And so the earth is a dull planet for the majority...
The most numerous exceptions are lovers and journalists.
Journalism for Women, 1898
IN DECEMBER 1885, Melbourne gossip magazine Table Talk reported the resignation of American newspaper proprietor Helen T. Capel, of Kansas, despite her years as a successful manager. Capel insisted that 'my work, to be done successfully, must be done as men do it', the result being that 'I am made the subject of such a continual fusillade of malicious gossip that I choose to abandon a profitable business rather than to bear it any longer'. The spectre of the woman journalist, or woman editor, was not uncommon in Australia by the 1880s. Indeed, journalism was one of few options open to educated, intelligent women who wished to financially support themselves and their children, to escape an unhappy home, or simply to indulge a passion for the written word. As a profession for women, though, it carried a certain stigma, an assumption of loose morals. Well-to-do ladies with literary aspirations might choose to sandwich bouts of writing between their domestic chores and thereby 'invite the genteel pretence that they were amateur "dabblers" rather than professional income-earners'. In South Australia, the Scottish-born Catherine Helen Spence began publishing under her brother's name, or used pseudonyms such as 'A Colonist of 1839', and continued this practice right through to 1876 when she was 51 years old.
Certainly manuals published in Britain and the United States for women journalists and editors-to-be warned of the travails of the job, and the need to draw upon what were then perceived as masculine qualities. Journalism was not for the faint-hearted. In 1895, American author Margaret E. Sangster published 'Editorship as a Profession for Women' in the Forum. A woman editor, she wrote, required:
Invincible patience, continual attention to details, tireless self-sacrifice, an intuitive vicarious consciousness, power of synthesis, power of analysis, tranquil impartiality, keen discrimination, a habit of surveying both sides of a question... She must needs be intellectual, receptive, alert, sympathetic; in touch with issues of current thought and action, and with drifts of current enterprise and discovery. As for her body, it must fitly sheathe so vital and so dominant a soul. Steel and india-rubber are not too strong or too flexible for the physical make-up of the woman in this case, who, if she would not wear out prematurely, must also know how to rest and when to rest, and what to gain by recreation and exercise.
Three years later in London, E.A. Bennett published Journalism for Women, in which he insisted upon the adoption of a vigorous discipline, not only in general behaviour but in grammar, spelling and writing style. Both writers recommended a broad education. Tertiary studies were favourable, or a job as editor's secretary. Better yet, one could obtain a cadetship or have unsolicited contributions accepted as part of the climb to the top. Here the writers differed. Sangster saw the peak of a woman's journalistic career as her arrival at 'the pleasant eminence of the home, or the children's, or the woman's department' where 'she has much responsibility, much toil, but also a delightful sense of power'. Bennett, on the other hand, found it absurd that men and women journalists should be consigned to separate spheres of reporting. It was with exasperation that he noted, 'we leave it to be inferred that of the dwellers in Fleet Street there are, not two sexes, but two species - journalists and women-journalists - and that the one is removed about as far organically from the other as a dog from a cat'. The inference was not unique to Fleet Street. Evidently, this was the predominant view in the Australian colonies too.
By the 1880s, a number of Australian women had won full time positions as journalists, but on the whole they were confined to the social pages. A very small number ran their own magazines for a female readership, employing female writers. Louisa Lawson's Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women (1888-1905) was perhaps the most famous, but there was also the Interpreter, the Spectator, the Australian Woman's Magazine and Domestic Journal, Maybanke Susannah Wolstenholme's Woman's Voice, and Vida Goldstein's Woman's Sphere. Lawson's publication centred upon her own editorial. She used this space to wax lyrical about subjects of concern to women, including, for many years, the campaign for female suffrage in Australia. She was a clever marketer, and surrounded the serious message of each edition with commentary on fashion, children and the home. She included domestic tips and ran regular competitions. The Dawn's life ended with Lawson's own, and in truth, few could have summoned the courage and tenacity to take up the mantle as head of such a politically forward publication. There were many, though, who found a way to express political opinion without causing undue controversy. Mary Gilmore, a poet who made regular contributions to the Bulletin, New Idea and the Bookfellow, became editor of the women's page of the Worker in 1908. According to historian Patricia Clarke, 'the Women's Page offered Gilmore a rare opportunity to propagandise her feminism and socialism, a regular platform upon which to demonstrate the validity of her views'. It also offered her a wide and ready audience, as the Worker found its way into the households of hundreds of working-class women. Gilmore's editorship lasted 23 years.
