Before the sun and the night and the blue sea, I vow to stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful; to seek adventure, and having discovered aught of wonder, or delight; of merriment or loveliness, to share it freely with my comrades, the Band of Happy Rowers. (from The ABC Weekly, 28 Dec 1940)
Once an Argonaut always an argonaut! Erato 30 (aka Cat Politics) has blogged a couple of times about the Argonauts Club , which was a hugely-popular-in-its-day children’s club broadcast on Australia’s ABC radio from 1941 to 1972. You had to be between 7 and 17 to join, and you were given a Ship Name and Number – that is you became one of the 50 rowers on one of Jason’s ships. (Jason and the Argonauts – get it!) Hence Cat Politics was Erato 30 and I, Whisperinggums, was Athos 26. As Cat Politics (or is it Erato 30?) says, avatars existed a long time before the Internet!
The Argonauts Club had a long history, which I won’t go into here. For a good rundown, check my link above to the Wikipedia article. Suffice it to say that members were encouraged to submit contributions – poems, stories, art works, musical compositions – as well as questions to experts such as Mr Melody Man (Lindley Evans). In addition stories were heard, and information imparted on everything from writing to sports, music to nature, all in the spirit of fun, adventure and creativity.
Now, the thing is that we Argonauts are starting to grow old and, while some histories have been written, such as Rob Johnson’s The age of the Argonauts, the ABC apparently does not have a complete list of ship names, let alone of the 100,000 or so members. The Friends of the National Film and Sound Archive would like to rectify this and so have set up an Argonauts Register. If you were an Argonaut and would like to register, here is the form. Please do – our cultural history needs you!
That was one reason for writing this post. My other reason was to comment on the number of significant Australian writers, artists and musicians who passed through the Argonauts Club, either as presenters or writers for the show, or as members. Presenters included poets A.D. Hope and Dame Mary Gilmore, artist Jeffrey Smart, actors John Ewart and Peter Finch, the photographer Frank Hurley, to name a very few. One of the most well-known writers for the the Children’s Session was Ruth Park whose serial, The muddle-headed wombat, is one of the first things mentioned whenever two or more Argonauts get together.
Famous Australians who were Argonauts include comedian Barry Humphries, novelist Christopher Koch, composer Peter Sculthorpe, writer Robert Dessaix, musician Rolf Harris and television writer Tony Morphett, again to name a very few. Morphett is reported as saying that the Argonauts inspired him to see writing as a career: “This is a valid thing to be doing – it’s okay to be a writer.”
As for me, I was not one of those keenly contributing Argonauts who aimed for the Dragon’s Tooth award let alone the ultimate Golden Fleece and Bar, but I loved the show. It was an important part of my childhood. There has, I think, been nothing quite like it since, on radio or TV, that has inspired such a wide age-group for so long. What a shame that is.
The golden age of the Argonauts
Rydalmere: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997