Australian Television and Memory: A Workshop

Television and Memory Project

16 October 2009

A report is available for this event

Broadly, the workshop will provide an opportunity for members of both nodes to share approaches and methodologies associated with the study of media. In doing so, it follows on from last year’s highly successful workshop on media history organised by Bridget Griffen-Foley (Media History Node).

The workshop is especially interested in starting a dialogue between media history practitioners and scholars working within the broad area of memory studies. While the field of media history has made a vital contribution to Australian cultural studies and history, there has hitherto been little engagement with the now large interdisciplinary area of memory studies. Over the last two decades memory studies has emerged as a global effort to theorise the concept of memory and its role in sustaining and challenging different cultures, histories and communities. Though memory studies remains a somewhat amorphous field, it has been readily taken up by academics within the fields of history, cultural studies and cinema studies, and has given rise to a diverse range of theoretical approaches and methodologies useful in the study of collective and popular memory. This workshop aims to fuel an interdisciplinary dialogue between media history and memory studies in the hopes of reinvigorating the study of Australian media history. To this end the workshop will explore memories of television and media, while also considering the way media is involved within a broader process of popular memory formation and contestation.

The one-day workshop will include both CRN and non-CRN members and will take place in Melbourne on the 16 October 2009. The event will take the format of a round-table workshop, of up to 20 participants. The workshop will provide an opportunity for researchers to share their work within a small, supportive group, and will also provide a forum for the discussion of the possibilities for future collaboration. The organisers plan to hold the event at the State Library of Victoria and are currently in discussion with the Library to confirm a booking.

The event will draw participants from both within and outside the CRN, and will appeal to a broad range of scholars within the fields of media & cultural studies, history and memory studies.

Call for proposals

We are interested in exploring histories of Australian television, but also aim to consider the way television, as a popular media form, contributes to broader process of cultural memory formation and contestation.  In this way, the workshop is designed to bring some of the theoretical approaches to memory developed within the areas of memory studies and history to bear on Australian media history.  

CRN participants are invited to submit brief proposals (250 words) for 20 minute papers on any aspect of the theme ‘Australian Television and Memory’.  CRN members are also encouraged to extend this invitation to relevant postgraduate students, early career researchers and interested colleagues.

Please email abstracts to Kelly Butler by 30 August.  For more information please contact the convenors, Kate Darian-Smith and Sue Turnbull.

Attendance is free.


9.15: Welcome: Sue Turnbull & Kate Darian-Smith

9.30 – 11.00am : Session One

Histories of Australian Television: Audience & Archive

Chair: Kate Darian-Smith

1. Sue Turnbull: A Gap in the Records: Television Audiences and the Construction of History

2. Alan McKee: The History of Australian Television According to YouTube on the 27 May 2009

3. Nick Herd: The experimental moment: Television in Australia; 1880-1940

11.00 – 11.30 am : Morning Tea

11.30 – 12.30pm : Session Two

TV Memories / Case Studies

Chair: Chris Healy

1. Frances Bonner: “These are a few of my favourite things”

2. Stephanie Hanson: Chasing a signal: Memories of television on the Far South Coast of NSW.

3. Helen Simondson: Creating, Curating Exhibiting and Collecting Moving Image Memories

12.45 – 2pm : Lunch

Lunch will be held in The Australian Centre, Upstairs Seminar Room, 149 Barry Street. Directions will be provided.

2 – 3.30pm : Session Three

History, Media & Collective Memory

Chair:Sue Turnbull

1. Andrew Hoskins: The Mediatization of Memory: War and Memory in a Media Age

2. Chris Healy: Television, memory and historicity

3. Kelly Butler: Witnessing Ourselves: Australian Story (1996 - ) and cultural memory

3.30 – 4.15pm : Closing Discussion

 Chair: Paula Hamilton


 A Gap in the Records: Television Audiences and the Construction of History

Sue Turnbull (La Trobe University)

S.Turnbull [at]

National television archives routinely collect all manner of material about the medium, including information about producers, performers, writers as well as copies of the programs in which they were involved. In media studies terms, the industry and text side of the television equation is usually well attended to. Less well observed is how television was actually watched or what it meant to those who were doing the watching in specific geographical and cultural locations, then or now. Within the archives, the audience is rarely visible except as an anonymous ratings statistic. With this gap in the records in mind, it is salutary to note how often claims are made about the experience of television or the impact it has had on its viewers without anything but the slightest trace to work on. In this paper I will briefly identify those places in which the television audience has appeared including the random but revealing personal anecdote (Morris), the memoirs of ‘scholar fans’ (Hills 2002) and scholarly studies of the audience in general (Ang 1985, Morley 1990) as well as the occasional oral history (Barfield 2008), before proposing how a different kind of television history might be constructed by those who lived it and what this might mean for thinking through an alternative version of television and its role. This proposition will be based on the first stage of a research project designed to gather personal memories of watching television in specific locations around Australia via an on-line forum.

