'TELEVISION,' said Dr Liz Jacka, opening the conference, 'in its persuasiveness and everydayness penetrates every corner--it entertains, diverts, influences, informs and educates.' Despite, or perhaps because of this, she said, little has been written on the history of Australian television, unlike Australian cinema, which has inspired an extensive body of work; television has been far more influential but much less documented. 'There is no standard history, especially one that gives weight to commercial television,' she stated.
The History of Australian Television Conference, held at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum in December last year (organized by Dr Jacka and hosted by the Powerhouse Museum in conjunction with the University of Technology, Sydney) brought together independent researchers, academics, and representatives from Australia's film and television archives and cultural bodies to discuss the future of research into Australian television; an enthusiastic and intense round table following the conference saw the establishment of the Project for Australian Television History (PATH) which plans to co-ordinate the activities of all involved in researching Australian television history.
The conference itself revolved around the central role of television in the development of an Australian culture since the 1950s, and the relationship between memory and national identity. A number of those researchers and writers who have contributed to the existing body of work on television were in attendance (including Albert Moran, Tom O'Regan, Graeme Turner, John Hartley and Liz Jacka), as well as others involved in current projects (Gay Hawkins, working with len Ang on a cultural history of SBS television; Liz Jacka and Nick Herd are developing the history of the commercial television networks, and Sue Turnbull is working with Felicity Collins on Australian screen comedy), and much of the pleasure provided by presenters was in their eloquent recall of personal memories of early television programs, and in the images and television excerpts they showed, wherever possible.
But the conference kicked off with a wide-ranging and engaging address by the Keynote Speaker, Ted Thomas, former General Manager of Amalgamated Television Services (Channel 7), whose career started in radio in 1943. His career in television, he pointed out, spanned part of television's first decade, all of its second and third, and part of the fourth, a period which saw the introduction of regional television, the third commercial city channel, license hearings, and colour, and also included a fair amount of media upheaval and ownership changes. …