Twenty-Five All Time Great Australian Television Shows
Many fine actors, including Sigrid Thornton, have come out of Crawford Productions.
'60s Style Australian Television
Out of Great Britain's Shadow
1. The ABC began its activities in the shadow of British television.
2. Commercial television in Australia had a preference for American television shows.
3. In the 1960s there was an influx of Japanese television shows that had been dubbed into English by the Americans.
4. Australian audiences came to enjoy, through police dramas and variety shows, hearing and seeing fellow Australians in action.
5. Crawford Productions was the producer of many an Australian television show from the 1960s and well into the 1980s.
6. There were Australian shows such as Mr. Squiggle that began their existence on the ABC.
7. Regulations introduced in the 1970s meant that all Australian stations had to run a certain amount of Australian content every day.
8. Overseas actors and entertainers appeared on Australian shows to hopefully give them international appeal.
9. Australian technicians and actors have been involved, off and on, with the British television show Doctor Who from the first Doctor onward.
10. Australian actors that did well in Hollywood were called upon to aid Australian television.
The 1960s in Australian Television
When it comes to television, Australia started late in 1956. The first Australian shows to go to air were mostly news reports, simple children's programs, variety shows, and light comedies. On the government station, the ABC, commentators tended to talk with a clipped English style voice.
There was a continuing feeling that the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) was really the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) uprooted and sent south from Britain. This impression persisted when it was continually noted that many British television shows that went to air in Australia began by being shown first on this channel. This remains true to this day.
American Western movies and television shows were popular. Occasionally an Australian movie would be seen such as Eureka Stockade (1949). Based on historic fact, this film was about the uprising of miners in the goldfields against unfair taxes through licences to mine. The rebelling miners lose against soldiers sent to deal with them but years later the survivors won in court.
By the 1960s crime stories had become popular. The first of the great crime shows was Homicide. Real life criminal acts were fictionalized and presented to the public.
One endearing thing about the show at the time was that people living in and around Melbourne could sometimes see the streets where they lived filmed for car chases. Homicide had an unpolished look about it that also supported the feel of realism. The streets were rough and it took tough men to bring down the crims and to see that justice was done. The actors tended to talk like regular Australians which also helped ratings. Then along came Division 4 and eventually Matlock Police.
Situation comedies produced in Australia for Australian audiences don't always work. An early success in this field was My Name's McGooley, What's Yours? It starred John Meillon, an Australian who had previously made his name as an actor in British movies. Set in a working class household in Balmain, the reason why it did so well was it happened to be down to earth Australian without any pretensions to be otherwise.
An unusual and also popular Australian sketch comedy of the period was The Mavis Branston Show starring Gordon Chater, Noeline Brown and June Salter. It sent up local politics and gave voice to local concerns. It also made fun of stuffy British accents and there were also fun moments of slapstick.
One of the highlights of the 1960s was the children's show Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Set in a national park, it was about a boy, a kangaroo, and the rangers who look after the park. Shot in color, it was not only a big hit in Australia but all over the world including Britain, Germany and the USA.
Guest stars on Skippy included Australian actors that had made a name for themselves overseas.
There was also the children's adventure series The Magic Boomerang which had a short run on the ABC.
Possibly the longest running children's show was Mr. Squiggle and Friends. It started in black and white and, for more than two decades, was popular with young children. Take a man from the moon with a pencil for a nose and a grouchy blackboard, add a hostess and a few other characters such as bulldozer and you apparently have a winner. I do admit that, as a young child, I was fascinated with Mr. Squiggle's artistic abilities. He could take a few marks on a sheet of paper and turn it into something recognizable.
One of the most popular overseas shows to grace Australian television was Doctor Who. Another favorite was the original Star Trek. There was also Lost in Space.
There's an episode of the British show The Saint called The Loving Brothers which is not only set in Australia but has an impressive cast of accompanying Australian actors.
In 1970 there was a low budget Australian attempt to cash in on the craze for outer space adventure. Starring Mike Dorsey, Phoenix Five was quite possibly the worst show ever made in Australia. It would be at least a decade after this disaster that any producer in Australia would attempt another series set in outer space or about outer space.
