In the latter years of  WWII  it was feared that Australia might be bombed, and because of this all  kindergartens were closed.  In their place a wonderful institution was born….Kindergarten of the Air. The programme was  launched on the ABC in  1943  by Lady Zara Gowrie, wife of the then Governor General. I love the photo of her below. Is she giving the thumbs up to the new programme, or performing one of the action songs children would take to their hearts?

Lady Gowrie, who launched Kindergarten of the Air.
Lady Gowrie. Champion of early childhood education.

Immediately,  little ones all over the nation listened in with  rapt attention .

Listening to Kindergarten of the Air

The first presenter was Miss Ruth Fenner, who became something of a celebrity among her young listeners (a future PM John Howard was a loyal  fan)  When she married in 1950, hundreds of children waited outside the church in Sydney’s  Pymble to catch a glimpse of her. One little boy had sent her a letter  asking if she  would be wearing ‘the green dress and the hat with the hole in the top?’ He remembered  seeing her wearing it two years earlier.

Ruth Fenner, first presenter of Kindergarden of the Air.
Ruth Fenner

The radio programme was so successful that it continued long after peace was declared.  However, on one occasion in 1946 there was a complaint over ‘sex education’.  According to the complainant, identified only as Unappreciative;

At least a quarter of an hour was devoted to sex instruction to the children. Summary of the talk being – The kitten has a mother and father; the puppy has a mother and  father; the little child has a mother and father. The mother of the child feeds and washes the baby. The mother cat feeds and licks the kitten, and so on ad nauseum. By the time the instructor had finished, the kitten’s mother and the puppy’s mother and the baby’s mother were all on the one low animal level. 

During  1955,  Kindergarten of the Air  provided me with some of the most precious and closest times with my mother.  When it came on at 9.30am my older siblings were at school and my father out working on the farm. The theme music was the song, ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’.

One little girl really did go out to play, along with the radiogram;

alfresco Kindergarten of the air.
SHEER JOY (Library of NSW)

Mum and I would sing all the songs together, and cavort  around the kitchen pretending  to be anything from airplanes to elephants.  By now Anita Munckton had taken over as presenter.

Anita Munckton. a presenter of Kindergarten of the Air.
Anita Munckton

This is the song I remember best;

Son From Kindergarten of the Air

Oh, and this one. I’m sure we  sang ‘puffer-trains’ though, not ‘puffer-bellies’.

Kindergarte of the Air song.
Kindergarten of the Air

Little girls listening to Kindergarten of the air.
ARMS IN THE AIR! (Library of NSW)

Watch this little film of  a youngster being a train! KINDERGARTEN OF THE AIR

Such simple, happy times. Thank you Kindergarten of the Air. Want to hear the theme music? CLICK HERE.

I later joined my siblings on Mr Bowden’s bus and happily  went off  to ‘proper’ kindergarten. Fortunately for me the teacher was just as loving as my mother and just as engaging as Miss Munckton.    You were so special Mrs Harris.

By the way, my mother’s favourite  ‘Kindergarten of the Air’ episodes were  actually  English  comedian Joyce Grenfell’s  Nursey School monologues, which she chuckled over and quoted from all her life.; ‘George….don’t do that!’

Joyce Grenfell. her kindergarten monologue was priceless.
Clap along with Miss Grenfell
  1. In South Africa I am sure we called the engines Pufferbillies!

    • Pauline

      I’m now thinking Pufferbellies might have been a misprint.

  2. I have included your blog/s in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  3. Our family definitely sang “puffer bellies”. We used to occasionally have holidays to Long Jetty, travelling by steam train of course, and my brother and I must have driven our parents crazy as we sang this most of the way — to the train, on the train, and getting off the train!

    • Pauline

      Oh, well I guess they do have bellies full of fire. Great memories for you, Joan. Thanks for taking the trouble to leave a comment.

  4. I used to listen to this programme in Toronto when I was 4 years old. I can remember looking forward to it every day. It was 1948. The next year I went to ‘real’ kindergarten.

  5. Amazing you didn’t remember Miss Joan Lennartz, my mother, who did the 3 days a week broadcast from Sydney in the 1950’s (She is standing to the right next to the piano in the film clip,) and the other 3 days a week were done from Melbourne.

  6. I remember Kindergarten of the Air from ABC 4QS Darling Downs when I grew up in Kingaroy Queensland.
    Does anyone have the theme tune that was used to call us all around the wireless back then.

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