The Sunday program first aired on 15 November 1981 on the Nine Network. It had an almost 27-year run, finishing on 3 August 2008.
For World Television Day 2021, senior video preservation specialist, and stalwart Sunday fan, Richard Vorobieff pays homage to the program 40 years on.
Good morning, I'm Jim Waley. This is Sunday. Today is a first, not only for this network, but for Australian television. It's the start of a new program, with a fresh emphasis on what's happening here at home and around the world. Sunday is a mixture of news, current affairs and features. The arts, human interest stories, business, and of course politics. Being Sunday, we have more time to develop our reports, time too for special guests in the studio.
Sunday was unlike anything seen in Australia television at the time (or since). It was a mix of shows: the political interviews were like Meet the Press, the cover stories were much like Four Corners, while the arts were covered by way of profiles, performances, interviews and Peter Thompson’s film reviews.
Over its 26-plus years, it was hosted by 6 presenters – including Waley, Jana Wendt, Ellen Fanning, Ray Martin and Ross Greenwood – but it was Waley who had the longest stint, from 1981 to 2002.
When he was interviewed on Sunday's 20th anniversary special in 2001, Jim Waley said:
One wit jested that Sunday was created for 4 reasons. One, to give Kerry Packer something to watch on Sunday mornings. Two, to have politicians walking the corridors of Channel Nine. Three, to get the Monday morning headlines. And fourthly to amortise the wok – that great big satellite dish in our backyard. Which of course we now take for granted.
To start each show was the Week in Review, a round-up of the week’s news both at home and abroad. These weren’t simply summaries; they cast a wry and critical eye over the week that was. The example below was recorded the day after Neville Wran's shock announcement that he was standing down as NSW Premier in 1986:
The Week in Review was followed by a panel interview with a politician or public figure. For the first few years Sam Lipski, Alan Reid and Max Walsh (among others) would collectively interview guests. Laurie Oakes joined later and mostly interviewed guests by himself.
Taking the magazine format literally was the Cover Story, an in-depth investigation or profile that was the heart of the episode. Many print and television journalists joined Sunday during its span to do Cover Stories. Among them were Wendy Bacon, Jennifer Byrne, Ross Coulthart, Helen Dalley, Graham Davis, Sarah Ferguson, Paul Lockyer, Justin Murphy, Andrew Olle, Janine Perrett, Paul Ransley and Charles Wooley, to name a few.
The first Cover Story was the American ‘Doomsday Report’ on mutually assured destruction. It was followed by Andrew Olle’s ‘Diet Unto Death’, about eating disorders.
Cover Stories took the Sunday team throughout the world to sites of conflict such as Bougainville, Croatia, Irian Jaya, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea. The team took to the campaign trail during federal election campaigns. They looked at corporate misdeeds and social injustice like Aboriginal deaths in custody, and historical tragedies like the Sandakan Death Marches. They also investigated medical misdeeds, Melbourne’s gangland killings and travelled the world in search of Saddam Hussein’s missing billions.
This memorable Cover Story from Jennifer Byrne uses a fascinating mix of comedy, sporting metaphors and serious political reportage to explore attitudes towards Hawke and Keating's proposed consumption tax in 1985. It could have been a dry piece, but instead it's both entertaining and informative. It is hard to imagine a story like this on Australian television today:
For film buffs, Peter Thompson ran a critical eye over the movies of the day. He reviewed the latest blockbusters of the era, whether international or Australian, as well as limited releases. He reported on the state of the film industry and took viewers behind the scenes of many a feature, talking to actors and directors.
In this clip from 1982 he visits the National Film Archive (the NFSA’s predecessor) to talk about preserving Australia’s nitrate film history:
Stories about the arts and culture were mostly reported on by actor and artist Max Cullen, with producer Catherine Hunter. Cullen’s relaxed style and familiarity with his subjects make his stories easily relatable, especially to an audience who may know little about the performing or creative arts. He interviewed artists like Rosalie Gascoigne, Jeffrey Smart and the associates of Brett Whiteley.
In this memorable story, introduced by then-host Jana Wendt, we examine the life and work of acclaimed Australian painter Margaret Olley:
Finally, Sunday would play host to many musicians over its life often ending the episode with a performance. Genre was no limitation to the series, and Sunday covered everything from trad jazz to country music, up-and-coming youth performers to an array of international acts. Sunday regularly rolled the Steinway into the studio.
Here, John Williamson and Mike McClellan sing the Aussie classic 'Home Among the Gum Trees':
Sunday’s last episode aired on 3 August 2008, some 3 months shy of its 27th birthday. Jim Waley returned to join host Ellen Fanning in sending the show off. As Ellen said, 'but, let us keep this in perspective, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of Sunday, so from Jim Waley and myself – goodbye and good luck'.
Richard Vorobieff (pictured right) became a fan of the show through his work at Nine's archives from 2010 to 2016.
Being only 19 years old at the time, he confesses that all he remembered of Sunday was the trumpet solo in the theme tune, host Jim Waley, long political interviews and the set.
But upon watching an array of episodes from its very beginning to its end he realised it was 'the most substantial television series made by any Australian commercial or public broadcaster'.
He joined the NFSA in 2016 and works in video preservation, where he gets to watch countless hours of at-risk magnetic tape while preserving them for generations to come.
Main image: Jim Waley on the set of Sunday, 1984. Courtesy Nine Network. NFSA title: 793265
Jim Waley image with quote: Courtesy Nine Network. NFSA title: 1495732.