Researching ABC Rockhampton TV, 1963-85: Two Decades of Regional Television Broadcasting
Cryle, Denis, Hunt, Christina, Quinn, Ross, Queensland Review
In 1963, Rockhampton was chosen by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to become its first television station in Queensland. ABC Rockhampton TV belonged to a select number of outlets that, in the days before aggregation and extensive networking, gathered and broadcast their own news and local programs to regional viewers. This article details the unearthing and preservation of records vital to this research, and uses these to document the highs and lows of the Rockhampton station. We argue that the history of ABC Rockhampton TV forms a neglected chapter in the 'getting of regional television' and the production of local content, and provides an account of the early operations of the organisation from its inception in 1963, an overview of its achievements and an explanation of the reasons for its abrupt demise in the mid-1980s. Additionally, we identify the achievements of particular programs and staff members, and acknowledge the personal tragedies that dogged the station and its community in the closing phase.
Researching the ABC
A significant literature exists documenting the history of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, most notably by eminent historian Ken Inglis, whose works This is the ABC (1983) and Whose ABC? (2006) document in substantial detail a history of the national broadcaster from its beginnings in 1932 to the present. Individual former ABC television journalists and filmmakers have also contributed to the institution's history by publishing their own memoirs. Robert Raymond's Out of the Box (1999), for instance, provides an insider's view of the development of current affairs and documentaries in Australian television, while Chris Masters' Inside Story (1992) tells of his career and experiences as arguably Australia's most significant investigative journalist. Robert Pullan's Four Corners: Twenty-Five Years (1986) and Bill Peach's (1992) This Day Tonight: How Australian Current Affairs TV Came of Age focus on the history and development of two news and current affairs programs that have become significant as foundational investigative journalism flagships for ABC television and for Australian television history.
Other significant works contribute to the historical narrative of ABC television through archival records, interviews and photographic evidence, documenting each decade from the 1950s to the present day. Tim Bowden and Wendy Borchers' 50 Years: Aunty's Jubilee Celebrating 50 Years of ABC TV (2006), Peter Luck's 50 Years of Australian Television (2005), and Nick Place and Michael Roberts' 50 Years of Television in Australia (2006) all expand on the visual historical documentation of ABC Television over the past 50 years. These contributions focus on organisational management, growth and change, corporate politics, visual presentation and personality creation through archival photographs, fact listings and chronicles of selected highlights from each decade, as well as through individual experiences and anecdotal information.
The contribution of the current authors to ABC history falls broadly within the framework of media institutions, as elaborated by Bertrand and Hughes (2005: 109-10), in examining the following issues: how the various parts of the ABC interrelated; how ABC Rockhampton related to its audience; how the organisation managed available TV technologies; how change was managed within the institution over the two decades in question; and how power was distributed across the ABC as a whole. Such a wide-ranging inquiry can best be attempted, Bertrand and Hughes suggest, in the context of regional case study operating in a specified timeframe.
Closely allied to the success of such an approach is the availability of audiovisual sources, their state of preservation and their accessibility within or indeed outside the relevant institution. For media historians, the tasks of accessing local records or informants appear similar to those of mainstream historians. …