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Remarkable careers

By Tatiana Carter

Kylie Andrews has written an illuminating history of women and work at the ABC. Trailblazing Women of Australian Public Broadcasting, 1945-1975 details how a group of female producers defied the odds and forged remarkable careers in radio and television in the post-war decades.

Caroline Jones AO described it as “an important, overdue ‘remembering’ of women’s role in the creation of the ABC – an entertaining read to set the historical (‘herstorical’) record straight – with startling insights into the good old days when the boys ‘owned the game’. It’s an eye-opener for younger program-makers to meet the feisty women who paved the way for them.”

Before becoming a historian, Kylie spent more than a decade in media production – working on commercial projects, animated feature film and broadcast design as a production manager and producer.

She divides her time between her work as a professional historian and teaching at the University of Technology, Sydney.

What inspired you to write this book?

When I had the opportunity to write a history of Australian broadcasting, I knew it would have to be a feminist history. There were so many questions I wanted answered, so many things I wish I had known about the women who went before me.

I loved media production and enjoyed the challenges and rewards that came from working in the creative industries but was often frustrated to see so many barriers holding women back.

When I became a historian I was able to interrogate broadcasting’s gendered conventions and cultures, particularly in the post-war era when women were supposedly content to remain in the domestic domain.

I was also determined to challenge those stale historical narratives that constantly kept promoting male perspectives.

In the early stages of my research, I discovered plenty of women in the ABC’s historical landscape.

Four producer/directors stood out.

Although I’d never heard of Kay Kinane, Therése Denny, Catherine King and Joyce Belfrage, I was curious about their ability to defy the odds and challenged the status quo.

So I tracked their careers and followed them as they worked on location shoots and in production offices, in television studios, control rooms and radio booths.

Their experiences and strategies were revealing (and inspiring).

They also told a bigger story and helped contextualise the barriers that confronted so many women working in Australian radio and television in the decades after World War II.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I’d have to say the book – it has been a long research project and I’m thrilled it’s been published.

It was certainly one of my biggest professional challenges.

Part of that was the exhausting but enriching time I spent in the ABC’s archives at Chester Hill over the past few years.

I discovered a great deal about the nature of the organisation and its people after accessing hundreds and hundreds of documents, including confidential memos, policy papers and production briefs, scripts and surveys, press clippings and contract negotiations.

Some great insights!

Who has influenced and mentored you?

I’ve had several mentors – in my production career, and later as a historian.

Now I think about it, there’s clearly a pattern: they were all resilient professionals, passionate about their field and eager to draw others up to join them.

Early on there was Annie Howarth (advertising) and Margaret Parkes (animation), and more recently the wonderful historians Paula Hamilton and Paul Ashton.

Coincidentally, I highlight the importance of mentors to the women in my book: the more successful ABC trailblazers had generous guides to give them advice and, importantly, advocate on their behalf. (Between 1945 and 1975, these helpful powerbrokers were all men).

How do you wind down after work?

I love walking around the coast.

I’m lucky to live near some ‘windswept and interesting’ golf courses.

It’s a great remedy for all that screen time.

I’m also trying to swim more. It will be great when the weather gets warmer, I’ll get down to the local rock pool in the afternoons.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve been comfort-reading the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, which are fun.

I have also just started Merle Thornton’s autobiography, Bringing the Fight, and Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed For Men.

What does the immediate future hold?

I’m thankful to be able to work with some fantastic people – co-workers and clients, and students as well.

I’ve recently wrapped up work on Australian military history and another on the city of Sydney and am about to start research for a new interactive project.

Looking ahead, I’ll continue researching women in Australian media and have some more oral history interviews planned.

There may even be another biography on the horizon.


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