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ABC - lessons learnt from the 'good old days' could help

By Patricia Jenkings - posted Thursday, 14 July 2005

The ABC is constantly at crossroads, while disharmony characterises dealings with national leaders particularly over funding.

The ABC under Chairman Sir Richard Boyer (1945-61), however, provides a contrast to today’s volatile climate. This is illustrated by ABC radio becoming an important tool in a citizenship education campaign launched by Labor’s Federal Government. This was to assist the unprecedented settlement of post-war settlers from many different cultural backgrounds. Under Boyer’s direction, ABC radio contributed greatly to informing new and resident Australians about citizenship values that ensured harmony in a climate of economic and social change in post-war Australia.

In 1946, Boyer told delegates attending an ABC Radio in Education Conference that this period marked the emergence from a time in which radio had “been used by presidents and prime ministers of democracies as a major instrument of freedom, by popes and seers as a world-wide pulpit for spiritual enlightenment, and by tyrants as the most facile method yet known to man of debasing whole sections of humanity”.


Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley addressed conference delegates, praising the national broadcasting service for what he considered was its splendid work both in adult and child education. Chifley expressed concern that the world was suffering from intolerance and that people could be taught that they had responsibilities as citizens to all other citizens.

Prime Minister Chifley reiterated: “It (radio) has been used for debasement in some countries and has resulted in their complete destruction. But it has also brought to hundreds of millions entertainment and education. Its value in this regard is enormous.”

For both Chifley and Boyer, the impact of repressive regimes and the atrocities of the war brought into sharp focus the need to create more tolerant and enlightened societies. Both saw the need to address the question of tolerance through radio programming.

Boyer’s war experiences further heightened his concern over the Cold War outcome and he directed the transmission of ABC Radio in Asia, called Cold War Broadcasts. Mr G.T. Chippindall, Director General of the Postmaster-Generals Department, referred to these broadcasts in a letter to R.G. Casey, Federal Minister for External Affairs. Chippindall told Casey that he had seen Boyer and received a clear and unequivocal statement about the stage reached in giving effect to the immediate plans that Casey had in mind for Mandarin, Indonesian and Thai broadcasts.

From the late 1940s, well-structured programs were broadcast on Australian ABC radio to help new settlers attain English language skills and learn about the customs and habits of older Australians. After collaboration of ABC senior executives with Commonwealth Office of Education, Department of Immigration officials, and after much ABC in-house senior management discussion, on June 4, 1949, the first ABC program, For New Australians, went to air. The program was broadcast every Saturday at 7.05am to 7.15am and Sunday 7.45am to 8.00am over national, regional and short wave stations.

A lesson booklet, For New Australians, was produced monthly to assist the radio English instruction and was available at ABC offices nation-wide, from the Commonwealth Office of Education and State Departments of Education. Students attending an evening class or who were enrolled in a correspondence course were entitled to receive the radio booklet.


The use of the booklet grew. In 1949, 6,474 booklets were distributed and by 1951, it was 13,250 booklets. The number distributed was not an exact representation of the total number of listeners to the ABC broadcasts, as a family often shared one book. Nevertheless, the notable number of requests for the booklet indicated the rapid rise in popularity of the ABC programs.

In the early 1950s, radio broadcasts directed at educating adult migrants expanded and there was an emphasis on encouraging them to apply for Australian citizenship. The Commonwealth Office of Education sent a news bulletin to the ABC for inclusion in the For New Australians program to be broadcast on Sunday, March 26, 1950, when listeners were to be informed that a Mr George Gross of Estonia was the 100,000th migrant to arrive in Australia. The occasion was to be used to explain to migrants how they could apply for Australian citizenship.

In early 1951, a new series on absorbing non-British migrants into society, What is a Recipe for Success? was broadcast. Another program was scheduled to commence in February 1952 to deal with the settlement of migrants from a different perspective as by this time most new Australians had now been in Australia for two years and more.

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About the Author

Patricia Jenkings is a former political advisor. She has a PhD from the University of Sydney in social policy studies and education.

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