ABC TV at Gore Hill in the Fifties

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Extract from the ABC’s 25th Annual Report to the Postmaster-General:

As mentioned in our Report last year, the Commission decided that its Parliamentary charter to introduce the National Television Service should be based fundamentally upon the experience and organisation of the sound service. In spite of the full appreciation by the Commission of the revolutionary character of the new medium of television, we were still convinced that our experience over the past twenty-five years in sound broadcasting had much to contribute in principle, if not in technique, to the new medium. For this reason, we have integrated the beginning of television very closely with sound broadcasting while giving full attention to the new technical requirements of the new medium.

In entering this field the Commission has had regard to experience in the older countries of Europe and the United States, which gave us some indication of the significance of television and its effect not only on sound broadcasting, but on the social and political life of the community generally. Our task, therefore, in this first year of operation of the National Television Service has been less to overcome the technical difficulties of transmission, which in themselves were great, than to seek to determine what principles should guide the policy of a National Service in this new medium.

At this stage of the life of television there can be no doubt whatever as to the significance it is bound to have in the life of our future civilisation as a new means of conveying religions, aesthetic, economic and even political values to the community, in such a manner that its operation becomes an issue of the highest importance. It would be unrealistic not to foresee the early predominance of television in the homes of our people, at least during the evening hours, and the relegation of sound broadcasting and, indeed, many other forms of communication such as individual reading, attendance at cinemas, theatres and even at public meetings, to a lesser place in our community life. It is equally clear that there are problems of education which the coming of television has brought to light and for which no fully satisfactory solution has yet been found.

On the other hand, it is the Commission’s view that, in spite of acknowledged disturbance of certain of our traditional habits of home life, of education and, indeed, of entertainment, religious activity and political influence, the new medium of television holds possibilities of much greater advance in human welfare than the difficulties of its assimilation might indicate. However, the movement in to any new phase of civilisation demands not only a liberal and adventurous attitude towards new truths and techniques, but equally an appreciation that there are hard-worn values which have come to us out of the past and which should not lightly be forgone. Indeed, it may well be said that the great task of our present age is to taker advantage of new knowledge and techniques without forfeiting the wisdom of earlier generations.

For example, it is clear that the addition of sight to sound can add much to the conveying of news and information. On the other hand, the camera can mislead and misrepresent as well as inform. Of particular moment in the Commission’s view is the proper employment of the picture in the news bulletin. The visual illustration must remain the servant and not the master of a well-balanced news service. As Sir William Haley, former Director-General of the BBC and now Editor of the London "Times" has well put it: "The most significant and important view has no visual qualities". The Commission is concerned, therefore, to ensure that its news service in television broadcasting will retain not only the integrity, but the essential balance which we have striven to achieve in sound news.

In spite of the limitations and pitfalls associated with television, it seems certain that it is opening a much wider audience than formerly to services, discussions on current problems and to political issues generally. Where press comment or controversy on sound broadcasting could command attention from only the more serious-minded of the community, the sight of television seems destined to have a profound influence on the greater participation of the community generally in current affairs, a development which should greatly strengthen the sinews of democracy.

Equally, the visual element in television holds high prospects for a wider appreciation of the people and problems of foreign countries with a consequent advance in international understanding.
These are some of the areas which the Commission hopes to develop as part of its distinctive obligation as a community service.

The full range of television’s potential service in information, as well as in entertainment, has yet to be discovered, but the present scope of available material in both fields is so wide as to indicate the great wealth of beneficent service, yet to be developed, which this medium has to offer. While as in sound broadcasting the Commission has the responsibility of conducting a comprehensive service in television, it will still be our intention to seek at each stage of its development to discover and to exploit those aspects of the medium which might most properly be thought to be the principal care of the National Service operated at public expense. In particular, it will be our endeavour to develop the work of our own artists, writers and composers in the television service to a similar degree as has been the case in sound broadcasting. It is necessary to stress, however, that for some years to come a considerable proportion of overseas material will be not only necessary to the service, but very desirable for informational and cultural reasons.