Other overseas shows that took off with Australian audiences include a fistful made in Japan and dubbed into English in the USA. There was Astroboy, Gigantor, Shintaro the Samurai, and Phantom Agents.
Protests against the Vietnam War Led to Australians Rethinking their Place in the World
The Radical 1970s - It's Time!
In 1972 Labor came to federal power under Gough Whitlam and, under this government, Australia pulled out of the Vietnam War. The USA would continue with the fighting until the big pull out in 1975.
Throughout Australian history conscription, or what the Americans call the draft, has never been popular. Two efforts were made during the First World War to introduce it through the ballot box and both times it was rejected by the people.
It came in during the 2nd World War because it appeared that Australia faced invasion by Japanese forces and all able bodied men were needed to defend the country. Conscription then was grudgingly accepted by the people as a necessary evil.
When it was introduced during the Vietnam War there were protests in the streets. When Labor said that it would put an end to both conscription and Australia's part in the war it was swept into office.
During the First World War the Catholic Church in Australia had won points among the people for it's opposition against conscription.
It was during the Vietnam War that Catholicism generally lost points among the young for its support of the war. People began to question all forms of Christianity in ways that Christianity has never been questioned before or since. Perhaps there were better religions and better ways to live. Also the white Australia immigration policy was coming under attack and Aborigines were protesting for more freedom in their own country.
Out of all this radicalism came a demand by the Australian public and also the Australian government for more movies and television shows that told the Australian story, past and present, from an Australian perspective.
Squeeze a Flower, a comedy movie that challenged the nature of both big business and Christianity, was made in 1970. It starred Walter Chiari and Rowena Wallace.
Wake in Fright, a horror film that rocked people's notions of what outback Australia was really like, came out in 1971. How far the fictional town was like towns in rural Australia remains debatable. It had in part American backing and was based on Australian novelist Kenneth Cook's novel by the same name.In the film a middle aged teacher from the big city finds himself stranded on an outback property thanks to booze, his own arrogance and gambling.
Walkabout, one of the first films to deal honestly with Australian Aborigines, also came out in 1971. It starred Jenny Agutter and David Gulpilil. A teenage school girl and her younger brother become stranded in the wilderness and come to rely on a young Aborigine who knows the land for their very survival. David Gulpilil went on to become a well known Australian actor.
Movies that tested the boundaries of love and sex included Alvin Purple (1973), Alvin Purple Rides Again (1974), Peterson (1974), The Devil's Playground (1976), Elisa Fraser (1976), and The Plumber (1979). With Alvin Purple and its sequels, you had an unimpressive looking man plagued by the insatiable desire for sex from every woman he comes across. A lot of guys at the time, no doubt, would have loved to of had this fellow's problem. And yes, the movies and spin-off television show were sex romp comedies.
In terms of radicalism, new shows emerged on television such as Number 96, The Box, The Aunty Jack Show, Alvin Purple, and The Naked Vicar Show. Both Number 96 and The Box are famous for their sex symbols.
The Aunty Jack Show (1972-1973) featured a fierce buccaneer of a man in a dress on a motor cycle played by Grahame Bond. The boxing gloves and the threat of ripping bloody arms off completed the picture. It was the closest thing Australia has so far come to a down under Monty Python. One episode that sticks to mind involves a skit touching upon the show going from black and white into color. We get from it the impression that swimming in color is much nicer than swimming in black and white.
The first episode of The Box featured a naked shower scene with a rather attractive woman. Unfortunately, it was first shown in Melbourne. By the time people living in New South Wales got to see it, which was the very next day, it had been cut by the censorship boys. It should also be noted that Alvin Purple, as a television show, didn't last long thanks to censorship problems.
There were also new police dramas such as Cop Shop and Prisoner. Shows such as Homicide,Division 4, and my childhood favorite Mr.Squiggle and Friends, continued.
