First public demonstration of television in Brisbane

First public demonstration of television in Brisbane, 1949. Photo taken from The Telegraph, 2 August 1949

First public demonstration of television in Brisbane, 1949. Photo taken from The Telegraph, 2 August 1949

The first public demonstration of the wonders of television toured Australia during 1949. Sponsored by the Shell Company of Australia, the latest state of the art equipment had been sent to Australia from Great Britain. The equipment was valued at £25,000, which roughly translates to over $1.2 million in today’s currency. Due to the fragile and expensive cargo, the roadshow’s progress from town to town was an extremely slow affair. A 10 ton semi-trailer was required to carry the 2 ton equipment and could not travel any faster than 10 miles per hour (16km per hour).

After Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide,  it was finally Brisbane’s turn to marvel at this new technology “Television”. The first public demonstration was given at Lennon’s Hotel in the Brisbane CBD on 1 August 1949. The first two days were for invited guests only, mainly Government officials and people from the business world. The last two days were open to the general public who could purchase tickets, with the money raised going to the Brisbane Legacy War Widows’ and Orphans’ Fund. Each day there were 6 performances – 10:30am; 11:45am; 2:15pm; 4pm; 7:15pm and 8:30pm – with each show lasting 30 minutes.

The television equipment which included cameras and 24 television monitors were set up in the hotel’s ballroom. Special performers were engaged to deliver a “fast live artist variety show” in front of closed circuit cameras. The show was then transmitted to the television sets along the walls. Essentially the audience could either watch the performance live in front of the camera or the broadcast on the TV sets.

The 30 minute performance included singers, dancers, instrumentalists, a comedy routine and a golfing lesson. The team of performers gave 24 performances during the four days.

Technicians operating the camera control unit and the sound control console. Published in the Courier Mail, 1 August 1949

Technicians operating the camera control unit and the sound control console. Published in the Courier Mail, 1 August 1949

On the opening day Transport Minister Jack Duggan officially opened the demonstration and estimated 3,000 attended. One television was situated in a display window facing the footpath outside the hotel.  The appearance of this television caused excitement among passersby to the point that police had to be called to control the crowd congregating outside Lennon’s Hotel.

One of the assistant general managers of the Shell Company announced “Television is an expasion of radio in which Shell is always interested…should television become a commercial proposition, you may depend that the Shell Company will be among the first to sponsor television programs

The television sets on display were replicas of those which were currently on sale in England for approximately £38 (today roughly $1,883).  Their screens measured 8.5 inches by 6.5 inches (21.5 cms by 16.5 cms). It was reported that the picture quality on the screen was very clear with no visible flickering.

During this demonstration it was believed that the introduction of television in Australia was only a couple of years away, however TV was not introduced in New South Wales and Victoria until 1956. Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia followed in 1959 with  Tasmania in 1960, ACT in 1962 and Northern Territory in 1971.

Queensland’s first television set went on sale on 1 July 1959. QTQ (Channel 9) was the first of Brisbane’s TV stations to be launched, with the first broadcast on 16 August 1959. A few months later the ABC (ABQ) followed on 2 November 1959.

Queensland’s 10,000th TV licence was sold in Brisbane on 25 September 1959, showing that Queenslanders were keen to embrace this new technology.

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland

Further reading