With International Women’s Day coming up (Monday 8 March), we question whether women are fairly represented in the large collection of Oral Histories recorded in Australia, and held at the NFSA and elsewhere. Malcolm Smith writes about two recent projects he has been involved in.

AMOHG’s recent largest thematic oral history project covering New Media was most careful to include female interviewees and another major project that I was also involved in whilst at Foxtel with the Australian Writer’s Foundation also involved many women interviewees.

Here are the details of both projects.

1. The New Media Oral History project

was an ambitious, complex initiative capturing over twenty interviews with key practitioners and using eleven different interviewers over four years that was both innovative and produced to a high standard of professionalism by volunteers from the media industry. The last thirty five years have brought enormous change to the media sector driven by revolutionary digital technological development. 
In 2015,as an AMOHG member, I undertook to look at the development of the sector in Australia from the mid-1980s.

AMOHG decided that this new thematic approach, not just a single oral history was worthy of its support. Members saw that it was both important and urgent to record those who had led major technological and cultural change. 
It was intended that the recordings be held by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).
In order to build a priority list of potential interviewees, advice was sought from 12 industry practitioners  (6 men and 6 women) with a deep and extensive involvement in the development of New Media.  
They were asked to suggest key players who would be able to provide, via interview:  

  • A history of how Australia’s New Media and Convergence sector has developed;  
  • The technical, political, regulatory and commercial issues at play; and.  
  • What role the interviewee played in this history.

Malcolm Smith then led a working party comprising Sandra Davey, Graham Shirley and (the late) Chris Winter, to further finesse the list of potential interviewees. In order to achieve a comprehensive coverage of the industry they considered gender as well as the diverse spread of New Media categories that the practitioners had contributed to. 

EntrepreneurialGovernmentArts/cultureAcademicTechnical
CommercialRegulatoryGLAMThought LeadersEngineers

PoliticalNational BroadcastersReporting / Technologies

Industry Peak BodiesCommissioning BodiesCriticismData Services


CommsTertiary InstitutionsCD-ROM

Five industry practitioners were recorded in 2016 – Brendan Harkin, Megan Elliott, Chris Winter (twice 1 x audio,1 x AV), Guy Gadney and Jennifer Wilson.  

In 2017 seven interviews were completed with John Butterworth, Gary Hayes, Tom Kennedy, Rachel Dixon, Louise van Rooyen, Sandra Davey and Zina Kaye.  

Jason Romney was recorded in January 2018.  

In 2019 Colin Griffith, Chris Fitz-Gibbon, Kate Richards, Malcolm Long, Gabby Shaw, Seb Chan, Stuart Cunningham and Molly Reynolds were recorded.

A total of 21 interviews (9 women and 12 men), have been delivered to the NFSA. Two other scheduled interviews for the project, both with women, are currently on hold because of covid.

The majority have been video interviews, mostly running for 3 to 4 hours. Three were delivered at no cost to NFSA.  The NFSA contributed approximately $360 in standard fees for each interview (which also included the necessary research prior to interview). There were no additional costs to the NFSA in making the video recordings. Chief Entertainment generously supported this Project by providing ‘in kind’ free support, by way of facilities and personnel.
The Australian Film, Television and Radio School also kindly supported the Project with student volunteers acting as researcher/interviewer under AMOHG supervision as well as facilities when needed.

2. The Australian Writers Foundation Oral History Program

In 2006, Geoffrey Atherden, then President of the Australian Writers’ Foundation and Malcolm Smith, Foxtel devised and initiated the Australian Writers Foundation Oral History Program.

Foxtel supported the Program until 2013 by way of in-kind resource support. This Program recorded, for posterity, an audiovisual record of significant Australian writers whose work has contributed to the development of Australian culture. 

Programs were donated to the NFSA and AFTRS for public access and research.

24 writers were interviewed. 16 men and 8 women.

Joan Ambrose, Geoffrey Atherden, Sonja Borg, Ann Brooksbank, Bob Ellis, Cliff Green, Tom Hegarty, Alan Hopgood, Ian Jones, Margaret Kelly, Richard Lane, Tony Morphett, Ted Roberts, Garry Reilly, Tony Sattler, Roger Simpson, Hugh Stuckey, David Williamson, Eleanor Whitcombe, Moya Wood, Brian and Mary Wright, Peter Yeldham and Margaret Kelly.

All interviews are lodged with the National Film and Sound Archives, the Australian Writers’ Guild and AFTRS. They are there to be used by students and researchers in the future who may want to learn about and/or make programs about the history of Australian writing for the screen and as a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the craft of screenwriting. 

Susan Lever’s recently published book Creating Australian Television Drama – A SCREENWRITING HISTORY is informed by most of the interviews she conducted for this Oral History Program.


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