It is with absolute delight that we bring to you the exciting news that the Australian artist John Pickup received the Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2020 Australia Day Honours.
John is the last surviving member of the Brushmen of the Bush and we have featured his paintings in several posts which are listed at the end of this blog.
But John didn't receive his OAM for his service to art but rather for his 57 years service to broadcasting.
John inside the ABC Mackay Studios 1992 (Credit: dailymercury.com.au)
In 1947, just prior to finishing school early to take up a career in photography, a couple of school mates of John Pickup's approached him and asked whether he wanted to join them in visiting the new teenage program Rumpus Room on Sydney Radio 2UE.
Although he knew nothing about the program John said "Yes" and that short answer changed his life.
"It was a teenage program, mainly music but part of the deal was people reading commercials and one was handed to me. I read it and thought nothing more of it."
However at the end of the show it was announced that John was the "male voice of the night" and although he had already started his career in photography he progressed through winning semifinals to become Radio 2UE's Male Voice of the Year when he won the grand final.
The winner of the Female Voice of the Year was Betty Sallaway shown below with John (Left), together with the photo showing semifinalist Lorna Cunningham with John (2nd from right), Rumpus Room presenter Doug Pickering and compere Billy Maloney.
Up until then John had never considered working in radio - he just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the program presenter announced that he had the 'male voice of the day'. Over the next year he went on to win the Quarter Finals and the Grand Final becomjing 2UE's Young Male Announcer of the Year. At the same time Betty Sallaway won Young Female Announcer of the Year. A photo of the two young winners is shown below.
John was offered a contract. It was decision time... photography or broadcasting? And John's life changed forever when he chose the latter. At the end of his contract John moved to 2GB Macquarie where he worked in what he describes as "the golden years of radio".
The photo below was taken in the Macquarie Auditorium in 1949 showing the cast in evening dress with John Pickup second from the left, standing at the effects table.
(Photo provided by John Pickup)
On 25 October 1950 John joined the staff of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (later Corporation) as a sound effects officer, located in the old Market Street studios (long ago replaced by the Centrepoint Tower).
Sound effects were "Not just clipping coconut shells together for the sound of trotting horses". Much of that was recorded as shown in the next two photos.
(The ABC Weekly October 24 1953 p29)
In the photo above, Producer Max Afford (R) sits with John in the Big Dipper at Luna Park prior to recording sound effects for the closing sequence in the serial "Murder is not for Middle Age."
And then there is the story of the rhinoceros.
With no suitable recording in the sound effects library, Producer John Croyston and John went to Taronga Zoo and entered the rhinoceros cage for a close up recording. The producer read from the script while John had the microphone ready. They waited, and waited until eventually the sound came - an insignificant squeak! Eventually a roar was created by playing an elephant's roar at half speed.
In 1956 John became part of the production teams formed for the introduction of televison to Australia, but he already had television experience some years before.
John has described this work in a wonderful article where he first recounts how his television career actually started in 1949 when he was working at 2GB-Macquarie in Sound Effects and accidentally ended up commentating as part of a "television broadcasting trial" on the Sydney Royal Easter Show becoming the first outside broadcast commentator on TV in a public situation. The broadcasts may not have been transmitted over air to a general audience, but were certainly seen by thousands of viewers, all those years ago in 1949. (abctvgorehill.com.au)
Follow this link to read John Pickup's article A Night at ABC-TV's "Arcon" in 1956.
In 1956 television was launched in Australia and John was present in the ABC studio in Melbourne for that memorable "Opening Night". The Melbourne Floor Manager was in charge and even though John was Floor Manager for the ABC in Sydney he had been given the task of holding and opening the pages of the opening graphic (titles) book which the camera was focused on. This meant, and he laughs as he recounts this, his right hand (turning the pages of the book) was the first part of a human to be seen on ABC National Television in Victoria!!
John was floor manager with the Sydney outside broadcasts crew, seen here as part of the commentary team.
John Pickup (next to the camera man) commentating at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (Photo provided by John Pickup's daughter)
John returned to Sydney after the Olympics and floor managed a number of historic firsts, including the first televised Opera in Australia -Gian Carlo Menotti's The Telephone (L'Amour à trois).
In 1957 John Pickup decided to return to his first love radio and in 1962 he was appointed ABC Regional Manager, Broken Hill, New South Wales. John considers his years in Broken Hill as probably the most important part of his ABC life. However in February 1966 an intruder set fire to the ABC offices and studio and John working on the principal "the show must go on" presented the Morning News and Breakfast show from the Broken Hill Telephone Exchange as hundreds of clattering uni selectors worked noisily in the background as people rang others about the fire.
John inside the Broken Hill Telephone Exchange (Credit: dailymercury.com.au)
For the next years John and his small staff worked from temporary premises next door while planning proceeded to erect a new building. John was fortunate to be able to provide input into the planning and 5 years later in 1971 the Chairman of the ABC opened what is still regarded as one of the finest ABC regional buildings in Australia.
On the 1st April 1980 John launched the Youth on the Hill Program which gave secondary students interested in broadcasting the opportunity to learn about broadcasting on air. For the next five years, once a week (including holidays), the students presented the Youth on the Hill program which won several awards including the Sydney Morning Herald Youth Achievement Award.
