The 1949 Liberal Party campaign

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Katie Wood

University of Melboure Archives

In 1949, the Liberal Party broadcast a dramatised radio serial which was the centrepiece of the Party’s public relations campaign.


Each 15 minute episode, complete with dramatic music and what now sounds like very old-fashioned accents, highlighted a series of issues. 


Some are very much of the time, such as communism and Labor’s apparent weakness and ‘socialist’ leanings; rationing; and the role of the British Empire. 


Other more perrenial issues include high prices, women’s issues, education and the activities of young people.

The Liberal Party budgeted £2,300 per month for the broadcasts, making the campaign one of the most expensive in relative terms in Australian history

The University of Melbourne Archives has digitised and made available online the unique collection of recordings from the ‘John Henry Austral’ advertising campaign.


The 13 records comprise 22 episodes including the first five episodes broadcast. These records have undergone conservation treatment (see images above) and have been digitised and are available on the University Library’s Digital Repository


The John Henry Austral program was created by Solomon (Sim) Rubensohn of the Hansen-Rubensohn advertising firm, written by Percy (Pip) Cogger and the character of Austral was performed by Richard Matthews. The episodes began airing in February 1948 and continued through to the election in December 1949.


There were around 200 episodes broadcast on over 80 commercial radio stations throughout Australia. 


The Liberal Party budgeted £2,300 per month for the broadcasts, making the campaign one of the most expensive in relative terms in Australian history.


The program is regarded as significant in the history of Australian political campaigns because of its centralised structure, its format and its apparent success.


Each episode featured the ‘neighbourly but knowledgeable’ John Henry Austral, who, through dramatisations and dialogues with friends and acquaintances, expounded the Liberal vision for Australia and the perceived failings of the federal Labor government.


It is believed that the University of Melbourne Archives holds the only extant copies of the John Henry Austral recordings. 


There is a complete set of scripts of the program held at the State Library of NSW (call number Q329.2/15-16) and other information in the National Library of Australia’s RG Casey collection (NLA MS 6150).


Because the program was dramatised, considerable use was made of accents, and music that can only be appreciated in the recordings themselves.


Now these gramophone records have been digitised and the episodes available online,  audiences can hear and appreciate what is still regarded as a groundbreaking political campaign in Australian politics.