The ABC’s television service in Sydney was officially opened on 5th November, 1956, by the Rt. Hon. R. G. Menzies. Other speakers in the opening programme were the Postmaster-General, the Hon. C. W. Davidson, Senator the Hon. N. E. McKenna representing the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Richard Boyer. The Director-General of the BBC, Sir Ian Jacob, was interviewed by the Commission’s General Manager, after the opening of the service, and expressed the good wishes of the major national broadcasting organisations of the British Commonwealth represented at the Commonwealth Broadcasting Conference.

The Prime Minister about to open the television service in Sydney in one of the ABC's sound studios temporarily equipped for television

In Melbourne the service was opened on 19th November, 1956, by the Postmaster-General, the Hon. C. W. Davidson, other speakers being the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt. Hon. H. V. Evatt, the Rt. Hon. H. E. Holt representing the Prime Minister, the Vice-Chairman of the Commission, the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, and the Commission’s General Manager.

In the five months preceding the beginning of official transmissions, the recruitment and training of staff and other preparations, begun towards the end of 1954, were continued. Two television cameras had been temporarily installed in one of the Commission’s sound broadcasting studios in Sydney. These, with the mobile units in Sydney and Melbourne, were used for training courses to give the programme and technical staff practical experience, opportunities for preparing experimental programmes, and so on. In the months immediately prior to the beginning of the service, these training courses were conducted by the head of the BBC’s Training School and by a senior member of the CBC’s outside broadcast production staff, who were seconded to the ABC by those organisations to assist in the final preparations. The Royal melbourne Technical College and the Sydney Technical College also assisted in the training of technical staff by arranging short intensive courses during the latter part of 1956.

As is stated in other sections of this Report, the services in both Sydney and Melbourne began in temporary premises, with the equipment temporarily installed. Despite the difficulties imposed by this arrangement, particularly the shortage of studio accommodation, the ABC’s television programmes included, from the beginning, plays and a wide variety of other "live" studio productions, as well as "live" programmes secured outside the studios by the mobile units.

As in the case of sound broadcasting, the Commission is anxious that its television service should include as much Australian material as possible and should provide the maximum opportunities for local artists, writers and composers, In 1956-57 the application of this policy was limited by practical problems, but even in these difficult circumstances the ABC’s television service provided viewers with a broad coverage of current events and a variety of entertainment programmes presented by Australian artists in all the main artistic fields.

Arrangements were also made to secure some telerecordings of television programmes produced by major overseas organisations, particularly the BBC and CBC newsreel material on films; and other entertainment and documentary films from overseas. As many films as possible were also obtained from Australian sources, and a special series of thirteen films on the Australian outback was commissioned from a local film producer. Some of the films and telerecordings from overseas are secured on an exchange basis. Since the beginning of its own service, the ABC has thus been supplying programme material about Australia to other television organisations, an arrangement which is of considerable value in making this country better known overseas.

At the end of 1956, the ABC was the host organisation for the third Commonwealth Broadcasting Conference, the two earlier Conferences having been held in London in 1948 and 1952. The Conference began in Sydney on 7th November, 1956, and the final Plenary Session was held in Melbourne on 28th November.

Opening Plenary Session, Sydney, 7th November, 1956

The Conference was attended by delegations comprising chief executive officers and other senior members of the staffs of the national broadcasting organisations of Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia. As on previous occasions, the main purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for discussion of closer collaboration among Commonwealth broadcasting organisations; arranging exchanges of programme material and information; and of exchanging ideas on common problems.

Discussion on television occupied a considerable part of the Conference sessions and proved to be of very real value not only to those Commonwealth organisations already undertaking television services, but also to thosewhich have yet to begin such a service. Arrangements were made for the fullest possible interchange of programme material and plans for the joint production of programmes were initiated.

In the field of sound broadcsting, existing arrangements for programme exchanges , for the use of transcription services, etc., were fully discussed, and further specific plans were made for the exchange of material, including programmes for children. All organisations represented will participate in these projects. The Conference expressed the view that the development of television should not be allowed to overshadow sound broadcasting which will continue to have a very important function even when television is fully established.

