In this clip, Tim Bowden talks about the influential and groundbreaking early ABC current affairs program, This Day Tonight (1967–78). He describes it as cheeky and irreverent but also hard-hitting and – controversially – satirical.
Arriving even earlier was the ABC's Four Corners (1961–current), which first went to air on a Saturday night at 8.30pm on 19 August 1961. The program was presented by Michael Charlton and was the first of 17 episodes to be presented live.
The first item was an interview with an American astronaut, Scott Carpenter. Next followed a story about the end of the Second World War and the anniversary of the Japanese surrender in 1945. Interviews with musician Larry Adler and swimmer Jon Konrads concluded the program.
Several weeks later, Four Corners producer Bob Raymond and Michael Charlton took cameras to an area that few white Australians had ever seen – Box Ridge Aboriginal reserve near Casino in northern New South Wales. An elderly man living on the reserve made the observation that they weren't living in a democracy: 'An Aboriginal kiddie born here is not a citizen of Australia', he said.
The program delivered a powerful political punch. The NSW Government discussed it at a specially convened Cabinet meeting two days after the program aired.
Four Corners has been part of the national story ever since: exposing scandals, triggering inquiries, inspiring debates, confronting taboos and interpreting fads, trends and subcultures.
One of the most memorable Four Corners programs was 'The Moonlight State', broadcast on 11 May 1987, which included footage of illegal booze joints, prostitution and gambling dens in Queensland, the existence of which had long been denied by Queensland's conservative government under Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. The subsequent inquiry saw senior police officers go to gaol and the government voted out.
Tim Bowden is a broadcaster, radio and television documentary maker, oral historian and author.
Image: Reporter Bob Sanders on the streets of Sydney for the first episode of Four Corners, which aired on the ABC on Saturday 19 August 1961.