From Cop Shows to Examination of the Past and the Present
The All Time Great Twenty-Five
Which television show do you like the best?See results without voting
The All Time Great Twenty-Five
1. Homicide (1964-1977)
This cop show was not as smooth as police dramas that followed. There was a toughness to it and also an honesty seldom matched. It was an early Crawford Production starring Gary Day, Leonard Teale and Charles Tingwell. Even though it was set in Victoria, people living in New South Wales could still appreciate it through its very Australian characters.
2. Division 4 (1969-1975)
Starring Gerard Kennedy and Chuck Faulkner, This was another Crawford Production cop show that was a great success. Set also in a fictional suburb of Melbourne, it dealt with, among other things, the fear some migrants at the time had for authority, in particular the police. It was made clear that Australia's police are not to be feared unless you have actually done something wrong.
3. Against the Wind (1978)
Starring Mary Larkin and Jon English, this mini-series dealt with Australia's colonial past and, in particular, that of New South Wales. Jon English as Jonathan Garrett arrives as a convict and, once his sentence is done, becomes a farmer. This transition happens during the rum rebellion with the result that he has a crop paid for in rum.
It is based on a true story and gave Australians in general a chance to come to terms with their convict past. It should be noted that among the convicts in this mini-series there were men who were transported from Britain in chains for political reasons rather than theft. Jon English went on to become involved in less successful television. Nowadays he is best known as a talented singer.
4. ANZACS (1985)
My grandfather had fought in the Australian light horse during the First World War. For decades there hadn't been much on television to indicate that Australians and New Zealanders had fought in this war at all. Then came this five part series on the exploits of a group of Australians, from various walks of life, who joined up in 1914 without much of an idea of what they were in for.
Among them was an Englishman. This I had to smile about since my grandfather grew up in England, came out to Queensland, Australia as a young man, became a Jackaroo, and joined up with his Aussie mates when the Great War broke out.
As shown in this series, there was military training in Australia and then in Egypt. There were battles to be won and lost at Gallipoli. Then there were the horrors of the Western Front. Starring Tony Bonner, Jon Blake, Andrew Clarke, Megan Williams and Paul Hogan. The battle scenes were well put together and the whole show was a marvelous salute to the men who came to be called ANZACS (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp).
5. All the Rivers Run
Based on a novel by Nancy Cato and starring John Waters and Sigrid Thornton, this is the fictional story of an English girl's adventures on the mighty Murray River in the days of the paddle boat steamer. This was first aired in 1983. Its success in Australia and then in the USA prompted a second series which ran in 1990.
6. Mr. Squiggle and Friends (1959-1999)
This was Australia's longest running children's television show. Throughout these years children would send in their squiggles and Mr. Squiggle would then turn them into recognizable drawings by connecting lines, dashes and circles with his pencil nose. More often than not, the drawing would appear upside down, giving his young female assistant something to do by placing it right side up.
As any Australian who was a young child in the '60s, '70s, '80s or '90s would know, Mr. Squiggle came from the moon to visit his friends on earth. He was created by Norman Hetherington and was continually shown on the ABC up until cancellation. Patricia Lovell was Miss Pat on Mr. Squiggle and Friends. Jane Fennell as Miss Jane was another assistant. There was also Miss Rebecca, Norman Hetherington's daughter.
7. Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1966-1970)
This was a children's television show that put Australia on the international map. Starring Garry Pankhurst, Ken James and LIza Goddard, it was basically about the adventures of a boy and his pet kangaroo in a fictional national park near Sydney. There are some beautiful bush settings, drama which usually involved rescuing someone, and a couple of nice salutes to the Aborigines of Australia.
Sonny, the boy played by Pankhurst, managed to get Skippy time and time again to do things that are really impossible for a kangaroo to do. This included untying knots to free someone tied up, putting messages in her pouch by herself, and taking in the mail. This kind of fantasy fooled no one but was simply accepted as being part of the show along with the noises supposedly made by Skippy to simulate talk. In reality kangaroos don't make much vocal noise at all.
I was in the cub scouts at the time the show aired and so was Sonny. Also there was an episode where the highlights of 1960s Sydney were shown and an episode that showed off Bondi.