The evolution of the women's page in Australia, from the late nineteenth century, was a mixed blessing for women journalists. In previous years, though greatly hindered by their gender, women who submitted unsolicited contributions to newspapers could write on virtually any subject. In 1846, Caroline Chisholm was invited to write a regular column for Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper in London, on life in the colony. Louisa Atkinson ran a series of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1860s on the local flora and fauna of the Blue Mountains region. Mary Helena Fortune published no less than 500 detective stories in the Australian Journal from the 1860s, under the nom-de-plume of 'Waif Wander'. The wide-spread adoption of a specialised women's section in later years enabled women journalists to publish under their own names, but in many cases it served to reinforce the stereotypes that were restricting women in the first place. It meant that they 'remained confined to a great extent to the writing of superficial news, innocuous social notes and household hints... It was a diet that was to continue for many years'. Newspapers that experimented tentatively with a women's column soon expanded to a women's page, or a women's section, as this part of the paper gained popularity and as advertisers cottoned on to the value of the female market. Many women, after all, still controlled the domestic budget. The Sydney Mail set up a women's page in 1871, and by the 1880s was employing Mrs Carl Fischer to oversee it. Likewise the Queenslander launched a women's column in the 1870s, with Mary Hannay Foott as editor from 1886. In Melbourne, the Australasian commenced its Lady's Column in 1878. From 1880 this was headed by Lucy Gullett, who was married to the paper's editor, Henry Gullett, and who wrote under the name of 'Humming Bee'. The Illustrated Sydney News had an unsigned Ladies' Column by 1880; Melbourne's Punch was publishing a regular Lady's Letter from the 1890s. In 1888, the Sydney Morning Herald began its weekly Woman's Column, but this differed from the others somewhat by offering long essays on serious topics of interest rather than the usual fashion and household items. That same year, 1888, the Bulletin began publishing its own satirical take on the ladies' letter with Alexina Wildman's column, 'Sappho Smith'.
The confinement of women journalists to the women's pages was enduring - in some cases through to the 1970s - but not without exception, and over time the style and content of those pages changed. Under the direction of Winifred Moore from the 1920s, the Brisbane Courier's 'Home Circle' section included a political column of sorts, profiling public personalities in Australia and abroad, alongside the usual recipes and serialised novels. Though the overall tone of the section remained fairly conservative, Moore's discussion in her own column touched on the position of women in parliament, or the push for domestic skills to be ranked equally alongside other qualifications. In the United States, Ethel Brazelton felt sufficiently confident by 1927 to publish Writing and Editing for Women with the subtitle, A Bird's-Eye View of the Widening Opportunities for Women in Newspaper, Magazine and Other Writing Work. As journalists, she wrote, women could offer a 'naturally critical tendency' and a 'quick and responsive imagination' as well as an 'intuitive sense of human values and of public reaction to them'. She noted the importance of women as an audience for advertisers, but also as readers of newspapers in their own right:
Women, now full citizens... are highly important factors of civilization, of commerce. They no longer are to be satisfied with a 'woman's page' devoted exclusively to household hints, fashion articles, 'beauty features,' and directions as to the rearing of children... Interested in all the news of all the world, they are interested as women no less than as citizens, which means that they want the news presented, interpreted, at least in part, by citizens who can think and feel as women. The age-old 'women's interests' of housekeeping, home-making, dress, children, love, marriage, are as attractive to them as ever, but the twentieth century woman looks at them in a wider, less personal way.