The History of Australian Television According to YouTube on the 27 May 2009

Alan McKee (QUT)

a.mckee [at]

One of the key difficulties in researching the history of television programs has traditionally been the lack of institutional resources dedicated to archiving old television programs and making them available to scholars. While film has been treated comparatively well, institutional holdings of television programs have been spotty, with a bias towards ‘high culture’ genres (documentaries, current affairs and the arts). The emergence of YouTube as an online archive has the potential to alter this situation. What are the key feature of YouTube as an archive? And what are the biases of this system of archiving?

The experimental moment: Television in Australia; 1880-1940

Nick Herd ( Australia Council)

N.Herd [at]

This paper poses the question: Where to begin the history of television in Australia? Popular understanding would put that at 1956. Yet scholars have shown the discourse about television started much earlier, but how early? Was it really 1942, with the Gibson Committee report on television? In this paper I want to argue that the history we have so far constructed about the origins of television in Australia is much longer. It begins with Henry Sutton of Ballarat and his mechanical television prototype in the 1880s, but concentrates on the period between the first and second World Wars. We have lost the memory of this period in which, both private and government interests not only had great expectations for television, but also invested in experimentation with it. All of these experiments seem largely to have followed John Logie Baird's failed mechanical prototype. Baird today is still in Australia memorialised as the inventor of television, despite his failure. The paper also examines some of the factors that may have contributed to the creation of this false memory.

"These are a few of my favourite things"

Associate Professor Frances Bonner ( University of Queensland)

f.bonner [at]

This presentation uses approaches from Material Culture Studies to gain insights into the use and circulation of objects, or, in what is now a technical term, ‘things’. The particular things in question are spin-off products linked to television presenters, both in the present and the past. Their roles as technologies of attachment (to television programs as well as people), and thus in the operation of cultural memory, will be considered, as will the complications introduced by the digitised age.

Chasing a signal: Memories of television on the Far South Coast of NSW.

Stephanie Hanson (PhD Candidate, University of Wollongong)

slh38 [at]

The memories of television as experienced by many rural dwellers challenge the popular notion that the media form “came to Australia” in September 1956 then spread rapidly across the country quickly evolving into a pervasive, nation-shaping cultural force. Although by the end of that year both Sydney and Melbourne could boast two commercial stations and the ABC outside of these major capital cities access to the new technology was limited. This paper draws upon the memories of residents of the relatively isolated rural district of the Far South Coast of New South Wales, where television did not so much “arrive” as trickle into the district over a twenty-two year period. Residents’ earliest memories of television therefore centre not on specific programs but on the frustrations and thrills of chasing signals as they capriciously bounced off mountains; the efforts of retailers to make a sale under adverse conditions and the “household tricks” employed by users to mediate the effects of snowing, ghosting and veiling. Because of the sub-standard service on offer to this population group, TV has not fostered memories that are shared with others throughout the nation creating a sense of unity, rather has reinforced long-standing feelings of separation and difference.

Creating, Curating Exhibiting and Collecting Moving Image Memories

Helen Simondson ( ACMI)

Since ACMI opened its doors in 2002 the Australian Centre for the Moving Image as a moving image cultural institution has developed a slate of programs such as Digital Storytelling, Memory and Place ( MAP) and the ACMI in the regions program that is based on capturing, exhibiting and collecting moving image memories and oral histories . This year the organisation has introduced two major new offers for the public the new permanent exhibition Screen Worlds: The Story of Film, Television & Digital Culture and a new national screen culture resource centre the Australian Mediatheque which explores a wealth of Australian and international screen culture history, spanning film, television, digital culture, video art and sound materials and is delivered in partnership with the National Film and Sound Archive. The new offers go a long way to contextualise and compliment existing ACMI programs and provides the public with unprecedented access to the nation’s collection of moving image history as well as providing a dynamic distribution platform for the audio visual autobiographical and community memory works generated through the existing ACMI programs.