8. Number 96 (1972-1977)
There was a fantastic newspaper ad campaign for the show just before it aired. Ultimately, Number 96 will be remembered for its infrequent sex scenes more than anything else. Set in a Sydney apartment block, this soap ran on the expectation of young men as well as the interest others had for gossip. It starred Abigail Rogan, Elizabeth Kirby and Tom Oliver.
9. Fast Forward (1989-1992)
The name of this comedy sketch show derives from the fact that by this stage people could video tape shows and, not only fast forward past the commercials but also the bits of a show they don't want to see. The stars included Jane Turner, Magda Szubanski, Marg Downey, Peter Moon, Steve Vizard and Ernie Dingo. It sent up everything from local politics to Star Trek to Thunderbirds.
10. The Aunty Jack Show (1972-1973)
Both the show and the joyous Aunty Jack song about a made creature on a Harley-Davison motorbike are well remembered by people who were university students in the '70s and '80s. Both the show and the song were also popular among surfers, especially those living in the Wollongong region of New South Wales. It starred Grahame Bond, Sandra McGregor and Gary McDonald. Wollongong the Brave, a spin-off from Aunty Jack, came out in four specials in 1975.
11. Police Rescue (1989-1996)
Starring Gary Sweet and Sonia Todd, this show dealt with a fictional New South Wales Police Rescue squad in action. The equipment used on the show was similar to the equipment real police rescue squad members use and Gary Sweet performed many of his own stunts. The show was popular not only in Australia but also in the UK, France and Germany.
12. The Flying Doctors (1986-1993)
This show was based around the real Royal Flying Doctor Service that is still in operation today. Starring Andrew McFarlane and Liz Burch, this was Australian drama at its best. The Royal Flying Doctor service came into existence in 1928 to look after people living in remote areas of Australia where the distance between property and hospital are great.
13. A Country Practice (1981-1993)
This was a JNP productions effort that ran for a considerable time. Set in Wandin Valley, a fictional country town in New South Wales, it had a set of characters that are still memorable to this day. Its main features were a small hospital, a surgery, a cop shop, farms, and a club.
There was Molly Jones (Anne Tenney) the would-be farmer and her pet pig Doris. Her husband Brendon (Shane Withington) was a male nurse at the local hospital. Then there was the local vet Vicki Dean (Penny Cook) who was forever being chased by the new doctor Simon Bowen (Grant Dodwell). The senior doctor was Terrence Eliot (Shane Porteous) who owned a small vineyard.
Shirley Dean, who became Shirley Gilroy (Lorrae Desmond), was forever being chased by Sgt Frank Gilroy (Brian Wenzel) who finally caught up with her and married her. Between romancing Shirley and catching crims, Frank grew roses. Another endearing character in the series was long suffering busybody Esme Watson played wonderfully and for all she was worth by Joyce Jacobs. Then there was plumber Bob Hatfield (Gordon Piper) who occasionally got into punch-ups with his mate Cookie (Syd Heylen).
14. Bodyline (1984)
This seven part mini-series dealt with the 1932-1933 Ashes test. It starred Gary Sweet as Australian Cricket legend Don Bradman and Hugo Weaving as Douglas Jardin, the English cricketer out to destroy Bradman.
Prior to this test Bradman had built up a reputation of being an almost unstoppable batsman. The answer to Bradman's prowess was bodyline which involved bowling directly at the batsman. This tactic was eventually banned from cricket as being too dangerous. It was also a tactic that caused problems for the English during the tour as it was seen as unfair to the batsman since little time was given to decide whether to try and hit the ball or get out of the way before being hit by it.
One Australian batsman, during the tour, was actually struck on the head by a ball and had to be taken to hospital. The English won the Ashes but lost some of the respect of Australians in the process. Jadin used bodyline in other countries with the result of causing further damage to the English image of being good sportsmen.
The Ashes remains to this day the prize to be one in cricket matches between England and Australia. It resides in a small, unimpressive funeral urn.
