Play School’s Rocket Clock, Rage and Bluey, Jessica van Vonderen remembers the ABC through the years

A lady never tells her age, but it’s no secret that “Tía” turned 90 this week.

For a girl who grew up with ABC in Queensland, it’s a birthday that made me feel quite nostalgic.

My memories of ABC begin in the early 1980s when the Play School rocket clock taught me and entire generations of children how to tell time.

I loved the crafts they made and Benita Collings was hands down my favorite presenter.

van Vonderen with Benita Collings, her favorite presenter growing up.

At night, lying in bed, the haunting theme song from Doctor Who sent me hiding deeper under the covers. Those Daleks were the stuff of my nightmares.

My sister and I were allowed to watch one TV show a day; when we were teenagers, that meant Degrassi Junior High or the Press Gang.

And on the weekends, we’d wake up in a rage, anxious to find out if Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You would hold onto its No. 1 spot on the charts for another week.

Our parents demanded silence around the table as the stately fanfare of sit down, shut up, and pay attention sounded magnificent, signaling the start of the nightly ABC news.

The old logo used on ABC television.
The old logo used on ABC television.

I wasn’t interested in politics growing up, but my parents were eager to hear all the pitiful and corrupt details that came out of The Fitzgerald Inquiry and what Sir Joh had deigned to “feed the chooks” that day.

Even more important to note was Jenny’s weather.

Our paddocks on the Darling Downs darkened and cracked during years of terrible drought, we desperately hoped that Jenny Woodward would bring forecasts to refill our long-empty dams.

How surreal (and exciting!) then, years later, for me to be the ABC newscaster saying “Time Now, with Jenny Woodward.”

Jenny Woodward with Queensland Newsreaders Matt Wordsworth and Jessica van Vonderen at the Brisbane TV studio.
Ms van Vonderen (right) in the Brisbane studio with co-host Matt Wordsworth and Ms Woodward.(ABC News: Kate Wilson)

Before I started in television, I worked for radio news at ABC’s Toowoomba and Bundaberg bureaus.

There was fierce competition among all the regional journalists to get our stories published in the 7:45 am state bulletin because then we really had it.

Sadly, that newsletter is gone, but ABC Kids shows have made a strong comeback in my living room, thanks to a beautiful and hilarious family of cartoon canines.

My kids love Bluey. Hell, me too.

Two tall ginger-colored cartoon dogs are looking down at two small cartoon dogs, one blue, one ginger.
Van Vonderen has been known to cry while watching Bluey with his children.(abc tv)

“This episode will definitely make you cry, Mom,” warns my nine-year-old son, who regularly sees me cry at the episode’s innocence and cuteness.

So the ABC has been present at all ages and in all stages of my life so far, from childhood to motherhood.

I wonder what ABC content I’ll be devouring when and if I’m lucky enough to turn 90.

Happy birthday ABC. Thanks for the memories.

Watch Australian Story’s Breaking Free at 8:00pm (AEDT) on ABCTV, View either Youtube.

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