The Mediatization of Memory: War and Memory in a Media Age

Andrew Hoskins ( Warwick University)

Andrew.Hoskins [at]

In an age of the triumph of mobility and connectivity, in which events, mundane and exceptional, are routinely recorded by professional news and amateur media (and also the blurring of these distinctions) there is an unprecedented circulation and accumulation of media data (images and sounds). Although some attention has been paid to these trends in relation to questions of archival burdens and responsibilities, less explored is the vastly increased likelihood of transformative images emerging beyond the lifetime of the events that they depict: today’s media is increasingly constitutive of tomorrow’s memory.

This paper explores these trends and their impact in shaping the memory and forgetting boom of late modern societies of conflict, i.e. in the near-obsessive commemoration and memorialisation of past conflict, catastrophe, and warfare, and even in casting future memorial shadows from present events. In so doing, I examine the process of the ‘mediatization’ of memory, whereby advancing technologies of digital recording, storage and dissemination of events, increasingly enter into the historical trajectories of those events, and the reassessment of the nature of and the very value of remembering and forgetting subject to this process. 

Television, memory and historicity

Chris Healy ( University of Melbourne)

clhealy [at]

Academic interest in the late twentieth century ‘memory boom’ has, from the beginning, been attentive to role of various media in anxieties and polemics around remembering and forgetting. Andres Huyssen (2000), for example, observed that commentary about contemporary culture as amnesic is ‘invariably couched in a critique of the media, while it is precisely these media—from print and television to CD-ROMS and the Internet—that make ever more memory available to use day by day.’ These concerns have been productively explored through an interest in the mediation of memory in work such as Sturken (1997) on popular forms of memorialisation, Landsberg (2004) on film and experiential museums, and van Dijck (2007) on digital image making. Television has been afforded much less attention and, where it has been the focus of attention, such scholarship has been interested in history programs on television or the role of television’s mediation of ‘events’ in shaping cultural memory (Hoskin, 2001)

This essay is concerned with television’s relationship to remembering beyond what’s on the History Channel and the evening news. I begin by considering television’s memorialisation of itself, or what John Hartley (2008) describes as, ‘the closest there is to an “official” history of television’. Much of television’s ‘self-memorialisation’ celebrates television as a technology of witness and presence. This kind of television ‘claims’ that television is with us (the viewer) whenever history is made (in the sense of being present at historic moments). However it also claims, much more powerfully, that television is with us in our experience of being in history. The paper argues that television and its viewers produce what I call companion memory. The term ‘companion memory’ enables me to conceptualise a set of memorial practices in which television’s co-presence with the viewer becomes a form of historicity. Companion memory is imagined as stretching back to ‘time immemorial’; it is repeated as flow and replayed as archive; and it anticipates a future in which television will always be there.

Witnessing Ourselves: Australian Story (1996 - ) and cultural memory

Kelly Butler (PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne)

butlerkj [at]

This paper considers Australian Story within the context of the rise of contemporary cultures of witnessing and confession, and explores the power of testimony within Australian public culture. It examines the contribution of Australian Story to narratives of national identity and cultural memory, and argues that the program’s testimonial format activates a dialogic viewing process grounded in witnessing. By foregrounding the personal voice, Australian Story draws audiences to identify with and witness to the experiences of its subjects. This process of witnessing - a process of Australians witnessing ourselves - works to produce a particular national community through the affirmation of shared stories.

Though Australian Story does present a range of perspectives and experiences, its tendency to select stories centered on triumph over adversity highlights its imbrication with the iconic battler narrative. While Australian Story does not actively work to present a rigid or homogenous account of national identity, its reliance on the battler trope occludes an engagement with stories that undermine this powerful cultural script. Australian Story, then, is testament to both the diversity of Australian stories, and the enduring power of the battler narrative as the national story. It highlights the desire of Australians to connect with each other through the sharing of testimony, at the same time as it affirms the power of dominant cultural narratives to shape the kinds of stories ‘we’ tell each other.


The CRN’s Cultural Histories & Geographies and Media Histories Nodes hosted a one-day workshop on ‘Australian Television and Memory’ on Friday 16 October. The workshop served as an excellent forum for the discussion of histories of Australian television, and an opportunity to consider the way that television, as a popular media form, contributes to broader process of cultural memory formation and contestation. The day succeeded in bringing together a range of researchers from diverse fields including history, media studies, journalism studies and cultural studies, to discuss their common interests in the area of television and memory. A refereed publication will arise from the proceedings.