour to Henry Lawson’s pen and Julia Gillard’s glasses, the eclectic mix creates a compelling story. How would’ve you learned to tell the time without the Play School rocket clock? Straight from the pages of The History of Australia in 100 Objects, here Creswell highlights the significance of the clock, the program in Australian broadcasting history, and the importance of the ABC in our daily lives.

Thousands of Australian children learned how to tell the time by looking at the rocket clock – a large rocket with a clock face near its tip that featured in a regular segment on the children’s television program Play School. The naive style is typical of the 1950s. Based on an English show, Play School became one of the longest-running and most popular shows on Australian television, and a childhood experience shared by Australians in every location and every possible demographic.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (formerly the Australian Broadcasting Commission) is the cement that holds Australia together. For 80 years, the ABC has been the one public amenity that binds all Australians and is used in some way by all Australians at some point in each day. More than 80 per cent of Australians approve of the ABC and believe it is a trusted source. In times of distress, it is the national information source…

Play School was first broadcast on 18 July 1966. The program revolves around simple activities appropriate for preschool children, such as telling the time, reading stories, playing games and craft activities. All of the craft activities are created with items that can be found in the home. The Play School theme song, beginning with ‘There’s a bear in there’, is one of the most widely known Australian songs.

Some 80 per cent of children under six in Australia watch Play School at least one day each week. So many Australians have grown up with the program that toys from the show Big Ted, Little Ted and Jemima are national icons. Play School was a launching pad for The Wiggles in the early 1990s, but perhaps the most significant of all Play School segments is the Bananas in Pyjamas. The song, by Carey Blyton (nephew of Enid), was incorporated into the program’s repertoire in 1976. By the late 1980s the Bananas were being played by actors, and then in 1992 they graduated to their own TV show with teddy bears Morgan, Amy and Lulu. The Bananas have since become known around the world.

Play School has attracted many of Australia’s best actors and screen performers as hosts, including Lorraine Bayly, Benita Collings, John Hamblin, John Waters, Noni Hazlehurst, Colin Friels, Philip Quast, Simon Burke, Deborah Mailman, Rhys Muldoon, Justine Clarke, Brooke Satchwell, Georgie Parker and Eddie Perfect.

There isn’t space here to list all of the ABC’s achievements in broadcasting. Its news and current affairs programs represent the gold standard in reporting, despite the organisation’s small budgets, and the departments of drama and light entertainment have produced some of Australia’s most loved and most influential programming.

The ABC now operates with a total annual budget of $1.22 billion to cover four television stations plus the Australia Network and Radio Australia. It operates a national radio network and a network of regional and metropolitan stations, as well as youth network triple j, classical music network Classic FM, and a range of online and new media initiatives.


History of Australia in 100 Objects Toby Creswell

The History of Australia in 100 Objects is a fresh, accessible take on Australian history. It explores both well- and little-known stories through the objects of the time and the people who made and owned them.

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