The Shadow

[Episode 8 | 1938 : Colum]

The Shadow is a famous a comic character, popular at this time with children. The character and his adventures were made into a radio play, which was broadcast as a serial each week. Colum and Thommo are calculating how much they need to win on the Melbourne Cup to guarantee that Thommo's family will not be evicted from their home.


The Australian curriculum: History

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The Australian Curriculum: History aims to ensure that students develop: 

  • interest in, and enjoyment of, historical study for lifelong learning and work, including their capacity and willingness to be informed and active citizens 
  • knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the past and the forces that shape societies, including Australian society 
  • understanding and use of historical concepts, such as evidence, continuity and change, cause and effect, perspectives, empathy, significance and contestability 
  • capacity to undertake historical inquiry, including skills in the analysis and use of sources, and in explanation and communication.

History activities [3]

Activity 1: Currency
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Subtheme(s): Currency

Colum and Thommo are calculating the amount of money they need to save Thommo's family from eviction. The currency during this time is pounds, shillings and pence. The value of each denomination was based on imperial measure, which was a unit of 12.

  • Due to counterfeit concerns in the late 1920s, a new series of notes and coins were issued in 1932. This new series was dubbed the 'Ash series' after John Ash the Australian note printer.
  • In this clip, Colum deals with coins rather than notes. Ask students to research what coins were used in the 1930s. Students can research the denominations of currency during this era and illustrate them on a chart.

  • Ask students to work with a partner to find diagrams, or photos, of the coins used in the 1930s. On an A3-sized poster, students compare the coins used in 1930 against the coins used today. Coins of today can be traced or rubbed with a pencil with paper over the top of them. Encourage students to investigate what types of emblems or illustrations were used on the old coins and compare them to the emblems used today.


Activity 2: Radio
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Subtheme(s): Chores, business and employment; Entertainment and games; Inventions and electronic media

The 1930s were the golden age of radio. Radio had been a nationwide phenomenon during the 1920s, when it broadcast music such as jazz, but its most important role was presenting current affairs. During the 1930s, radio was a source of entertainment, communications and relief from everyday troubles and hardship. However, owning a radio attracted a licence fee and few people could afford this luxury during the Great Depression.

  • As a class, discuss the historical significance of news broadcasting via radio. Students could investigate what significant broadcasts were made in the 1930s. They could also look at how broadcasts were produced and by whom. The following websites will help prompt discussion:
  1. Modernity, Intimacy and Early Australian Commercial Radio, 'Talking and Listening in the Age of Modernity: Essays on the history of sound', Bridget Griffen-Foley,
  2. Australian Broadcasting Commission,
  3. History of the ABC: 1930s,

  • Radio plays were popular entertainment in Australia in the 1930s. The Shadow was a serial based on a comic book by the same name, and it is a great example of a radio play that appealed to a younger generation of listeners.
  • Ask students to participate in a question and answer activity about The Shadow radio play.
  1. How does the story come to life on radio? What elements have the radio producers used to recreate the stories and hold the listeners interest?
  2. Other than dialogue, what sounds did you notice in the clip The Shadow?
  3. How do you think these sounds have been created?
  4. Why do you think radio plays were so popular with people before television came to Australia in 1956? Are radio plays still being broadcast today and if so, where?
  5. What other types of radio programs were available to listeners in 1938, other than radio play serials?
  6. As a follow-up activity, ask a senior family member about the radio programs they remember? Which did they like and when did they listen to them?


Activity 3: A radio play
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Subtheme(s): Art, music and literature; Chores, business and employment; Entertainment and games
  • The Shadow began as a narrative character in an American radio show, Detective Story Hour, in 1930. By 1931 The Shadow had been published as a comic magazine, and it survived for almost two decades. The character was given its own radio show in 1937, and throughout 1938, a young radio personality called Orson Welles played the lead role. Read about the history of The Shadow at 'Orson Welles' The Shadow',

  • Ask students to create a short episode of a radio play serial with roles for at least four people. They will need to source a script with roles for these people. Other students may like to be sound technicians and recorders. Ask the students to bring in comic books about super heroes to spark their imagination. They may create their own short script, or use one they have found.
  • Ask students to follow the steps below:
  1. Select a known script, or write your own short script.
  2. Storyboard the action and calculate the time the script will take to present; about five to ten minutes is sufficient.
  3. Decide on theme music and work out what sound effects are needed to help tell the story and draw the attention of the viewer.
  4. Practise your lines as a group and time your sound effects to the action.
  5. Use a digital program to record the radio play, or use the microphone application on the desktop computer. You may also use a tape recorder.
  6. Share the radio serials with the whole class.


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