16 episodes

Robyn Annear ransacks Trove Newspapers, the National Library of Australia's online repository of digitised historical newsprint, for stories from an era when there was - literally - nothing on TV.

New episodes of Nothing on TV will appear monthly (or so), featuring a ghost story or two, tales of wildlife in suburbia, stories from the Lost & Found column, and more.

Nothing on TV Robyn Annear

    • History
    • 4.9 • 31 Ratings

Robyn Annear ransacks Trove Newspapers, the National Library of Australia's online repository of digitised historical newsprint, for stories from an era when there was - literally - nothing on TV.

New episodes of Nothing on TV will appear monthly (or so), featuring a ghost story or two, tales of wildlife in suburbia, stories from the Lost & Found column, and more.

    Mr Denning’s Umbrage

    Mr Denning’s Umbrage

    Wherein we consider what counts as an amusement...

    Argus (Melbourne), 22 September 1855, p. 8 ('Amusements' column)

    A dance manual by one of Mr Denning's teachers, Eugene Coulon. Find the full text of

    the second edition (c. 1852) here.


    • 23 min
    A Pig in a Poke

    A Pig in a Poke

    Wherein we plunder suitcases full of mystery...

    Herald (Melbourne), 18 December 1893, p. 4, col. 5

    Here's a sample of the headlines that would follow railway lost property sales –

    And why not read on – here and here

    Moreover, there was this –

      and this –

    That last item, in The Catholic Press (Sydney) in 1898, noted:

    ‘That the Lost Property Office has many times been used for the purpose of hiding things in there can

    be no doubt. Butler hid Lee Weller’s sea chest and some of his belongings there.’

    'Butler' was Frank Butler, considered by some to have been Australia's first serial killer, with Lee Weller

    one of his victims. Read about Butler's crimes and the 'cloaking' of Weller's sea chest here and also here.

    The Melbourne Argus (27 July 1923, p. 7) asks a very good question –

    The headline (above) is a ball-tearer – but the text (at Trove Newspapers) is all but illegible.

    See if your eyes fare better than mine. (I'd love to know the story.)

    There were still umbrellas aplenty on offer at a Sydney lost property auction in 1940 –

    Could the chap in vest and shirtsleeves (below) be the legendary Sid Whittred,

    the Queensland Railways auctioneer who 'never failed to see the funny side of things'?

    (Brisbane Courier, 26 August 1932, p. 16)

    And finally, here's the link I promised – to ‘The Lost Property Office’, by William G. Fitzgerald,

    from The Strand magazine, vol X, July–December 1895. Featuring eye-popping photos taken

    inside the lost property depots of the major London railway stations and Scotland Yard,

    it's a real gem. You can find it here, digitised by the Internet Archive.

    • 32 min
    What is Really Real?

    What is Really Real?

    Wherein we shed some light in the phonebox...

    Space travel in the Sun (Melbourne), July 1969.

    (Blame the tilt on a lack of gravity)

    'The Pals' Corner' with 'Grandad', Advertiser, 23 June 1933, p. 5

    Leaf through the whole issue at Trove Newspapers – including the two missing pages!

    The yawn-inducing headline. Read the paper in its entirety at Trove.

    Thanks again to Anwyn and Barb for supplying the 'really real' newspapers for this episode.

    • 20 min
    A Bit of a Ventriloquist

    A Bit of a Ventriloquist

    Wherein voices are thrown and pigs educated.

    Age (Melbourne), 27 September 1884, p. 10, col. 6

    Read it with the rest of the day's news here.

    from Ventriloquism: Ancient and Modern – Containing A Complete Explanation

    of the Secrets of Ventriloquistic Deception by Richard Hughes, Exchange Press,

    264½ Post Office Place, Melbourne, 1902. Anyone wishing to perfect the guttural groan

    could do worse than browse the State Library Victoria’s digitised collection,

    which includes several manuals of ventriloquism.

    Ballarat Star, 16 April 1888, p. 2, col. 6.

    Read it on Trove here.

    Frank and Stuart Bell married sisters, Isabel and Rachel Harvey, in 1882-3.

    Isabel would die in childbirth in April 1886; the baby boy lived just 11 weeks.

    About 18 months later Frank remarried, but the union appears to have been

    short-lived –

    Age (Melbourne), 16 February 1888, p. 5, col. 3 (read it in situ).

    'Florrie was to be thanked for this,' Mabel wrote. Florrie? Not Florrie Williams, surely?

    When the society rag Table Talk reported the incident, it was almost as a cautionary tale –

    Table Talk (Melbourne), 24 February 1888, p. 14, col. 3

    Read the report in situ, nestled amid wedding announcements and accounts of

    social success.

    Arthur H. Bell, the eldest, operatic Bell brother.

    – from the Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library

    (Image ID 81284)

    This episode of Nothing on TV draws on Victorian and NSW

    Births, Deaths & Marriage records available online.

    Records for most Australian states are now digitised and

    searchable online. Try these links –


    New South Wales


    South Australia

    Western Australia

    Australian Capital Territory (access to some indexes online)

    Online access to Tasmanian records isn’t yet available, but is in progress.

