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 “Aunty” has turned 90 this week.

For a girl who grew up with the ABC in Queensland, it is a birthday that has got me feeling quite nostalgic.

My ABC memories begin in the early 80s when Play School’s rocket clock taught me and whole generations of kids to tell the time.

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

van Vonderen with Benita Collings, her favorite presenter when she was a child.

At night laying in bed, the eerie wailing Doctor Who theme song sent me burrowing down 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 — as teenagers that meant Degrassi Junior High or Press Gang.

And on weekends, we woke up with rage, eager to find out if Bryan Adams’ (Everything I Do) I Do It For You would maintain its number one spot on the charts for yet another week.

Our parents demanded silence around the dinner table as the sit-down-shut-up-and-pay-attention Majestic Fanfare would trumpet magnificently, 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 as a kid, but my folks were keen to hear every sorry, corrupt detail arising from The Fitzgerald Inquiry and whatever Sir Joh had deigned to “feed the chooks” that day.

Even more important to watch was Jenny’s weather.

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

How surreal (and thrilling!) then, years later, for me to be the ABC newsreader saying “Weather now, with Jenny Woodward”.

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

Before starting in TV, I reported for radio news in the ABC’s Toowoomba and Bundaberg offices.

There was fierce competition among all the regional journalists to get our stories into the state-wide 7:45am bulletin because then we’d really made it.

Sadly that bulletin is gone now, but ABC Kids shows have made a big comeback in my lounge room — thanks to a gorgeous and hilarious family of cartoon canines.

My kids adore Bluey. Heck, so do I.

Two tall ginger cartoon dogs look down at a two small cartoon dogs, one blue, one ginger.
van Vonderen is known to tear up while watching Bluey with her children.ABC TV

“This episode will definitely make you cry, Mum,” warns my nine-year-old, who regularly sees me tear up at the innocence and tenderness of it.

So the ABC has been there at every age and every stage of my life so far, from childhood to motherhood.

I wonder what ABC content I will be devouring when and if I have the good fortune to turn 90.

Happy birthday ABC. Thanks for the memories.

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