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Nothing on TV is a podcast that ransacks Trove Newspapers, the National Library of Australia’s
online repository of digitised historical newsprint, to present stories from an era when there was
– literally – nothing on TV.

I’ve been writing about Australian history for nearly 30 years, and newspapers have always been a
mainstay of my research. Scouring 19th-century papers, I’ve often been struck by accounts of
immense crowds turning out to witness the merest public spectacle – say, the laying of a foundation
stone for a public building. Thousands, even tens of thousands.

And why? For the same reason you’d have found a pub on every corner: there was nothing on TV.
But there was plenty in the papers. And, thanks to Trove, there still is.

As of August 2018, with Season 1 (seven episodes) in the can, Nothing on TV is on hiatus. I’ll be back
with new episodes early in 2019. Subscribe to Nothing on TV and you’ll be among the first to know when
Season 2 kicks off. In the meantime, if you come across something intriguing on Trove, feel free to drop me
a line via Mrs Bradley. And remember Mrs B’s motto –

Buried Treasure

Wherein we entertain tales of treasure and avarice.

Men Dig in Richmond Yard And Carry Away – What?
(the question-mark, perhaps)
Sun News-Pictorial, 27 March 1936, p. 4 (copied from microfilm at State Library Victoria)

Children Spy on Mysterious Digging Operations (News (Adelaide), 30 March 1936, p. 3)

One of the Spanish Prisoner letters found by historian Robert Whitaker in the
British National Archives. Purportedly written by one Luis Ramos, it was received
in 1905 to Paul Webb, a London shopkeeper.
Take a closer look and read Whitaker’s article, Proto-Spam: Spanish Prisoners and Confidence Games,
and see more examples here, from the archives of Plymouth Libraries.

Warning issued by the Spanish Government in 1908
– National Archives (UK): HO 45-10500-120541

The hunt at Queenscliff for Benito Benita’s treasure – if only it were that easy.
(Herald, 24 March 1954, p. 3). Read the full account here

Mr Don Nicholson with his favourite spade (Herald, 8 April 1954, p. 12)
See more photos of his treasure-digging venture here

Three Women Dig for Treasure Charter – Lillian Nicholson and her sisters
continue the search (Herald, 20 December 1954, p. 5) See it on the page here

Got the treasure bug? Find links to stories about the fabulous
Wiberg’s Gold here and also here

Agnes & Geraldine – Season 2: ep. 1

Wherein we drill down on a fin-de-siècle folly.

Welcome to Season Two of Nothing on TV. Here’s how it begins…

Herald (Melbourne), 19 February 1887, p. 2, col. 7
Read the article in situ here

Argus (Melbourne), 3 February 1882, p. 8, col. 5
Could the ‘Miss Symonds’ teaching swimming at Captain Kenney’s
ladies’ baths have been our Miss Simmons, lately transplanted from Blueskin Bay, NZ?
Dive into the aquatic adverts here

Whither Miss Simmons? Might she be among this circa-1880s deputation
of Victorian suffragists?
Photo courtesy Victorian Women’s Trust

Oakleigh Leader, 20 August 1892, p. 8, col. 5
Or take a look for yourself here

The Red Bluff coal mine, 1895. ‘Helena’ the steam engine lived in the shed
to the fore of the poppet-head.
from John Butler Cooper’s The History of St Kilda, vol. 1, 1931

Argus (Melbourne), 16 December 1895, p. 5, col. 2
Read the full report, revealing the Misses Simmons and Minet’s part in the
venture, here

And finally, be sure to take a look at Papers Past , the National Library of New Zealand‘s
fabulous digital repository of historical newsprint and more.

The Suburban Ghost – ep. 7 (season finale)

Wherein we encounter a ‘phosphorescent charmer’ in fin de siècle Melbourne .

Herald (Melbourne), 8 August 1892, p. 2, col. 8
See it on the page, here.

Did you know that The day the ghost walks is slang for pay-day? Originally theatrical slang,
it supposedly originated among the cast of an early production of Hamlet. Much later, it would
come into more general use, though mainly in the US.

