From the Archives: Tom Elliott and Early Television in Queensland

From the Archives: Tom Elliott and Early Television in Queensland

Tom Elliot conducting TV experiments at the Observatory Tower, Wickham Terrace, 1937

While television broadcasting officially commenced in Queensland in 1959, Queenslanders first started experimenting with television broadcasting technology in the 1930s. Thomas Elliot was part of a group of dedicated amateur radio operators, who, in 1934, began broadcasting television signals from the Old Windmill in Brisbane’s Wickham Terrace. Elliott was an established technological pioneer, having previously been one of the first people in Queensland to register as a ham (amateur) radio operator.

The group performed demonstrations for politicians and journalists and successfully broadcast Australia’s first test transmission, which was received in ‘a cottage on the outskirts of Ipswich’. The group used the experimental radio station 4CM, which belonged to the radiologist Dr. Val McDowall. In 1935, they obtained a license permitting them to broadcast television. At the time, 4CM was the only station in Australia capable of television broadcasting. Initially, the group experimented with broadcasting still images including a picture of the American actress Janet Gaynor and pages from the Courier-Mail.

They progressed to experiments with moving images, broadcasting animated films. To widen participation, they released instructions outlining how to build receiving equipment. At its height, the group’s broadcasts were being received by roughly three-dozen people, who The Telegraph referred to as ‘televiewers’. Buoyed by this success, one commentator, quoted in a 1935 edition of The Courier-Mail, declared that ‘Australia can have television here and now if the authorities are willing to cooperate…An efficient system of low definition television could be put on the air almost immediately’.

These early experiments were brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of the Second World War. By the time the war ended, their time had passed, with television broadcasting coming to be regarded as largely a professional matter.

Gordon Donaldson, Tom Elliott, Ron Carter, and Peter Gorrie, early television researchers, Brisbane

See:

  1. “Newspaper in Television Test: Success of Brisbane Transmission.” The Courier-Mail, 10th October 1935 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/35923566).
  2. “Television Here and Now: Experiments in Brisbane: Close-Up Picture.” The Courier-Mail, 28th March 1935 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/35860209).
  3. Elizabeth Anne Davies. “Film, Television and the Urban Experience: A Case Study of Brisbane.” PhD diss. Griffith University, 2009 (https://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file/f878c698-13ba-0c72-2e00-e8862d775259/1/Davies_2010_02Thesis.pdf).
  4. Harvey. “Claim of Queensland’s “Backroom Boys”: “We Had Television Fifteen Years Ago.” The Courier-Mail, 9th April 1949 (https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/49687701).
  5. Ipswich City Council. “When Television Came to Ipswich.” Ipswich City Council Planning and Development Update, 17th March 2014: 11 – 13 (https://www.ipswichplanning.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/11310/PDU-Edition-17.pdf).
  6. Simon Miller. “Brisbane Had Television in 1934.” State Library Blogs: John Oxley Library, 20th March 2019 (http://blogs.slq.qld.gov.au/jol/2019/03/20/brisbane-had-television-in-1934/).