Pat Walter pioneered the role of camerawoman in Australia: her son Craig wrote the following obituary after her recent passing, and AMOHG member Martha Ansara shares it here.

Patricia June Walter: Camerawoman – Television News Pioneer

In the 1960’s it was unheard of to find a news camerawoman turning up to film fires, murder investigations and heated political debates. Women still had not achieved equal pay status and the establishment of women’s movements was almost a decade away.

It was in this atmosphere that Patricia Walter began her illustrious career as Australia’s first female, television news cinematographer, a career which spanned 22 years.

PatWalter1Communication has changed much over the years. Patricia worked at a time when news gathering was a male dominated domain. Equipment was very heavy and as a ‘stringer’ she had no assistance as the full time staff members did. Unlike the smart-phones of today, Patricia had a ‘beeper’ to alert her of assignments, ‘on call,’ anytime of the day or night.

Apart from her Bell & Howell 16mm camera she carried heavy sound cameras, lights, battery, sound equipment and exposure meter to her jobs and a handbag! Camera models included the CP16, Arriflex and Frezzilini Auricon.

Pat filmed some of the most historically significant events in South Australia and the Northern Territory in the second half of the 20th century, including Cyclone Tracy and the Ash Wednesday bushfires.

Patricia and her journalist friend Maria Armstrong and others were trapped in the Ash Wednesday fire that is recounted in her autobiography.
Far from treating her with kid gloves, television newsroom editors often assigned her the most gruelling jobs, ones that even her male counterparts shunned or simply could not stomach. Pat’s nursing background steeled her for the horrific scenes she filmed, including charred and bloodied bodies blown apart in an aircraft explosion. Her third assignment near where she lived at Belair National Park.

Pat began her career on a whim at the age of 38. The widowed mother of three young children had dabbled in photography and making home movies of her family using a borrowed 16mm movie camera.

One day when painting the lounge room of her Adelaide Hills home she heard a local fire station siren coming from the Eden Hills unit.

She put down her brush, picked up her movie camera and instinctively chased the brigades to the scene of a fire which she proceeded to film. That night her footage was screened on the ABC News after phoning the news department. She was paid for her efforts by ABC television news and so began her career.

Pat’s determination to pursue the role of camera operator in a male dominated preserve in the sixties stemmed from her incredible childhood experiences. She wanted to tell stories and could have been a writer but told stories with film instead.

Pat was greatly influenced by her mother who she lost early in life. Subsequently she survived her childhood and adolescence living under harsh regimes of orphanages by mastering the inner strength she gained during her early years with her mother Coralie.

A strong willed young woman, Pat tackled work and life with the same gusto despite continuing setbacks including the loss of her husband in a motorcycle accident and having to raise three children on her own.

Pat excelled at everything she did from her early career as a gold medal psychiatric nurse to her pioneering role as a news camerawoman.

Pat began television news filming in 1964, the same year the Beatles visited Adelaide. Over the years she filmed everything from runaway elephants to royalty, film stars and politicians as well as horrific accidents, natural disasters and murder investigations. She went down mines, on oilrigs, travelled in light aircraft and army Jeeps.

Pat was never afraid to tackle the jobs her male counterparts did and learnt a lot from them. However, she was always sure to include a female perspective as a woman unique amongst a group of talented cameramen.

She was asked to speak at high schools and inspired young women to step out in life. Her example changed the motivation of girls in particular.

Don Dunstan, John Bannon, Gough Whitlam and Mike Rann were just some of the people who Patricia met on the job and was seen as a role model.

In the history of women in the film industry, Patricia preceded any women who came out of the Film and Television Schools by 10 years.
Pat worked for other stations, Channel 9, 7, 10, and the ABC and was made a full time staff member at the ABC Collingswood Studio, ‘a first.’

Patricia Walter filmed documentaries, advertisements, The Inventors, This Day Tonight and Countrywide. She influenced Channel 9 in getting Here’s Humphrey ‘B Bear’ outside and into parks with kids. She would edit her own films for Channel 10 studios and helped prepare the line up for the evening bulletin.

PatWalter2.jpgOne of her early associates was a young Malcolm Ludgate whom she used to give her black and white 16mm short ends to to encourage his interest. He of course, became a renowned and multi-award winning cinematographer including the IMAX film Antarctica, specialising in under water cinematography.

Reporters and journalists of note she associated with include, Walkley Award winner Grant Heading who became the producer of Channel 10, Carmel Travers on Beyond 2000 and the Honourable Pru Goward Member of Parliament and Women’s Representative.

Pat was made a member of the ACS in 28th August 1972 and served as secretary for the branch, then became a full member on 15th December 1982.
Pat was acknowledged and honoured by the Australian Cinematographers Society on 24th October 1993 when she was made a Full Life Member and her award presented by Lynn Arnold the then Premier of South Australia.

At those awards Milton Ingerson ACS explained that Patricia was now: “A full, active or retired member, who, for distinguished services to the society has been recommended by a committee to, and elected at, a general meeting. A life member shall not be liable for annual membership fees. Active, retired and life members are classed as corporate members with voting rights.”

Her autobiography called ‘Camera Woman‘ – is to be released in 2018 that not only details the life of a spirited pioneer but also gives a detailed insight into the lives and events which have shaped the political and social history of South Australia during that period.

Patricia has been included in the Martha Ansara / ACS publication – The Shadow Catchers and is listed in the Who’s Who of Australian Women along with articles in several books and publications such as Women’s Weekly and TV Times.

Her story and that of other female cinematographers is found on a Facebook promotion group called Camera Woman – Ciné.

Sadly Patricia passed away on 23rd November 2017 at the age of 91 and was admired and loved by many who knew her.

 


The images of Pat are from Martha’s history of Australian cinematography The Shadowcatchers.

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