The delegations exchanged information on a wide range of activities of common interest. They also reviewed and reaffirmed agreements reached at earlier Conferences concerning exchanges of staff and contractual, copyright and other legal problems were fully discussed. Developments to facilitate collaboration in the field of news, particularly eye-witness accounts of current events to supplement basic news sources, were agreed upon.

At each Commonwealth Conference, a Technical Sub-committee is established, in addition to the main Conference, and also a Sub-committee in one of the special programme fields. On this occasion the programme activity selected was Rural Broadcasting – an activity of keen interest to all the organisations represented because sound broadcasting and television are a valuable means of disseminating information on ways of increasing food production and the general output of rural industries in all Commonwealth countries.

The Technical Sub-committee covered the engineering aspects of programme exchanges in sound broadcasting and television; technical developments in television; recording and transmission in sound and television; shortwave reception, etc. There was also a valuable exchange of views on the training of technical staff.

At the end of the Conference all the delegations expressed the view that it had been most valuable and that further meetings should be held at more frequent intervals, in order to maintain close understanding and collaboration.


The XVIth Olympic Games, held in Melbourne in November-December 1956, were one of the outstanding events of the year, not only for Australia, but also for the ABC, which was called upon to provide a comprehensive coverage of the Games in its own programmes and to make arrangements for the facilities needed by visiting broadcasters.

The ABC’s television service in Melbourne had begun only three days before the Opening of the Games. A staff who were relatively inexperienced were thus called upon to cover a major event as almost their first project on the air. Their achievements in providing viewers in Melbourne with pictures of many of the main events was of a high standard, to which the assistance of one of the CBC’s senior producers, who had been seconded to the ABC to help in the training of its television staff, made an important contribution.

Telecasts of the Games were given from the Main Stadium on eleven days and one evening; from the Boxing Stadium on two days and three evenings; from the Swimming Stadium on eight days and evenings; and from the Cycling Velodrome on two evenings, while basketball was also televised on one occasion.

ABC television cameras at the main Stadium during the Olympic Games

Telerecordings of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and of many of the main events were presented in the evenings in Melbourne, for viewers not able to see the original programmes, and were also flown to Sydney for programming on the following day. The equipment needed to make these films had only just been installed in a temporary location, and the editing facilities available were very limited, but they made it possible for the maximum number of viewers to see pictures of the outstanding events after they had taken place.


Although there were delays in the completion of the earlier stages of the television studio building at Gore Hill, it is expected that the final completion date for the whole building will still be December, 1957. As the first section of the building due for completion prior to the opening of the Sydney television service was delayed, it was necessary to provide temporary facilities in an existing structure on the Gore Hill site.

Good progress is being made with the television studio building at Ripponlea, which is expected to be completed by July, 1958. Here again, however, delays in the earlier stages made it necessary to install the equipment in temporary locations in order to open the Melbourne television service early in November, 1956.


Delivery of the studio and outside broadcasts equipment for the television services in Sydney and Melbourne, which had been ordered by the Postmaster-General’s Department on the Commission’s behalf, was in progress when the year began and plans were put in hand for its installation.

Official transmissions began in Sydney on 5th November, 1956, on ABN, Channel 2, and in Melbourne on 19th November, 1956 on ABV, Channel 2. Both stations operated on the frequency of 63-70 megacycles, transmission being provided by 5Kw vision and 1Kw audio standby transmitters, radiating from temporary erected masts to give an effected radiated power of 16Kw vision and 3.2Kw sound.

When the service began, the permanent buildings were not completed and the essential equipment was installed in temporary locations. In each centre, two television cameras were provided in the small temporary studios, with associated sound and lighting, the remaining equipment temporarily installed comprising master control, two channels of 35/16mm telecine and one channel of 16mm telerecording equipment.

A mobile unit with three cameras and two UHF radio links was also available in each centre from the beginning of the service.

In Melbourne, sufficient of the building was completed to enable the master control and presentation studio equipment to be permanently installed by the end of June.

Source : Twenty-Fifth Annual report of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Year Ended June 30, 1957