The experiences of women journalists in the United States and in Australia were not necessarily parallel, but change was underway on both sides of the Pacific. In June 1933, Frank Packer and Ted Theodore launched a brand new Australian Women's Weekly out of Sydney, with George Warnecke as editor. Something between a magazine and a newspaper, the publication was aimed at a solely female readership, but Warnecke stipulated that every item within it - whether that item concerned fashion, cookery or personal relationships - should contain an element of news. In addition, the publication should be accessible to Australian women of all classes and creeds. The Australian Women's Weekly was conceived and underwritten by men, but by the end of its first year of circulation it had employed a female editor, Alice Jackson, and publicity for the Weekly consistently emphasised the number of women journalists on its general staff. By the mid-1930s, daytime commercial radio had also switched its focus to women. Listeners around the country tuned into chat shows hosted by women announcers like Mary Marlowe of 2UE in Sydney, who offered a 'Woman's View of the News' each week alongside household hints, beauty tips and celebrity interviews. Elizabeth Webb provided something more substantial from the late 1930s with Speaking Personally on ABC radio.
Of course, the great shift for Australian women in journalism, as in so many professions, came with the advent of the Second World War. Hitherto, 'women readers were seldom tainted by references to domestic or international conflicts, and the [Women's] Pages were usually permeated by an aura of non-political, middle-class respectability'. Suddenly, war was everywhere. Recipes and household hints now focused on the cheapest way to feed a family, or the most efficient use of material. Every man and woman was a part of the war effort. For men over thirty years of age, journalism was a reserved occupation, but this didn't prevent a thinning of the ranks. Women began to plug the gaps. It was in wartime that Pat Holmes was appointed press photographer for the Sydney Sun, Lorraine Salmon established her career as a script writer for the ABC, and Elizabeth Riddell opened the New York bureau of the Daily Mirror. Lorraine Stumm, as an accredited war correspondent, reported on the attack of Rabaul at the invitation of General McArthur. In 1942, Pat Jarrett's first assignment on return from a stint in the United States was to cover the Leonski murders for the Herald. American GI Edward Joseph Leonski was accused of strangling three women in fifteen days: it was not the kind of assignment that was usually handed to a woman, and Jarrett's superiors were uncomfortable, but they had no choice. In 1941, the Women's Weekly sent Adele (Tilly) Shelton-Smith to cover the living conditions of Australian troops in Malaya. Connie Robertson, women's editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, applied that year to be posted overseas as a special war correspondent to cover the activities of Australian nurses, though her application was declined because of her gender and she had to content herself with a supervised tour of women's army and airforce camps in Queensland and northern New South Wales in 1943. In Melbourne, Jarrett - who was women's editor at the Herald for many years after the war - was made a captain in the Australian Women's Army Service, and commissioned to write articles that would encourage other women to join, thereby releasing men for overseas service. Jarrett's biographer, Audrey Tate, notes that her 'direct and informative style would have made her an excellent reporter had she been allowed at the front'.
Post-war, opportunities for women in journalism were somewhat stifled. Historian Sharyn Pearce notes that the ubiquitous small printing press of the nineteenth century had, by the 1950s, been effectively replaced by fourteen metropolitan daily papers nationwide that were relatively homogenous in style. All were locally-focused, and afforded little space to foreign affairs, though the influence of American culture and consumerism was evident, if only in the number of published advertisements. The Women's Weekly launched a separate section for teenagers from 1954. On the whole, women were barred from writing or editing general news, and were restricted in subject matter. Even male journalists, says Pearce, were rarely asked to write about anything remotely contentious such as homosexuality or contraception. The women's pages of the 1950s were 'mostly entrenched in a world of intimate, chatty escapism varnished with a layer of social snobbery'. This was exemplified by the florid, hagiographical reports adorning such pages during the Royal Tour of 1954, always with an eye to the Queen's exquisite costume, her dignified manner, her flawless skin or winning smile. Mary Marlowe, a print journalist as well as a radio personality, left her job on the women's pages of the Sun because 'I had a tiresome tendency to tell the world what women were doing instead of what they were wearing'. Despite this, some women did manage to carve out a niche for themselves. Betty Osborn was well known as the 'girl reporter' for the Argus, and was thrilled to cover the Olympic Games in 1956. Margaret Jones joined the Herald in 1954 and went on to become the paper's first Washington correspondent. Catherine Martin took up employment with the West Australian in 1957, specialising in medical reporting. Her investigation into asbestos poisoning at Wittenoom began twenty years later, and won her a Walkley Award.
