Theme Media Television

Written by National Film and Sound Archive and Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

In order to celebrate women's contribution to the television industry, the Australian Film Commission mounted an oral history project, 'The Women Working in Television Project', to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of television in Australia in 2006. More than forty interviews, conducted by Christine Hogan in 2005, were later used as source material for her book, Look at Me! Behind the Scenes of Australian TV with the Women Who Made It. The interviews and associated documentation are now held at the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) and provide ample evidence of the diversity and extent of women's contribution to the television industry in Australia. Among others, the interviewees include Maggie Tabberer, Toni Lamond, Patricia Lovell, Jana Wendt, Anita Jacoby and Claudia Karvan. As Hogan noted at the launch of her book: 'The greatest challenge for me was not a dearth of material, but rather an excess of it' (Hogan, Speech, 2006).

At the start of her project, Hogan says she ran with the general thesis that television in Australia reflected almost the 'exact position' of women in Australian society. 'In the beginning', she says:

We were wives and mothers, side kicks and hand maidens. In the Sixties, the ladies of the Fifties had tuned in and turned on and the Pill was coming and so was the sexual revolution. By the 1970s, women were in newsrooms across the country and being trained by the ABC to become producers like Sandra Levy … In the 1980s we had turned into drama queens with the explosion of local production, thanks to the tax concessions to film and television makers. In the 90s, the tradition of female comedic creations … continued … (Hogan, Speech)

It was a neat structure, and a good one to start with but, as Hogan soon discovered, 'things are rarely as simple as they seem' (Hogan, Speech). She discovered women in front of the camera, taking the spotlight, in the early years-like Mary Rossi and Toni Lamond. And there were many women working behind the scenes such as Bev Gledhill and Eileen O'Shea, to name only two, who went on to have illustrious careers in production and publicity and who were certainly more than hand maidens and helpmeets. The fact that they were prepared to start at the absolute bottom to learn as much as they could about the industry they loved only enhanced their reputations. 'And now', says Hogan, 'we find that pay-TV has opened up even more frontiers to women; they are company secretaries, heads of channels, programmers, workers in new media. And that is just the way it should be' (Hogan, Speech).

Australian women were not only contributors to the industry; they have been leaders who have shaped it. For instance, the services of Patricia Edgar (Tully, NFSA) to children's education and children's television have been recognised in Australia and abroad. Under her guidance, programs produced by the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF) won ninety Australian and international awards and were sold to over a hundred countries, thus establishing Australia as a leading producer of children's programs. Margaret Pomeranz (Lake, NFSA) has played an influential role in the promotion of the Australian film industry through her prominent place on television. She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005 for her service to the film industry as a critic and reviewer, promoter of Australian content, and advocate for freedom of expression in film, especially through the shows she has co-hosted with David Stratton, The Movie Show and At the Movies. Maggie Tabberer, 'a leading lady in both fashion and the media, has maximized this appeal to become a true role model' for women who aspire to work in the industry (Baldwin, NFSA).

Whilst their role has been undersold and, perhaps, unsung, there is no doubt that women have been 'pivotal to the delivery and development' of television 'a medium that has done so much to transform the way we experience the world and understand our place within it' (Wynn, xiii).

Read more at the website of the National Film and Sound Archive (Women and Leadership in a Century of Australian Democracy).

Archival Resources

National Film and Sound Archive

  • Women Working in Television Project, c. 2005, 738762; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Published Resources


  • Hogan, Christine, Look at me! : behind the scenes of Australian TV with the women who made it : 50 years, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney, New South Wales, 2006. Details

Book Sections

  • Wynn, Sabina, 'Foreword', in Hogan, Christine (ed.), Look at Me! : behind the scenes of Australian TV with the women who made it : 50 years, ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney, 2006, pp. xiii-xiv. Details

Resource Sections

Online Resources