15. Underbelly (2008-)
This is an ongoing true crime drama series that shows little sign of losing its popularity. There was Underbelly in 2008 about gangland killings in Melbourne between 1995 and 2004. It was followed by A Tale of Two Cities(2009) which focused on the drug trade 1976 and 1987 between Sydney and Melbourne. The least well made was The Golden Mile (2010) about Sydney's King's Cross in the 1990s. It was followed by Razor (2011) that dealt with Sydney in the 1920s. Badness (2012) which was set in the then present in Sydney was a step down from Razor.Even the title is somewhat silly and off-putting. The most impressive Underbelly so far was Squizzy (2013) about a crim who terrorized Melbourne in the 1920s.
16. Seachange (1998-2000)
Starring Sigrid Thornton as Laura Gibson, this is the story about a corporate lawyer stressed out by life in the big city who ups roots and moves to the fictional locale of Pearl Bay. There she takes the position of magistrate. The people are friendly if somewhat odd. There is a mix of cultures but everyone mostly gets along with everyone else. The law is more often bent than broken. John Howard plays Bob Jelly, local businessman and dodgy land speculator. David Wenham plays Diver Dan, local philosopher. Then there's Meredith Monahan (Jill Forster) who has a powerful memory for local events and is very protective of her town.
17. Power without Glory (1976)
Based on a novel by the same name written by Frank Hardy, this 26 episode series shows the fictional rise of a gangster (John West played by Martin Vaughan) to where he controls political figures. West tries in old age to become a respectable businessman but in this he is not entirely successful. There was some controversy over how close some of the characters in the novel came to actual early 20th Century persons.
18. A Town Like Alice (1981)
In 1956 Neville Shute's novel A Town Like Alice was made into a movie starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finish. It told the story of an Australian and an English woman, made prisoners of war in Malaya by the Japanese, who fell in love with one another. The movie ends with the two lovers finding each other after the 2nd World War in outback Australia.
The three episode mini-series made in 1981, starring Helen Morse as the Englishwoman Jean Paget and Bryan Brown as the Australian Joe Harman, takes the story further than the earlier movie.
19. Carson's Law (1983-1984)
In a family dedicated to the law one person stands out. Her name is Jennifer Carson (Lorraine Bayly) and she is a solicitor. Set in 1920s Melbourne, it appears that it takes both brains and determination for a woman to involve herself in the practice of the law. One of her cases deals with an Aborigine who wishes to plead guilty for a lesser sentence even though he is innocent of the crime he is accused of committing.
20. Matlock Police (1971-1976)
Based in the semi-fictional Victorian country town of Matlock, this was an impressive police drama starring Michael Pate and Grigor Taylor. It gave a number of young people a chance to act including Sigrid Thornton. Also there were notable appearances in the show by actors such as Jack Thompson and Judy Morris.
21. Ocean Girl (1994-1997)
This was a show for junior environmentalists. Neri (Marzena Godecki) is an alien from another planet whose affinity for creatures that live in the sea as well as her swimming ability make her something special. Set in the near future, Ocean Girl questions what we are doing with our seas and oceans. Interestingly enough, there develops in the series an Egyptian connection to Neri's origins. This show not only did well in Australia but in the USA, Germany, the UK, and Canada.
22. Acropolis Now (1989-1992)
Set in a Greek cafe in Melbourne, this comedy came on tele not long after the successful stage play Wogs out of Work. Starring Nick Giannopoulos and George Kapiniaris, it was both tongue-in-cheek Greek and Australian. Effie, played by Mary Coustas, became such a popular character that she was given her own TV special, Effie.
23. The Sullivans (1976-1983)
Starring Paul Cronin and Lorraine Bayly, this series takes a fictional Australian family right through the 2nd World War. The accuracy to detail by the makers of this show is still to be admired. Highlights include when Grace Sullivan (Bayly) is killed in London during an air raid.
24. Fields of Fire (1987)
Starring Todd Boyce and Melissa Docker, this about cane cutting in Queensland prior to and during the 2nd World War. Bluey, an Englishman (Boyce), comes to Silkwood looking for work and ends up with a gang of cane cutters. The work is hard and dangerous. The cane fields are scorched to rid them of snakes and rats. Though set in Queensland, it was filmed in Ulmarra, Yamba and the Clarence River area of northern New South Wales.
