Some of my earliest memories of watching television both alone and as a family were watching episodes of the classic Doctor Who, and then the reboot from 2005. Doctor Who is culturally ingrained in me; with my grandma watching it from its inception and my mum watching reruns through it’s hiatus, there was little hope for me to avoid it. I watched the reruns on an old box television at my grandma’s every afternoon after school, and even though I only half understood the why the reboot was a big deal I was EXCITED.
I approached my grandma with the question of her first memories of television. Funnily enough it wasn’t even her own particular interactions that sprung to mind, it was that of her brother, Geoff. Back when television first arrived in Australia, my grandma, Edith, and Geoff were in their 20s. They were both sharing an apartment in Sydney (although they were originally from Bega) and on a random day Geoff decided that he was going to buy a TV, but only if they could deliver it that day. They could, and when it arrived Geoff set up a bed in front of the television and watched it intently for a month.
At this time my grandma was working as a nurse at the Royal Alexandra’s Children’s ward and was on the night shifts. During the day, while Geoff was planted in front of the television screen, he would call out to her claiming to be seeing the most marvelous things that she absolutely had to get up and watch. Of course, by the time she got herself up (when she heeded his advice in the first place!) it was already over, but there was an undeniable sense of awe from these interactions with what he was seeing on the screen.
Being so worldly all of a sudden, Geoff would spurt out tales of great adventures and speak of events with such detail many assumed it was first-hand knowledge. Although, when asked when and where he had travelled, he would reply by saying “I travelled the world in cinerama!”. Upon reflecting on his statement, grandma admits that even though he was referring to the television, what he was saying didn’t technically make sense in the context of it (although he was a great cinephile too). Regardless, the quote stuck with me, much like it has stuck with her for almost 60 years.
I never met my great-uncle Geoff as he passed away much too early, and a great time before I was even born. I wonder how many more stories like this I may never know, purely because I don’t know the questions to ask. My grandma often claims she remembers nothing from when she was younger, but sometimes I’m not quite sure that is the case. I think it may simply be because I don’t know how to best prompt these memories. This conversation with my grandma was very relaxed, with her repeatedly stating I should have been asking one of my uncles who had a more definitive memory of the television. I probably should have, but it was her story I wanted to hear the most.
She offers additional stories about watching the Queen come to Australia with the kids in the hospital and admits her memory of the events could be misplaced or misdirected, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to hear them, especially given she was fundamental to my own introduction to television through Doctor Who. Memories of television are inherently the same, regardless of generation. They tell of awe and wonder at the stories told and it is still a universal medium today. I will never forget the day on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who that the three of us trudged to the local cinema to watch the special on the big screen. Three generations, fifty years, and one memory to connect it all.