(Provided by John Pickup)
Sadly the program had to cease when the ABC stopped broadcasting of afternoon regional programs. Below is John with some of his broadcasting students, some of whom went on to have broadcasting careers, no doubt influenced by this remarkable early opportunity provided by John Pickup.
Photo provided by John Pickup
When John received his OAM, with it came hundreds of congratulations in many forms. Below is an example from one of the student participants in the Youth on the Hill program. The other congratulatory post says it all: A great Aussie achiever.
To just call John Pickup the man with the broadcaster's voice would be undervaluing his many, many talents. Here on the blog we know him as a painter, a remarkable painter and a photographer - both still passionate endeavours. John was also passionately interested in the theatre but more on that in a later blog.
In 1972 when Broken Hill artist Eric Minchin did not have enough paintings for a second exhibition he invited fellow artists (Hugh Schulz, Jack Absalom, John Pickup and Pro Hart) to join him to exhibit in Sydney. This was covered in a two page Woman's Weekly article and the group began receiving requests from other charities. Thus began the Brushmen of the Bush.
A mural painted by another Broken Hill artist Geoff de Main is a permanent record of the contribution four of its well known personalities made, not only to the area but across the nation and far beyond. This historical mural detailing the history of Broken Hill and the ABC's involvement in the far west was installed on the Studio's exterior wall 20 April 2012. On the mural from left to right are: Mary Maquire, Pro Hart, June Bronhill and John Pickup.
More images of the mural can be viewed if you Click Here.
ABC Studios Broken Hill (Credit: abc.net.au)
John is a man of great passion and commitment to his values. In 1976 he joined the successful protest to stop the siting of a transmission line from Dederang to Wodonga (Victoria) across some of the most picturesque landscape in Australia.
Below we have John's painting of Don Quixote Challenges the Kiewa Valley Powerline ready to "fight the good fight". Through Don Quixote (in my opinion John's alter ego) who is present in many of his paintings, we can share some of the thoughts and experiences of this great Australian.
(Credit:Border Morning Mail 16 Nov 1978)
John Pickup the artist has exhibited in every mainland Capital and many regional centres throughout Australia. Overseas exhibition venues have included London (twice), New York, Los Angeles, and Rome, with exhibition openings by Prince Charles, the Duchess of Kent, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, two Governors General, and two State Governors. In recent years John paints both his beloved Outback and the the semi-tropical area of Mackay where he now lives. (miltonhousegallery.com.au)
(Milton House Gallery)
In 1989 John moved to Queensland to become Regional Manager at the Mackay ABC station where he worked until his retirement in December 1992 after 42 years service with the ABC in Sydney, Broken Hill, Darwin and Mackay.
John in the Mackay ABC studio on his Retirement Day (Credit:ABC Tropical North/abc.net.au)
Immediately after retiring from the ABC John became involved in establishing a community radio station in Mackay. To quote John:
The steering committe had no money, no premises, no staff and especially no licence. But in March 1993 a licence was granted and the search for premises began. These were found in September and immediately people were invited to become involoved as presenters and general staff. It had been decided that the station would open in December 1993 so I (John) began the task of training nearly 50 people to become presenters none of whom had ever been on the air before.
As John trained staff, Ross Taylor who had the original concept of a community station, was the techincal wizard who began constructing the studio and technical facilites. Without his efforts the station would never have gone to air.
On the 11 December 1993 John turned on the mic and welcomed listeners. For 12 years he was the founding manager. In 2018 John and Ross had the pleasure of attending 4CRM's 25th Anniversary Celebration, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If you are a Facebook user here is 4CRM's page to follow.
If you ask John what it is about radio that so attracted him to spend all his working life in this telecommunication medium, he quickly responds:
"Radio is immediate".
And as we read all the articles we have found on John, you can see that he put this personal and immediate contact with his community of listeners to good use. Sophia Kesteven in her article John Pickup Reflects on Almost 60 years in Radio writes:
He does fondly recall working closely with the blood bank in the region, and he often put call-outs on the radio for blood donations. On another occasion, he remembers also getting a call from Meals on Wheels saying they could not deliver due to flooding. "I opened the microphone and said 'look the Meals on Wheels organisation is very much in need of four-wheel drivers and vehicles to deliver food'," John said. "About 10 minutes later I got a call from the Meals on Wheels people saying they had more than enough vehicles," he laughed. "But that is the role of radio and that is the immediacy of radio; it just amazes me how important radio is still. "For the whole of the 42 years that I was with the ABC, I felt rather strange that here they were on pay day coming around with envelopes full of money saying 'here take this'," he said. "I would have done it for the love of it - it was just a wonderful career," he said smiling. ( ABC Tropical North/abc.net.au)
John said recently in a conversation with Caroline: "that while I am extremely proud to receive an OAM, I was also honoured to receive numerous messages from people thanking me for training them in broadcasting as that training sent them on their present career path: to receive these messages of congratulations was very gratifying". Two examples of congratulations as posted on Facebook are given above.
(Credit:ABC Tropical North/abc.net.au/Sophie Meixner)
Please follow these links to revisit bogs about John Pickup.
John Pickup was to receive his Order of Australia Medal from the Queensland Governor His Excellancy Paul de Jersey at a ceremony at Government House on 6 May 2020. Due to the circumstances we find ourselves in at the moment, the award ceremony has been postponed to a later date. We do look forward to the time when John will be able to proudly wear his OAM.