25. Arthur and the Square Knights of the Round Table (1966-1968)
This was an animated Australian effort was based ever so roughly on the legend of King Arthur. John Meillon did the voice of Arthur and Lola Brooks did the voice of Guinevere. Throughout the series you have The Black Knight teaming up with the enchantress, Morgan le Fay in various efforts to overthrow King Arthur.There's a lot of clattering about in armor, some magic and a few laughs here and there.
The Eureka Stockade flag.
Women Should Dress as They Please on Australian Beaches
Racism on Television
Of late some Australian television stations have gone in for what amounts to racism against Anglo-Australians. So what are they supporting? Bully boy Muslim religious fanatics who wish to create a strict dress code on Australian beaches.
I grew up in Australia in the 1960s and it was fine with everyone for girls and women to wear bikinis on Australian beaches in summer if that is what the girls and the women wanted to do.
There are even scenes in Australian 1960s shows such as Skippy showing girls and women wearing bikinis on beaches and also along rivers in Australia's national parks. There are even scenes of girls and women wearing mini skirts. It would be a pity if, after over forty years of freedom, religious nutters new to the country should help create draconian laws that belong buried and forgotten in the Victorian age.
So-called documentaries such as Dumb, Drunk and Racist (2012) and Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl (2014) have done more damage to racial relations in Australia than anything else.
In the six part series Dumb, Dunk and Racist a group of people from India are given a tour of Australia in a very racist way.
The Cronulla riots are brought up as a shameful time in Australian history but nothing is mentioned as to what was the underlining causes of it. For example there had been vicious rapes in the Bankstown area, not far from Punchbowl, and there was the fear that such acts, perpetrated by Muslim youth, might occur at Cronulla.
According to the makers of Dumb, Drunk and Racist, it is as if Anglo-Australia decided, one day, to descend on fun loving Muslims for no apparent reason at all. No mention was made of the assaults upon local life savers by Muslim Youth. Nothing was said about Muslim youth picking on girls as young as eleven for wearing bikinis.
On the documentary there was a woman from India who obviously didn't like the look of some Australian swimwear worn by women at one of the beaches at Cronulla during her visit there. This woman wearing skimpy swimwear, however, was obviously doing no one any harm. She was just enjoying a day at the beach which was her right.
On the 4th of December 2005 there was to be a demonstration against abuses by Muslim youth that had taken place on beaches at Cronulla. What started as a peaceful demonstration got out of hand. One of the reasons for this might well have been that there was the fear that the victims of Muslim youth abuse would not be believed by the media who were firmly into political correctness.
It should be noted that the release of Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, a four part series, was delayed because of concerns about the nature of the program. Perhaps someone felt it had gone too far with its pro-Muslim and Anti-Anglo-Australian stance. It too has touched upon the Cronulla riots. This mob at least had the decency to mention the attack upon the life savers. Nothing was said about the months of intimidation of women as young as eleven for not being dressed the Muslim way.
There was lots of talk about the 4th of December being a day of shame. But who should feel shame? I put it down to the Muslim youth who played up for months and were not stopped by the authorities. THEY should be ashamed.The riots that broke out were an unfortunate result of their acts of racism. Yes, people who felt they had been mistreated or had had their girlfriends mistreated wanted to take back their beaches. Who could really blame them? It was a pity there could not have been a peaceful settlement before the violence broke out. Perhaps in the future there will be peaceful solutions.
Personally I support women wearing whatever they want to wear. I also support the brave men and women who are our live savers. Not all Muslims are bad or want to intimidate others. For those that do there are plenty of war zones in the world they can go to where their kind of insanity would be more appreciated. Live and let live is the best rule but it has to go both ways. The distortions you will find in shows such as Dumb, Drunk and Racist as well as Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl do not help. Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl claims to show diversity of views. This is far from true.
Meanwhile Legally Brown (2013) is a mostly harmless comedy take on being Muslim in Australia.
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