Australian Children’s Television Cultures report finds home-grown kids TV has helped shape what it means to be Australian for decades

What are your earliest memories of children’s television in Australia?

Is it Play School in black-and-white? The zany tales of Round the Twist? Or maybe it’s dancing along to Hi-5 after school?

Australian Children’s Television Cultures (ACTF) has released a new report revealing the TV shows we loved and learned from the most as kids — and how they shaped each generation’s determination of what being Australian is.

Noni Hazlehurst was a Play School presenter for more than 20 years.

Lead researcher Dr Joanna McIntyre says the key ingredients of the most-loved Australian kids tv shows are relatability, humour and a good strong dose of absolutely bizarre.

“It’s this mix of quirky and surreal elements with relatable Aussie life,” she says.

“People, again and again, in different ways, identified this kind of gritty, sometimes a little bit crude, really down-to-earth Aussie sense of humour.

“Across the board, there seems to be some kind of beautiful inner essence to Aussie kids’ TV that is memorable.”

Old-school photo of The Ferals.

The most memorable and loved Australian children’s shows, like The Ferals, were found to have combined the “ordinary” with the “strange”(ABC News)

Top 10 favourite Aussie kids’ TV shows

  • Round the Twist (1990-2001)
  • Play School (1966 – current)
  • Mr Squiggle (1959-1999)
  • Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1968 – 1970)
  • Blinky Bill (1993 – 2004)
  • The Ferals (1994 – 1995)
  • Lift Off! (1992 – 1995)
  • Ship to Shore (1993 – 1994)
  • Bananas in Pyjamas (1992 – 2001)
  • The Genie from Down Under (1996 – 1998)

As found by the Australian Children’s Television Cultures research group

The report was supported by the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF), which has helped put shows like Dance Academy, Lockie Leonard, Noah & Saskia and Round the Twist on our screens (to name just a few).

ACTF chief executive Jenny Buckland says the most effective children’s television respects kids as the primary audience, while recognising that not all children and families are the same.

“The shows we see on TV as children are like a first window to the world beyond our immediate family and neighbourhood,” she says.

“When children experience recognition and affirmation through characters and stories that they recognise, it helps them imagine all the possibilities for someone like them.

“But they can also introduce children to different ways to be Australian and encourage them to walk in someone else’s shoes.”

The Bananas in Pyjamas - B1 and B2.

The Bananas in Pyjamas theme song is now stuck in your head. You’re welcome.(Copyright ABC)

A decade of ‘perfect conditions’ for kids’ TV gold

Nine of the ten most-loved shows as identified in the survey ran in the 1990s.

Some bridged over earlier and later decades, but all were present during what researchers say was the era of “perfect conditions for cultivating a generation’s long-term love of Australian children’s television”.

“Analysis of this project’s data revealed it was collected during a particularly opportune period to investigate long-term impacts of Australian children’s television – especially regarding research participants aged 31–40,” the report found.

“This group of participants (born 1981–1990) were especially well placed to illuminate the lasting influence of Australian children’s content and associated nostalgic screen practices.”

a still from a scene in the TV show lift off showing two little girls and a puppet with no face

Lift Off! combined live action, animation and puppetry for almost 100 episodes.(Supplied: ACTF)

Dr McIntyre says the 90s era of kids’ TV spans multiple generations, but brings people of different ages together.

“For the people who were children during the 90s, the absolute passion with which they speak about Australian kids TV was really interesting,” she says.

“The sentiment around that was just huge, and really beautiful.”

Why we love to rewatch

According to the report, adults find themselves returning to old children’s TV for a few reasons — but two of the biggest are nostalgia, and to share the shows of their childhood with today’s kids.

Dr McIntyre says Round the Twist and Play School were heavy hitters in both the lists of both childhood favourites and shows we come back to as adults across all the age groups surveyed.

“These shows were the ones that really stayed with people,” she says.

“Round the Twist has recently been put on Netflix, so it may also be more present in people’s minds because they’ve had access to it recently.

“My little nephew was watching it and he’d found it himself, and I was very, very pleased to see that happening in front of me.”

Round The Twist cast in front of the lighthouse.

Round The Twist is the most revisited Australian children’s show from generations gone by, the ACTC’s report found.(Supplied)

Aussie kids’ TV shows we love to revisit

  • Round the Twist
  • Play School
  • Mr Squiggle
  • Spellbinder
  • The Wiggles
  • Mortified
  • Blue Water High
  • The Curiosity Show
  • Young Talent Time
  • The Saddle Club

As found by the Australian Children’s Television Cultures research group

Dr McIntyre says the era of streaming and easily accessible on-demand content allows for the sharing of, and bonding over, kids’ TV across age groups.

“It has a long tail, good quality kids’ TV,” she says.

“It does do really important work in bonding generations.

“People still watch the actual TV set, we’ve found, so they’re still coming together as a family. It’s just that what they watch on it is streaming services, not commercial TV.”

Old children’s programs have also found a home on new social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, sparking memories for old audiences and making their way to new ones.

Commissioning Editor of ABC Children’s Content, Mary-Ellen Mullane, says in a fragmented media landscape, kids’ TV memories can easily revisited and shared.

six dancers, three women wearing purple tutus and three men wearing white t shirts, laughing and smiling at the camera

The studio in Sydney where Dance Academy was set and the famous Round the Twist lighthouse on the Victorian coast are still popular sights to see for fans of the shows.(Supplied: ACTF)

“We have a lot of really great nostalgia pieces that get great traction [on Tiktok]”, she says.

“It’ll be people who watched something as a kid — Dance Academy, for example — and they then come to a platform like TikTok and can see some of the cast from Dance Academy talking about really seminal moments in the show.

“It’s a community of interest; there is a generation of Australian kids who all watched that series and who share that, which is really lovely.”

Dr McIntyre, a new parent herself, says she personally has been revisiting the Play School soundtrack in great detail (particularly in the car).

“It’s been interesting to me all the songs that I still know, that have come back to me, and I know who’s singing from the voice,” she says.

What’s in store for the next generation?

a young boy hugs a grey kangaroo in a scene from the tv show skippy the bush kangaroo

ACTC’s survey found that Skippy the Bush Kangaroo remains one of the most memorable Aussie kids TV shows.(ABC News)

The ACTC report found that many people believed kids’ TV in Australia had become safer and more sanitised than it used to be. 

But Dr McIntyre says corresponding research has found that even new Australian releases are less sanitised than comparable shows made in the US and the UK.

“Australian shows these days are seen as much more down-to-earth, much less sanitised, much more imaginative,” she says.

“Even though maybe people have the sense that some edges have been filed down, that Aussie kids’ shows are still understood to be much more upfront with kids than overseas counterparts.

“Like when Disney got Bluey recently, they took out a lot of things that were totally fine for Aussies.”

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Antea Morbioli

Hola soy Antea Morbioli Periodista con 2 años de experiencia en diferentes medios. Ha cubierto noticias de entretenimiento, películas, programas de televisión, celebridades, deportes, así como todo tipo de eventos culturales para MarcaHora.xyz desde 2023.

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