And speaking of the theatre, Melbourne’s suburban ghost went on to share a bill with a
lady contortionist in a ‘screamingly funny farce’ –

Argus (Melbourne), 5 August 1895, p. 8, col. 7

Like to know more about the legend of Spring-heeled Jack, the (not-quite) original
suburban ghost? For a brief run-down, take a look at the Atlas Obscura entry – chances are
you’ll find plenty more at Atlas Obscura to snag your interest. Or for the (obsessively) full story
(on an orange background, no less), immerse yourself in The Complete Spring Heeled Jack Page
– just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Spring-Heeled Jack, The Terror of London No. 1.
From the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
This ‘penny dreadful’ series ran to at least 36 issues. See more of the covers here.

Cover of Spring-Heeled Jack, a 1991 graphic novel for kids by Phillip Pullman, who would go on to write
the acclaimed ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy for young adults. And speaking of daemons

Universal Spectator (London), 7 October 1732

This is the earliest mention I’ve been able to find of ‘suburban ghosts’.
The suggestion here seems to be that such ghosts are ‘raised’ (i.e., invented) by
‘petty Printers and Pamphleteers’ in order to sell more papers – a suggestion
echoed in a regional Australian newspaper 173 years later:

Dubbo Liberal & Macquarie Advocate (NSW), 10 June 1905, p. 6, col. 4

The Hatpin Menace – ep. 6

Wherein we consider the point of hatpins.

Argus (Melbourne), 9 August 1911, p. 14, col. 4
Or read the whole page here

A comic postcard from 1907.
I found it at http://whatsinthetrench.weebly.com/blog/archives/09-2016

Here’s some hats, at the opening of the new nurses’ quarter, Queen Victoria
Hospital, Melbourne – from the Weekly Times,  15 April 1911, p. 27
Take a look here at other photos from this terrific illustrated newspaper.

The World’s News (Sydney), 11 May 1907, p. 1
Read the story here.

‘Here’s something for you!’ The hatpin in self-defence.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

How to Make Hatpins Useful
Evening News (Sydney), 16 March 1907, p. 10
Click here to see it on the page.

A head like a Sputnik
Evening News (Sydney), 23 May 1912, p. 11
See it here among other ads of the day

Townsville Daily Bulletin, 17 October 1912, p. 2
See all the Townsville news here

Deadwood Dick & the Picture Show Panic – ep. 5

Wherein we learn who to blame for the perennial naughtiness of boys.

Argus (Melbourne), 10 November 1914, p. 8, col. 2
Read it in full here

Titles in the Deadwood Dick Library – ‘Issued Every Wednesday. Price 5 cents’
From the ‘Nickels and Dimes’ collection of Northern Illinois University Libraries
– click here to access the whole collection.

Here we see Deadwood Dick’s distinctive ‘vail’, ‘through the eye-holes of which
there gleamed a pair of orbs of piercing intensity’.
This cover features in Haverford College (Pennsylvania) Library’s online exhibition,
The Second Generation: Boy Heroes in American Dime Novels, 1860-1910.
View the whole thing here

Here we have Dick from a later series, wearing a modified mask more fitting for a superhero.
(From the ‘Nickels and Dimes’ collection of Northern Illinois University Libraries)
Click here to view the whole book

Wild Edna, the Girl Brigand
(from the ‘Nickels and Dimes’ collection of Northern Illinois University Libraries)
Click here to view the whole book

Le vue splendide de le châlet Kosciusco tray bang!
[ersatz French for tres bien]
Un audience patrètique [patriotique]
‘Why should scenic pictures be picked out as specially suitable, unless dullness is presupposed as
necessarily just the thing for Sunday evening? Can the Acting-Chief Secretary seriously hold that
a picture of Kosciusko or Katoomba or Mullengudgerie or Stockinbingal encourages a devotional
frame of mind?’
The World’s News (Sydney) on the restricting of Sunday picture shows – 10 June 1911, p. 15, col. 3
Read the whole article for yourself here

What’s on in Gympie – Gympie Times (Qld), 3 January 1911, p. 2
View the whole page here

A typical picture-show program from 1911 – Age (Melbourne), 3 January 1911, p. 10, col. 6
Read it up close here, along with adverts for other picture shows, and for the vaudeville shows
and waxworks that were on the brink of redundancy.

Click here for an entire page of moving picture previews and gossip from the Sunday Times (Sydney) in 1914.

Champagne & Anarchy – ep. 4

Wherein we have our cockles warmed by Lord Hopetoun’s liquid largesse, as dispensed by an anarchist on the mean streets of Melbourne in 1902.

Argus (Melbourne), 26 June 1902, p. 5, column 3
Read the whole of the report, plus all that day’s news (including the king’s illness) here.