The emergence of second wave feminism alongside various social movements from the 1960s through to the 1970s and 1980s caused enormous upheaval in the newspaper world, as in society generally. In the 1960s, a few women editors, like Patience Thoms at the Brisbane Courier-Mail, began to provoke discussion in their columns around the 'woman question'. Charmian Clift, perhaps the premier woman journalist of the decade, penned her column in the Thursday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald for the four years before she took her life in 1969. Clift specialised in social commentary and did not shy from controversial questions around women, marriage and sexuality. Her column was enormously popular - it was syndicated to the Melbourne Herald - and her influence strongly felt. More entrepreneurial, or opportunistic, editors, benefited from a wealth of under-utilised female talent in this period. John Pringle of the Sydney Morning Herald recalled that 'I was able to tap a rich and completely unexploited resource by using women journalists... I begged, borrowed and stole such brilliant writers as Margaret Jones... Helen Frizell, Sandra Jobson and the brilliant if wayward Lillian Roxon'.
Many women journalists had, by the 1970s, launched an attack against the women's pages, decrying their watered-down content as patronising to women readers. Women's issues, they argued, should not be marginalised or trivialised. In 1971, Germaine Greer visited Australia and addressed an audience of fifty women journalists who had complaints about their 'eternal role as providers of pap' and the level of censorship under which they worked. Their campaign was successful, and women's pages had been virtually eliminated from metropolitan papers by the end of the decade, freeing women journalists to cover broader and more interesting subject matter. Michelle Grattan joined the Age as a political correspondent in 1971, and by 1976 was the paper's chief political correspondent in Canberra. Anne Summers rose to prominence as a journalist with the National Times in Sydney from 1975, following the publication of her book, Damned Whores and God's Police. The National Times led the way in employing large numbers of women journalists and publishing articles that regularly tackled questions around women's right to work, equal pay, child care, contraception and abortion. So rapidly had the tables turned that as early as 1974, the Australian Women's Weekly felt the need to remind its working readers, on behalf of their disgruntled husbands, to make time for their sex lives and domestic obligations.
It is difficult to conceive of the jump from the women's pages of the 1950s and 60s, where Winifred Moore wrote on vice-regal etiquette and Pat Jarrett recommended 'spontaneous affection' in marriage, to the journalism of Australian women in recent decades. Today, the term 'woman journalist' might make one think of Helen Garner, Jill Singer, Jenny Brockie, Geraldine Doogue or Mary Delahunty; Ann Mitchell, who made her name as a sports commentator in the male-dominated world of cricket; Agnes Warren, who compiled her award-winning report on the conflict in the former Yugoslavia from the frontline in Serbia; Marian Wilkinson, whose Four Corners report on Liberal Party MPs following Andrew Peacock's leadership coup in the late 1980s was credited with profoundly affecting that party's policies; Monica Attard, who was posted to Moscow as Russian correspondent for ABC radio in 1990 and reported on the collapse of the Soviet Union; Wendy Bacon, famed for her brave investigative reports into official corruption in New South Wales; or Janet Hawley, long time feature writer for the Age, who has covered everything from Indonesian politics to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Aboriginal culture, the arts, environmental issues and sport. It was journalist Anne Sebba who reflected in 1994 that:
In the field of news reporting, there is not a great deal left for women to accomplish... As the difference between the sexes diminishes and men and women experience more of each other's pleasures, traumas and responsibilities, so the way they report news grows more alike and is, today, largely indistinguishable... Nowadays the treatment a reporter lends to a story is determined largely according to temperament rather than gender. Perhaps the most notable achievement will be when women reporters are working in sufficient numbers that they are no longer judged by their looks, their personalities or their private lives and when we, the audience, are able to absorb merely the news they are reporting.
This exhibition pays tribute to the rich history of women's journalism in Australia, and to some of the major players in that history. Its purpose is to revive the stories and locate the records of those who never received credit for their work, those who put themselves in danger or were separated from their families for the sake of a story, those who used their words to advocate for others - and, quite simply, those who loved to write.