Matthew Holmes

Matthew Holmes

Matthew Holmes (PhD in History, 2022) ‘Growing Songs: Australian Sound Media for Children from Parlour Music to Podcasts’

This thesis provides the first cultural history of sound media produced for Australian children. It opens by exploring post-Federation parlour sheet music and the burgeoning mechanised media of radio and phonographs, with a concentration on the rising consumption of transnational entertainment that accelerated in post-World War II as Australian children’s sound media evolved into a distinctive genre.

The study draws upon the disparate archival materials of sound media created for Australian children through archival recordings, sheet music, oral history testimonials, and examines music for children through the production and consumption of various sound media technologies, including radio, records, television, and digital podcast streaming. It examines a series of chronological case studies in children’s media from public broadcasting radio from the 1930s and the postwar success of Kindergarten of The Air, the early children’s record industry locally epitomised by the Children’s Record Guild of Australia and folk revivalist Glen Tomasetti in 1959, sound media integrated within the longstanding pinnacle of Australian early years television programs Play School, through to present day songwriters and performers of children’s music.

Children’s music sound media is situated within the terms of an ‘ecology’ of entertainment practice by professional performers and songwriters and is explored through a critical ‘production culture’ lens. This ‘ecology’ encompasses the business realities of the music industry in conjunction with cultural trends to develop an overview of the changing relationship between children’s reception of entertainment sound media, and the increasingly prevalent scientific and therapeutic conceptions of childhood. The influence of therapeutic constructions is seen to have developed with the widespread rise of both a scientifically developmentalist approach to child rearing in tandem, and sometimes at odds, with psychodynamic influenced progressive child rearing practices.

Three chapters reveal, through focused case studies, the individual achievements and creative approaches of contemporary children’s music performers, producers and songwriters with their specific aims and unique processes of communicating music through the evolution of sound media technology since postwar Australia. The analysis draws upon an extensive oral history archive, developed for this research, including interviews with contemporary industry practitioners and key children’s music artists Peter Combe, Don Spencer, Justine Clarke, Coco’s Lunch, The Wiggles and others. The development and diversity of Australian children’s music is also contextualised within a commercialised and transnational soundscape.

By tracing shifting constructions of childhood and the developing reception of entertainment media designed for Australian children, this thesis explores the dynamic history of a genre of music that is neglectfully overlooked yet paradoxically both highly profitable and globally influential. It argues that Australia has made a significant contribution to the genre of children’s music, with a distinctive sound media that has been shaped not just by local circumstances but in dialogue with American, British and Canadian children’s and adult music traditions. From initial developments during the 1930s, Australian children’s music has been at the forefront of transnational sound media ingenuity that continues to represent a major media export and success on the global entertainment stage.

Supervisors: Professor Kate Darian-Smith, Professor David Goodman