    • 35 min
    Clean Hands

    Clean Hands

    Wherein we consider propinquity of liberty, literacy and soap.

    Age (Melbourne), Monday, 17 August 1874, p. 2, col. 6

    – read it on the newspaper page here

    Joseph Juliff took a penknife to a copy of the Argus in the newspaper

    reading room at the Melbourne Public Library – and was caught in the act.

    He had thought to expunge the public record of his earlier crime; but it

    survives on Trove –

    Argus, 8 May 1860, supplement p. 1, col. 5

    Not a hat in sight: Queen's Reading Room, Melbourne Public Library, 1859.

    Barnett Johnstone, photographer. State Library Victoria Picture Collection

    (detail of the above)

    ‘[E]veryone had the right to go to the shelves and choose his books for himself’

    – Sir Redmond Barry


    Stolen from the library by 'a lad' named George Lindley in 1863,

    Chambers' The Scottish Ballads was 'considerably disfigured... in his attempts

    to destroy the inscriptions which proved it to belong to the library'.

    It's still on the shelf, with Lindley's handiwork evident at the title page

    and page 91. Find it in the SLV catalogue here


    Above are pages from Coulter's Adventures on the Western Coast of South America, stolen

    in 1864 by Henry Williamson and returned to the library 'mutilated'. Look closely and

    you can see where the original library stamps were erased by Williamson, together with

    some of the text. This was the book that caused the sardonic barrister Butler Aspinall to

    pity the acting librarian for having read. Find it in the SLV catalogue here


    Here's Mrs King's The Beneficial Effects of the Christian Temper on Domestic Happiness,

    abstracted from the library by W.G. Mitchell, Esq, 'author of The Mask, &c.'., in 1864

    and handed in by his landlady. Page 91 and its stamps are intact, lending credence to

    Mitchell's claim that he had intended to return the book. Find it in the SLV catalogue here


    • 43 min


    Wherein tins and nerves are rattled.

    Geelong Advertiser, 12 January 1885, p. 3, cols. 4-5

    See the rest of that day's news here


    A bawdy depiction of charivari by the French caricaturist J.J. Grandville.

    It appeared in the journal La Caricature in 1831.

    Here's a rare image of colonial tin-kettling, roughly contemporary with the events at

    Germantown –

    It comes from page 8 of the Sydney Mail & New South Wales Advertiser of 18 December 1886,

    where it was one of a series that purported to illustrate ‘A Country Wedding’.

    The accompanying article (on page 26 of the same issue) described the tin-kettling


    Read the entire article here

    Note that the humble kerosene tin featured prominently in both illustration and text.

    Here's an example the genuine article – from its undented condition, evidently not

    used in tin-kettling – from the collection of the National Museum of Australia.

    Something I ran out of time to mention in the podcast was the other kinds

    of tin-kettling reported in 19th-century Australian newspaper. Dogs were

    relentlessly tin-kettled, for 'fun', by having tin kettles tied to their tails. And

    the tin-kettling of bees was a traditional (if rarely effective) method of coaxing

    a swarm back to the hive. Here's a report of an apicultural tin-kettling – or

    tanging – from the Mount Alexander Mail in 1872.

    Illustrations of colonial tin-kettling are hard to come by. But here's one,

    from the Sydney Mail & New South Wales Advertiser on 15 February 1905 –

    By illustrator Fred Leist, it accompanied 'An Unexpected Swarming', Chapter VII

    of the Sydney Mail Prize Story, 'Children of the State' by John Primrose –

    ‘…and then into view came the queerest procession. In the lead, the preacher, beating

    a boiler lid with an old iron spoon as though his life depended on it; nearest to him, Ruth,

    with uprolled sleeves, clanging two saucepan lids together like any Miriam of old; third

    on the list, and panting with the exertion of carrying a kerosene bucket in one hand and

    banging it with the rolling-pin held in the other, walked and half trotted Aunt Susan, and

    lastly, in the rear, in the van, and every where, able for once to make all the row they liked,

    were the children, seven all told, and trebling for noise the three adults. No one took any

    notice of 'the little teacher' as the procession swept by. Their eyes were on 'Cousin Dan,'

    and his on a thin black cloud that buzzed and fluttered before him…’

    Read the whole thing here

    And finally, here's the very last account of full-throated tin-kettling

    I turned up at Trove Newspapers, from page 46 of Sydney's Daily Telegraph

    on 8 March 1953 (read the whole report here) –

    and the cartoon that accompanied it –

    • 39 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
31 Ratings

31 Ratings

roshart ,

Totally Engaging

When I think I know my favourite episode, you come up with one to outshine the last!

I’m transported into our collective past every time I listen to an episode of Robyn Annear’s podcast. Thank you!

fiehkiyrfh ,

Most enjoyable

Thanks Robyn for this interesting and amusing podcast. Enjoying Tin-kettling episode at present - love it!

trovetragic ,

What a romp!

What a delight these stories from Trove are told in Robyn Annear’s irreverent style.

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