This is the fifth article in a 5-part series on women’s contribution to early Australian television production. For creating the series, Jeannine Baker received the 2022 Oral History Australia Media Award.
The personal collection of wildly popular daytime television personality Rosemary Eather, now at the NFSA, documents her rise to fame, her copious accomplishments, and her special bond with her audience.
Female hosts were a mainstay of daytime television from the beginnings of broadcasting in1956 and were seen as naturally suited to programs for women and children.
In 1963 Rosemary Eather was working as a Science and Geography teacher in Sydney when she was hired by TNQ7 Townsville as a presentation announcer, hostess and weather reporter.
She presented the children’s program Televille and wrote and produced the regular Televille segment The Wonderful World of Nature. Regular guests on Televille included pet shop owner Billy Duckworth; music store owner Peter Miller as clown ‘Happy Sam’; ‘Joseph’ the pet wallaby; and puppets ‘Socko’ and ‘Boppo the Birthday Boy’.
This 1964 excerpt from the only known existing footage of Televille demonstrates Rosemary’s already strong rapport with children:
Over her long career Rosemary hosted daytime programs across all 3 metropolitan networks. Most were ratings winners in their timeslot.
From 1969 she researched, scripted, produced and hosted the immensely popular breakfast program Good Morning!! on TEN10 Sydney.
Woman’s Day reported that Rosemary received between 3,000 and 4,000 fan letters a day – rising to 14,000 when she was running a contest.
'She has no regrets about leaving full-time teaching, for she believes the information she now gives on television has an impact far greater than can be achieved in schools. Rosemary gives her viewers so much information on so many topics that she resents Good Morning!! being dismissed as an inconsequential cartoon show. She said that for much of the show’s 90 minutes she is on air giving information on anything from grizzly bears to gruesome bats' – TV Times, 26 March 1969
Rosemary’s popularity earned her the 1969 Silver Logie Award for Best Female Personality in NSW.
With seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, Rosemary was also involved in numerous activities outside her television work.
By the late 1960s she was giving regular lectures on astronomy at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, science talks at Sydney Technical College, compering fashion shows, and running a weekly children’s party at Roselands shopping centre.
Rosemary’s passion for science was infectious, and Good Morning!! featured regular educational segments focusing on the natural world and space exploration.
The impending Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969 inspired her to host her program wearing a ‘space suit’ cobbled together from the TCN9 props department, complete with fishbowl helmet.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
'I am a ‘Grandmummy’ to 6 adorable grandchildren, and I certainly have had your program on every day since you commenced. As you say it isn’t possible to sit down and really watch, which I would like to do, but I open the small servery door between the kitchen (where I’m busy) and the room where the television is situated. Of course every time Shadow Stumpers come on everything here stops for that few minutes… and hope one day my letter will be drawn out of the barrel. I have 7 letters in so far. I mustn’t take up any more of your valuable time, but I did want to you know that you really seem like one of the family to me. Long may you continue to bring sunshine into so many lives.'– Letter from Mollie Crane, no date.
Rosemary’s correspondence reveals her intimate connection with her viewers. One mother wrote that the program was appreciated in households 'where young children, already cleaned and spruced up for school, can be given a chance to sit down quietly and enjoy some entertainment while Mum gets ready for work as well. Actually, you are performing a noble duty. Quite likely a lot of homes owe their early morning atmosphere of peace and quiet to your excellent control of the kids.'
One of Rosemary’s most enduring relationships was with Phillip Wilcher, who began entering competitions on Good Morning!! and attending the Saturday children’s party at Roselands when he was about 11 years old. Phillip’s brief fan letters developed into a friendship and reciprocal correspondence lasting 20 years. In this letter from July 1971 Rosemary tells Phillip that her new show At Home with Rosemary (later Rosemary’s Magazine, BTQ7) ‘is now the highest rating women’s programme in Brisbane, double the ratings (or number of viewers) of the lady on QTQ9, and triple that of the fellow on ATV0’.
While the celebrity-audience relationship is often characterised as ephemeral, this rare example of 2-way correspondence in the NFSA collection shows that television personalities can form a genuine and durable bond with their viewers.
This is the fifth part of a 5-part series, The Women Who Made Australian Television, written and curated by Dr Jeannine Baker, media historian and Honorary Fellow in the Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Wollongong.
This series was made possible with the generous support of the Media Studies Commission of FIAT/IFTA, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Seven Network, Nine Network, Network 10 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – Library Sales.
Read The Women Who Made Australian Television Part 1 – The Beginnings of Television, Part 2 – Behind the Scenes: Women Technicians, Part 3 - Calling the Shots and Part 4 - Women's and Children's Programs.
Main image: Rosemary Eather hosting an Easter-themed program on TNQ7 Townsville, ca. 1965. Title 1662343.
Thurlow, Michael. A History of Regional Commercial Television in Australia. Palgrave Macmillan, 2022.