The first telecast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (later Australian Broadcasting Corporation) occurred in Sydney on 5 November 1956 in the presence of Prime Minister Robert Menzies at the ABC's temporary Gore Hill studios. The first Melbourne broadcast was transmitted two weeks later. It was not until 29 January 1958 that the ABC was able to transmit from a purpose-built and permanent television studio in Sydney.
The first ABC television stations were ABN-2 (Sydney) and ABV-2 (Melbourne). ABQ-2 Brisbane was launched in 1959, followed a year later by stations in Perth, Hobart, and Adelaide. ABC-3 Canberra was in operation in 1961. ABD-6 Darwin was finally launched in 1971, thereby completing the ABC's coverage of every state and territory.
Direct relays between Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra were established in 1961. This was a significant technological improvement allowing the ABC to coordinate simultaneous broadcasting between these major cities. Previously, for example, news bulletins had to be sent to each capital city by teleprinter, to be prepared and presented separately in each city, with filmed materials copied manually and then forwarded. Videotape technology, allowing the sharing of footage with much greater ease and speed, was installed in each state capital by 1962.
An international television service, Australia Television International, was established by the ABC in 1993. Although it was sold to the Seven Network in 1998, the service continued to show content from ABC News up until 2001 when Seven shut it down. In 2000 ABC TV joined the Corporation's radio and online divisions at its Ultimo headquarters in 2000. Two years later the ABC launched ABC Asia Pacific, a replacement for the defunct Australia Television channel. The new service similarly provides a mix of programming targeted at audiences throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
The ABC's first attempt at a digital service, the Kid's Channel, was forced to close in 2003 due to funding cuts by the Howard Government. On 7 March 2005 the Corporation launched a second digital-only service, ABC2. This new station is not dependent on government funding, but instead runs on a budget of $3 million per year. ABC2 programming was initially limited, but the restrictions were lifted in October 2006. The station can now deliver a mix of comedy, drama, national news, sport and entertainment. In line with the establishment of ABC-2 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation rebranded Australian television as ABC1 on 8 February 2008.
ABC Television Drama
1956-1969: When television first began in Australia in 1956, the ABC saw no reason to separate it from radio because management viewed the new medium as complementary to radio. The production of television drama between 1956 and 1965 therefore came under the direction of the Drama and Features Department (which also produced drama for radio). While the drama produced by the ABC during the first four years was limited to one-off plays, in 1960 it produced its first mini-series, the historical drama Stormy Petrel - previously broadcast as a radio drama b y the ABC (1959). The show's popularity with viewers was such that the ABC focused heavily on the drama series' format for the next five years. Among the series produced during this period were The Outcasts, The Patriots, The Hungry Ones, The Purple Jacaranda and My Brother Jack. The Children's Department also produced some shows, including Smugglers Beware and The Stranger.
The most significant change to the drama production occurred in 1965. This came about after Charles Moses, General Manager of the ABC since 1935, retired and was succeeded by Talbot Duckmanton in November 1964. One of Duckmanton's first decisions was to separate radio and television within the Commission, and to allow programming for both mediums to take on new directions. The Commission subsequently established a Television Drama department, while the existing Drama and Features department was limited to radio.
The first head of the Television Drama department was David Goddard, who had previously been employed as a director/producer for the BBC. Goddard arrived in Australia in 1965 to take up a position as Assistant Director for Television in the Drama and Features department. Don Story notes in the TV Eye: Classic Australian Televisionwebsite :
Many new faces turned up at the ABC during this period. Arriving at the same time as Goddard was Eric Taylor, a former BBC producer who worked with Goddard on the British series Z Cars and Maigret. In 1966 Taylor produced the first ABC... situation comedy Nice 'N' Juicy. Colin Free (q.v.), an Australian writer who had also worked for the BBC, joined the Commission at this time and would work on many projects in the years to come, including the critically-acclaimed Rush (ctd. in 'Contrabandits'entry).
Under Goddard's management drama output became more prolific. He also separated the department into three main genres: series (self-contained episodes); serials (on-going narratives); and one-off plays. Among the first productions broadcast under this new regime were the long-running TV soap Bellbird and the critically acclaimed series Contrabandits.
A co-Australian and German television series, Dance Academy revolves around Tara Webster, a young woman who has grown up on property in outback Australia all the while dreaming of becoming a dancer. When she makes it into the National Academy of Dance, Tara realises that her life is about to change forever. As the series progresses, she also comes to realise that she is not alone in this journey.
Produced by the ABC Indigenous Programs Unit, Message Stick is a half hour TV program about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lifestyles, culture and issues. It features profile stories, interviews, video clips, short films and cooking segments and provides a slot where indigenous Australians can tell their stories in their own way. The program delivers articulate, contemporary human stories from around the country and features engaging, inspirational local characters, and allows intimate access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lifestyles, perspectives and aspirations.