“Fifty mighty Argonauts, bending to the oars,
Today will go adventuring to yet uncharted shores.
Fifty young adventurers today set forth and so
We cry with Jason “Man the boats, and Row! Row! Row!”
This stirring song was part of the Childrens’ Hour, a radio program for children running from 1939 to 1972. I came upon it fairly late, in 1961. I was ten years old and entering sixth class at Primary School. My father had just died of a heart attack and my mother was busy trying to sort out our future. The cheery voices of Mac and Jimmy, Lyn and Sue drew me at five o’clock every afternoon to listen to an hour of serials, singing, discussion of music, art, nature as well as good natured banter.
I didn’t know it at the time but the presenters on this program were extremely talented and some my fellow Argonauts have been and are significant members of the Australian community.
What was intriguing was the theme of Jason and the Argonauts. Each member was given the name of a ship (from Greek mythology). There were fifty rowers in each ship so in my case my ship was Oricus and my number was 28. Every contribution, be it a letter, a painting, an outline for a charade or a prayer for Sunday night, earned points. Once 150 points was achieved an award of the Dragon’s Tooth was presented, at 400 the Golden Fleece and at 600 the Golden Fleece and Bar. Maybe it is a reflection of the lack of other things to do but shortly before I turned 17 I achieved the ultimate goal and became Golden Fleece and Bar Oricus 28.
As well as points, blue and purple certificates were awarded for contributions, which were often read out over the air. Six blues could be used to choose a book written by many of the wonderful Australian children’s authors of the time. Ivan Southall’s books were a favourite of mine and I worked very hard to earn as many certificates as I could.
The influence of this ABC program on the lives of many isolated and country children was immeasurable. In an environment where access to concerts, galleries, books, zoos and even people was limited, the Childrens’ Hour opened up a whole new world and inspired children across Australia to “share much of wonder and delight, merriment and loveliness with fellow rowers”.