The coming of electricity changed a tiny village like Calliope in subtle but permanent ways, not all of them immediately apparent.
For one thing, it altered sleeping patterns, as strong light was available for as long as the switch was turned on, which could be well into the night. Consequently, many people didn’t go to bed soon after the chooks and wake up with the rooster’s call any more. Gardens that might be attended to at dawn were neglected by those who chose sedentary occupations in the evenings over active ones, and dawn came way too soon.
When we got electricity at Sunny Hills, we came to know surprising little things about our neighbours. For example, when Aunty Anne across the gully turned on her electric stove to cook her evening meal, our lights would dim, and remain so until she had finished cooking. It was the classic ‘brownout’ I used to see in India and Bangladesh at peak times much later in life, only Aunty Anne could manage it all on her own, just with one flick of the stove switch.
We hoped she wasn’t cooking a roast, or that she wasn’t late starting the oven for her evening meal, so that the brownout was mainly in daylight. All the other electrical gadgets that we eventually acquired when we discovered their convenience also slowed down dramatically in their speed and power when the under-strength transformer on the pole at Aunty Anne’s was overloaded. What was supposed to give us 240 volts must have dropped way below par at times, so I suppose we can only be grateful home computers hadn’t been invented by then.
They wouldn’t have survived the fluctuations or the lightning strikes on the wires during storms.
Anyway, Aunty Anne’s cooking wasn’t what I wanted to talk about, but what happened when she got TV.
I think TV finally came to central Queensland in 1961 or 1962, or at least that’s when Calliope could receive the signal from Rockhampton, roughly 100 kms away. There were two stations; the national public broadcaster, the ABC, and RTQ 7, the commercial one. They both closed transmission between 10 and 11 pm at night, and of course, both were in black and white mode. Australia didn’t get colour TV till the mid-70s – which, incidentally, was AFTER Bangladesh, where I first saw TV in colour.
But TVs in the early 60s, even b&w ones, were very expensive. We didn’t have cheap Asian child and (virtual) slave Asian labour in those days to do the making of and component assembly for such items, so they were made here in Australia, mainly by men on white men’s family wages. The cheapest ones cost round 130 pounds, which would translate today into about $3,000 - maybe more, in terms of purchasing power.
We couldn’t afford one, or at least, Dad reckoned, like most of Calliope family heads, that we couldn’t. In Gladstone, people brought chairs and rugs to electrical shop windows to watch programmes, but there were no electrical stores in Calliope at all. You went to Gladstone to buy such exotic items or see them in shop windows.
That didn’t stop Aunty Anne. She had been lonely since the passing of Uncle Dave, though visited very often by her daughter Elvie and her girls just across the railway line. She lashed out and bought her very own TV.
|Aunty Anne and Uncle Dave, with grand-daughters Beth and Gay.|
Uncle Dave had been gassed during fighting in France (WWI)
and this affeected his health for the rest of his life.
In no time at all, Aunty Anne discovered that everyone wanted to drop in on her and say hello – kids in the afternoons, adults at night, sometimes seven nights a week! I would run across from our place and watch whatever there was time for till dinner was ready at home. Mum and Dad and forgotten friends and relatives came to watch Perry Mason or the Black and While Minstrel Show or a movie at least once a week.
Aunty Anne quickly became the most popular person down our end of Calliope. She loved it, or said she did. She put up with it anyway. Let’s face it, she didn’t really have much choice.
I remember the first time I saw a commercial news presentation on TV. We were used to the deliberate, sonorous, unruffled BBC-style of news presentation, whether TV or radio, that came on the ABC. The style on Channel 7 that I saw on Aunty Anne’s TV for the first time was loud, dramatic and spectacular by our standards. I was entirely unprepared for it.
I thought the world was coming to an end, the way they were talking. I came rushing home on one occasion in huge excitement and said, ‘The Russians – they’re going to bomb America from Cuba!’ - and this was well before the real Cuban missile crisis.
‘Are they now?' said Mum, disappointingly unmoved by the impending end of civilisation as we knew it. ‘I doubt it.’
‘But it was ON THE CHANNEL 7 NEWS!’ I said. What was on the news in my admittedly limited experience, mainly ABC, was always gospel truth. So far in life it had been, as far as I could see (which was to the top of the hill in our back paddock).
It didn’t happen. Astoundingly, Mum was right and the Channel 7 reporter was wrong. That troubled me a bit, but it took that other incident years later for the scales to fall off my eyes about how commercial network news was reported.
Anyway, families in Calliope one by one bought TVs, and Aunty Anne’s friends drifted away. WE finally got TV, and that was incredibly exciting.
Aunty Anne always said how sorry she was that her popularity had faded, but in truth, I am sure she was happy to get her nights back to herself, to make a cup of tea just for herself, and turn the damn thing off and go to bed exactly when she felt like it.
Our local repairman of radios, then tvs, Tom Flood, had a little electrical goods shop in Kingscliff's small main street. That's where many of the kids (and a few adults) would go in the evenings to watch the amazing new television!!! Sitting on the footpath looking in the window with a little gaggle of townsfolk (but not our parents), my girl cousin and I were there, about 9 years old, in our pyjamas. Imagine that happening these days! And we weren't kidnapped by paedophiles, sold drugs, or otherwise 'rooned' as kids these days would surely be, according to popular belief. It was good! We had adventures! And the only harm in the daily escapades was possible sunburn or cut feet - after dark we did have to watch out for the sandmining trucks tearing down the hill. But you knew they were coming. The whole ground shook and they were lit up like circuses.ReplyDelete