Rural Bank Radio
The history of radio in Australia is predominantly a metropolitan story with most of the first radio stations in capital cities. Wireless, championed as a means of ‘annihilating distance’, brought news and entertainment from the city to the country – with little suggestion of traffic the other way. Early talks for ‘the man on the land’, provided by state agricultural departments, were the only hint that geography might play a part in radio output.
This was the context in which I stumbled across a cache of early recordings at the NFSA: an extraordinary assortment of dramatised radio programs produced from 1939. Finding any recordings from this period is exciting, but these were distinctive in putting regional interest uppermost and suggested a new episode in the story of broadcasting in Australia.
The material was already catalogued but had been overlooked in previous radio histories, arguably because it was broadcast on commercial radio whose early years are poorly archived. The recordings immediately raised questions: who made them, how do they sound and what was their impact?
The answer to the first question was easy, if intriguing: the programs were funded and produced by the Rural Bank of NSW, established by the state government in 1933. The bank’s involvement with radio extended over 15 years, resulting in extensive series with writers and actors as well as farmers and agriculturalists.
The Grand Parade
The earliest series in the NFSA collection is Grand Parade, broadcast weekly from January to December 1939. Each episode narrated the development of a country town in NSW – from Armidale to Temora, Bathurst to Bega – interspersed with dramatised scenes of explorers and founding families.
The opening announcement of this episode linked the series to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, an annual event that still brings many NSW rural communities together to celebrate their achievements: