A License for Television: Memories of Television in the Home

“I thought we were Kings and Queens…” – Grandad

Imagine a device that made you feel like a king. Well that’s how my Grandad (Peter Thompson) felt when he first acquired a television set from his older brother.

Wind back to the 1950’s and you have my Grandma and Grandad, just married, and living in Kurri Kurri, NSW. When the TV came to Australia, people from the town who couldn’t quite yet afford one, would flock down to the ‘Harvey Norman’ of the time, and crowd around these mystical TV’s in the shop windows. Grandad inherited his brother’s TV set after moving to Perth for work, and only had to pay off a few remaining instalments. After lodging an application for a TV license down at the local post office (yes, you had to have a license for a TV) and installing the ridiculously long antennas on the roof, my grandparents had a TV set.

Source. Vladmir Fedotov, July 15, 2009. CC License: Some rights reserved
Source. Vladmir Fedotov, July 15, 2009. CC License: Some rights reserved

It was 1956 and the first images were broadcast from Sydney and Melbourne. Because they lived 150km away from Sydney, the signal was never reliable, so Grandad, being an engineer, developed a theory. Whenever the signal would cut in and out, him and my Grandma’s brother, Ted, would climb up on the roof, and spray the antenna with water, finding that it would help them get much clearer reception (turns out there was actually no benefit of doing this, but at least they tried).

“The A-Bomb Goes Up” – The News

Source – For more historic events in South Australia, click here

The footage of the A-Bomb going off was actually welcomed by my Grandad. He shared similar views that as long as we had nuclear weapons to fight of Communism we were safe (refer to the Domino Theory through South East Asia). In hindsight, we see how irresponsible nuclear testing was in South Australia but the TV set that broadcast these images brought hope to a lot of people who had just survived the Great Depression and World War II, and were in need of some security and hope.

I am very close to my Grandparents, and some of my fondest childhood memories were spent in their loungeroom. Where the walls are covered with 50 plus years of marriage and their mantlepiece displays a family of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren they have created together. I remember Grandad making us watch one of his favourite films, ‘October Sky,’ and it was rather fascinating winding back the clock and discovering what it was like when a television set was the hot talk of the town.

So this post is dedicated to them. For feeding me countless sandwiches and biscuits whilst we sat under your watchful eyes that have seen so much change.

Grandma and Grandad
Grandma and Grandad


Further Information

Visit the National Film and Sound Archive website for similar stories regarding the first regional broadcasts of television in Australia. It is an indepth and insightful insight to the people who experiences the first broadcasts in regional Australia and broadcast stations that started up in regional centres like Orange, Bendigo and Toowoomba.

The following website looks at the 50th anniversary of NBN (the regional broadcast station for Newcastle where I grew up). It looks at how news and advertising broadcasting and production has changed throughout time.


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