Celebrating Michael Schildberger's career

BY HELEN TULLY

Michael Schildberger (L) on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra, with Prime Minister William McMahon (1972)

Broadcasting breaking news of the assassination of President John F Kennedy was a first for any Australian television network. The late Victorian broadcaster, journalist and author Michael Schildberger recognised early in his career the role that TV could play in reporting news and events as they unfolded, at a time when it took three to four days for the 16mm images of overseas events to arrive in Australia.

Having heard of the assassination on GTV9’s sister radio station 3AK, early Saturday morning on 23 November 1963, Michael immediately sprang into action. He had GTV9’s chief engineer open up the station, obtained still images from the The Age newspaper and by 11.00 am GTV9 was transmitting the news to its viewers. Now known as Channel 9, the station presented updates during the day.

Michael began his television career in 1958, just two years after the commencement of regular TV transmissions. During the time he was GTV9’s News Director, Michael would bring viewers many now iconic images of Australian events, including the Westgate Bridge disaster and major bushfires.

Recognising the importance of television news in recording our history the NFSA has, since 1988, has been working with television stations around Australia to collect copies of their major news bulletins and public affairs programs. There are 36 stations participating in the program from across Australia, each providing two weeks of news bulletins every year. The NFSA’s News and Current Affairs collection is unique, comprising complete bulletins, not just the edited stories. All major Australian and world events from this time have been captured. As the years pass, the collection enables researchers to examine these events in detail; together with the changing technologies, news broadcasting styles and shifts in the media landscape.

As Australian television stations move further into the digital era, the NFSA is increasingly being offered analogue news collections from the 1960s to the 1990s. These artefacts include film and videotape, as well as run down sheets, catalogues and personal scrapbooks.

The NFSA has recently acquired a collection of films, videos and scrapbooks representing Michael’s career both in front of and behind the camera. They cover the period when he was News Director for GTV9 and ATV0 and Executive Producer and host of A Current Affair, a program for which he was awarded the 1976 Logie Award for Best TV Interviewer.

Michael interviewed many of Australia’s senior politicians and prime ministers during his career. He was granted the last interview with Sir Robert Menzies before his retirement from public life and accompanied both Prime Minster William McMahon and Harold Holt on their official tours of the United States and brought Holt’s ‘All the way with LBJ’ speech about President LB Johnson to Australian audiences.

The National Film and Sound Archive joins the United Nations in celebrating World Television Day and the role that television news and current affairs plays in bringing the world and the issues of our time to our lounge rooms and hearts.