Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Graham, Margaret (1889–1966)

by Sue Graham-Taylor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Margaret Graham (1889-1966), kindergarten teacher and broadcaster, was born on 5 June 1889 at Ballarat, Victoria, fourth of six children of Scottish-born parents John Graham, tailor, and his wife Maggie, née MacKeddie. In 1893 the family settled at Leederville, Perth. A gentle woman with a love of children and a talent for handicrafts, Margaret completed a course at the Kindergarten Training College, West Perth, in 1916. Placed in charge of the Free Kindergarten, Pier Street, in 1921, she moved to the Mount Hawthorn Kindergarten School as director in 1926.

Following the Japanese occupation of the Netherlands East Indies, fear of air-raids on Fremantle and Perth led the State government to close its kindergartens early in 1942. Olga Dickson's suggestion for a radio programme for kindergarten-aged children was first taken up by a commercial station in Fremantle which proposed two fifteen-minute sessions a week. Members of the executive of the Kindergarten Union of Western Australia appointed Mrs Catherine King, daughter of Professor Walter Murdoch, to call on the State manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Conrad Charlton. Accompanied by Molly McGibbon, she persuaded him to let her and her colleagues try a daily programme and 'Kindergarten of the Air' was inaugurated on 19 February. After two kindergarten teachers had been tested as comperes, Miss Graham's performance on the third day of the trials won her the position. On 23 February she began her first programme, with a pianist and two children. According to King, Graham was 'a complete natural. She wasn't glamorous, she was hopelessly sincere, we couldn't have . . . made her into anything but what she was . . . a modest and inspired amateur'.

To the 'Kindergarten of the Air', Graham brought qualities which assured its success. Her sessions, which started at 9.30 a.m. and ran for twenty minutes, were unrehearsed and all involved children participating in the studio. She spoke to 'thousands of unseen children . . . just as intimately and caringly as to the little group in her studio', and never talked down to them. Children throughout Western Australia loved her voice. Country children often wrote letters to her, and, when holidaying in Perth, were welcome visitors to the studio. Charlton realized that the programme's popularity was largely due to her and asked that the Kindergarten Union resist the temptation to bring other teachers into the session. With her piano accompanist Mrs Jean McKinlay, Graham produced Dance and Sing (n.d.), a book of the songs and music used in the programme. She remained director at Mount Hawthorn and her radio fee was paid not to her but to the Kindergarten Union. 'Kindergarten of the Air' became the model for the A.B.C.'s national programme which commenced on 3 May 1943. Perth's own session, protected by the two-hour difference in time, retained its independence.

Graham also gave short talks on the A.B.C.'s women's session, providing advice about young children's behaviour and learning problems, and on the clothing, games and books that were appropriate for them. In 1956 she was appointed M.B.E. By 1960 she was frail and weary, but continued to broadcast until her final session of 'Kindergarten of the Air' for Christmas 1960. Within a year of suffering a disabling stroke, she died on 25 January 1966 at Mount Lawley and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. In 1967 the arts and crafts wing of the new Kindergarten Teachers' College, West Perth, was named in her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham (ed), Reflections (Perth, 1978)
  • J. Lewis, On Air (Perth, 1979)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • West Australian, 2 Jan 1956, 26 Jan 1966, 3 June 1967
  • C. King, Margaret Graham—MBE (typescript, 1967, State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • Broadcasting, Kindergarten of the Air, 2308A/147 (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • J. Teasdale, interview with Catherine Helen King (transcript, 1976, State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Sue Graham-Taylor, 'Graham, Margaret (1889–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/graham-margaret-10339/text18303, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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