Critic (Adelaide), 5 January 1901, p. 3                                Australasian, 12 January 1901, p. 29
(Left) An official 1901 portrait of the G-G. Note the stamp, defective original, at the foot of the page. This
seems to refer to the newspaper, not Lord Hopetoun – notwithstanding views expressed in the Barrier Miner.
(Right) His Excellency’s safari pants and yoga pose strike an informal note, compared with Prime Minister
Edmund Barton’s dress-suit, in a photo taken following the swearing-in of Australia’s first federal cabinet.

The crowd in Argyle Place, Carlton, on the morning of Wednesday, 25 June 1902.

‘Mr Fleming hands out the first bottle of Lord Hopetoun’s gift (25 dozen champagne)’
To qualify for a bottle, you had to have a ’tache. Note that the bottle is still packed for shipping
in a protective coating of… could they be grapevine cuttings?

A queue (possibly those troublesome Smiths) outside the bootshop.
One of Chummy Fleming’s confederates (left) shouts the next name on the list.

The above three photos come from the Australasian, 5 July 1902, p. 28
Take a closer look here – you’ll notice that, at the bottom left-hand corner of the page, a photo of the
bacchanal at the beer barrels has been partly torn out of the copy of the Australasian that was digitised.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 27 September 1947, p. 25
J.W. (Chummy) Fleming, still waving the flag at Melbourne’s Yarra Bank speakers’ corner in 1947, three years before his death.

And here is that flag – now in the Realia Collection of the State Library of Victoria (Accession no: H89.109/2)

Have you seen my poncho cloak? – ep. 3

Wherein we plunder drapers’ shops, cloakrooms, and the Lost & Found column in search of the poncho cloak and its shoddy brethren.

Argus (Melbourne), 23 June 1855, p. 1, column 6
Or take a look here at what else was lost and found that day

The full poncho range of Benjamin Lazarus & Co., Sydney drapers
Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1855, p. 8, column 6
Click here to compare Lazarus’s stock with that of his competitors,
or here to read what his persuasive rival, Mr Marks, had to offer

Argus (Melbourne), 16 July 1855, p. 6, columns 6 & 7
Read click here to follow the fall-out of the cloakroom cock-up at the Patriotic Fund Ball

Or, for a different perspective…

I’ve searched in vain for an image of a contemporary poncho cloak
(an Inverness cape just doesn’t cut it), so you’ll have to make do with this –

Australian Women’s Weekly, 16 June 1971,
‘Knits for Action’ supplement, p. 14

Yeah! That’s how we did things in the ’70s. Well, actually… this is how we did things –

(cut out of an actual newspaper – source forgotten!)


The Marble Man – ep. 2 (part 1)

Wherein we trace the curious career and prehistory of a ‘petrified man’ dug out of a New South Wales marble quarry.

See post for The Marble Man part 2 for further reading and links for this two-part episode.

The Marble Man – ep. 2 (part 2)

Wherein we continue to trace the curious career and prehistory of a ‘petrified man’ dug out of a New South Wales marble quarry.

Further reading and links for this episode:

Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 21 May 1889, p. 2, columns 4-5
Read the full article in situ and see what else was happening in district news that week.

from The Legend of the Petrified or Marble Man by Harry Stockdale, F. Cunninghame & Co., Sydney, 1889
Read the book online

The Cardiff Giant, on display at the Bastable in Syracuse, NY, circa 1869
(New York State Historical Association Library)

The petrified Finn McCool, the Causeway Giant
from The Strand Magazine (London), vol. X, July to December 1895, p. 646 (digitised by archive.org)
See that photo in situ, featured in the fascinating article, ‘The Lost Property Office’

And finally – click here to view images of Pompeii bodies, cast in plaster

Enter the Elephant – ep. 1

Wherein we chart the declining fortunes of a performing elephant in goldrush-era Victoria.

Further reading and links for this episode:

Age (Melbourne), 7 November 1854, p. 5 – or read it in situ (look at the top of column 5),
to see what else was happening in the news that day.

Argus (Melbourne), 16 October 1854, p. 8 – or read it in situ (column 5),
to discover what else was on in Melbourne that week.

Click here to read an article looking back at the Cremorne Gardens of the 1850s & ’60s,
from the Melbourne Argus, 8 April 1933, p. 6

© Robyn Annear | site by Greengraphics