The National Wool Museum is celebrating 50 years of Play School

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The National Wool Museum is celebrating 50 years of Play School

There’s a bear in there, and a chair as well. There are people with games, and stories to tell. Open wide. Come inside. It’s Play School…

I think you would be pretty hard pressed to find a child or adult that cannot sing the entire opening jingle to the iconic children’s show.

For over 50 years now, since its initial broadcast in 1966, this much-loved children’s program has been a staple on our national television sets and has featured regularly in our lives as a legion of talented presenters takes turns hosting this beloved show.

Designed specifically for pre-schoolers, Play School aims to encourage a child to wonder, to think, to feel and to imagine, and explore new experiences and learning opportunities through a simple yet clever mix of colour, stories, music, craft, fun, and laughter.

Overflowing with smiles and full of imaginative play, while also reflecting a modern, diverse Australian society, it is little wonder Play School is Australia’s longest running children’s program – and the second longest in the world too.

Now over half a century later, Play School continues to adapt with the times. After a revamp in 2000 (where the rocket clock and the windows retired, RIP), the show generated outrage after featuring a rainbow family in 2004, which it didn’t try again until 2016, maintaining their commitment to reflect the diversity of Australian children, embracing all manner of race, religions and family situations. Its diverse cast now includes Indigenous Australian actor Hunter Page-Lochard and Kiruna Stamell, who was born with a form of dwarfism.

To celebrate the legacy of the children’s television program, an exhibition filled with Playschool nostalgia is coming to the National Wool Museum this winter!

Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years marks a milestone birthday for this ABC TV show, and this exhibition provides a rare opportunity for guests to relive their childhood memories, looking through the Round, Square and Arched windows as we bring our childhood stories alive of Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, Jemima, the Rocket Clock, and reminisce about our all-time favourite presenters.

If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you might remember one of the most beloved Play School presenters, Benita Collings.

Benita, aka the Queen of TV, was at the helm of the show for three decades (1969-1999) and more than 400 episodes, becoming one of the most recognisable faces and voices of Play School for generations of Australian children, and simultaneously one of the longest-serving cast members of the show.

If you were anything like me and you would spend most mornings and afternoons singing, dancing and making crafts alongside Benita and her stuffed-toy colleagues Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, and Humpty Dumpty, she was also very likely a lot more than just a recognisable face, but she was also your on-screen mum – a reliable friend, a confidant and mostly, a role model. From teaching us how to brush our teeth (“brush, brush, brush; you mustn’t rush, rush, rush”), to her animal impressions which were a thing of beauty, Benita had a giant heart of gold, and always made us want to be a better person.

In news that’s just as good as the show itself, the team at The National Wool Museum are bringing Benita to Geelong for one night only to coincide with the arrival of the Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years exhibition.

Benita (1)

Encouraging guests to embrace their inner child, on Thursday evening of July 11, Benita will revisit your childhood memories of Playschool – serving up anecdotes and stories from the popular ABC children’s program and her life on screen.

Further appealing to the child within, this evening is channelling a classic sleepover vibe and encouraging guests to dig out a pair of your favourite PJs, whether that be lace slips that nod to the 90’s trend, oversize shirt-dresses, and silk blouses, to matching button-up flannelette, a fleece dressing gown and your favourite pair of Uggs. As long as it’s classy and relatively warm (it is the middle of winter!), you’ll be all set to be tucked in for a night at the Museum!

Don’t be fooled though, this won’t be quite the same experience you had as a child. While you’ll have Benita, some serious nostalgia, and if you ask nicely maybe even a rendition of ‘Little Peter Rabbit’, this time you’ll also get to indulge in retro cakes, inspired by the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Cake Book by famous Geelong cake boutique Cakesmith, and wintery cocktails from Geelong’s renowned cocktail bar, The 18th Amendment. Oh, and better still, your first cocktail is free! We’ll cheers to you, Benita!

If you’re loving the idea of getting up close and personal with the history of Play School, but would prefer to take the family approach, the NWM have you covered with their ‘Morning With Justine Clarke’.

Similar to ‘An Evening with Benita’, this will see the Playschool superstar and 2018 ARIA winner perform three fabulous live shows for families on Wednesday 3 July 2019.

Performing her favourite songs as well as hits from her TV show and new album, The Justine Clarke Show!, the homegrown queen of children’s entertainment will sing songs that will make your family smile, stomp like a dinosaur and dance like a silly sausage!

Book a session and stay the full morning at the Museum to enjoy the exhibition, crafts and much more!

Though Benita and Justine are enough to get us there alone, your tickets will also grant you entry the aforementioned Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years exhibition, along with entry into Wildlife Photographer of the Year 54 exhibition.

For more information on both special events and the exhibition, visit

Please Note: An Evening with Benita Collings is an 18+ event. Book soon to avoid disappointment.
Happy Birthday Play School is a travelling exhibition developed by the National Museum of Australia and the ABC.

This exhibition is supported by the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, an Australian Government program aiming to improve access to the national collections for all Australians.

Feature Image: Collection of toys ready for Happy Birthday Play School – © Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2018