Brisbane had television in 1934

Television was officially introduced in Queensland in 1959 and there had been a public demonstration of television technology in 1949 but as early as 1934 a small group of radio enthusiasts were broadcasting regular television signals from the Old Windmill on Wickham Terrace. These early experiments were led by Thomas Elliott who had been one of the first registered ham radio operators in Queensland. The signals were broadcast through the experimental radio station 4CM, owned by Brisbane radiologist, Dr. Val McDowall. In 1935 the radio station was given a license to broadcast television. The Courier-Mail reported on their efforts in 1935.

Perched in his lonely eyrie in the old observatory in Wickham Terrace, Mr. Thomas M. B. Elliott carries on his research work in television in a privately-owned station, the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth. He claims that for the last four months he has been able to transmit images through the ether fit for public exhibition, and that if sufficient encouragement were given by the authorities Australia could have high definition television now, so closely has his station kept in touch with developments in England. Almost every night he is at his post, testing his transmission apparatus, and after midnight every Friday, when the broadcasting stations have closed, he sends out his television images on the air for all who may care to pick them up. Mr. Elliott said last nlght there were about a dozen enthusiasts in and around Brisbane who received these images, about the same number in Sydney, and about the same number in Melbourne. From time to time he received letters from them, and one, who was connected with the Melbourne University, stated that he received the images in Melbourne with remarkable clarity.

Conducting experimental television broadcasting, Brisbane, ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196896

Thomas Elliott conducting experimental television broadcasting, Brisbane, ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196896

The Telegraph was reporting further experiments in September 1935, in this case of providing pictures on demand.

The listening-in public has become thoroughly familiar with request numbers on the radio, but it may come as a surprise to some to know that Brisbane televiewers now obtain pictures by request. On Saturday evening, at 7 o’clock, a party of Brisbane television enthusiasts passed in a new picture of Janet Gaynor to Mr. T. M. Elliott, at the television research station in the old observatory tower, and’ before 7.30 the party, several miles away, was “looking in” at the same picture! Surely a record for local television transmission.
The receiving set on which the picture was viewed was that of Mr. Thomas Biddle, of West End. A slight amount of static somewhat marred the reception, and the picture itself was not ideal for transmission purposes, but the vivacious Janet was easily recognisable in her new spring creation, and the party of enthusiasts were well satisfied with the “picture by request” The incident — the first of its kind in Brisbane, possibly in Australia- conjures up a vision of a not far distant future when local televiewers may “take a peep” at the old masters housed in famous art galleries in various parts of the world.

Conducting experimental broadcasting during early days of television in Brisbane, ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196894

Thomas Elliott conducting experimental broadcasting during early days of television in Brisbane, ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196894

Another successful experiment saw the broadcast of pages from the Courier-MailFrom the crossword puzzle to an illustrated advertisement he switched to the main news page with the black type and illustrations announcing the latest war news. Other news features followed, and advertisements with picture illustrations were particularly successful. Early experiments with still images were followed by the broadcast of moving pictures using a modified film projector in combination with their experimental television apparatus. They published instructions in the newspaper so that other enthusiasts could build receiving equipment they could attach to their radios.

Experiments at Wickham Terrace Observatory, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196895

Experiments at Wickham Terrace Observatory, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 196895

In 1949, with interest in television stirred up by a travelling exhibition of television technology which we looked at in an earlier blog story, the Courier-Mail published an article looking back at the earlier efforts in Brisbane. As well as looking back at those early experiments, Thomas Elliott also looked forward to the possibilities that television presented.

Reviewing the progress of television, Mr. Elliott says: ‘Television will have a great future in industry. The factory manager will be able to sit in his office and by means of switches will be able to look at any part of the plant and see work in progress. ‘In the home the housewife will be able to see the person who is at the front door. ‘This will all happen in the very near future.’ To-day, in the words of Elliott, the work of the little band of enthusiasts is ‘merely a record,’ almost forgotten. The equipment has long since been disbanded and lost.

Windmill and Craigston apartments, in Wickham Terrace ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 126293

Windmill and Craigston apartments, in Wickham Terrace ca. 1934, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Neg: 126293

You can read more about early television in Queensland in these stories.

First public demonstration of television in Brisbane

Television comes to South East Queensland (1959)

Simon Miller – Library Technician, State Library of Queensland