My new book, Trailblazing Women of Australian Public Broadcasting, 1945-1975 is a behind-the-scenes, women’s history of the ABC. At its heart, it’s a group biography of four remarkable producers, Kay Kinane, Catherine King, Therése Denny and Joyce Belfrage. It recognises their collective respect for public broadcasting and their shared ambitions to be innovative radio and television producers (the ABC traditionally called their television directors producers). The book traces their careers as they crossed borders and mediums, following them as they worked on location shoots and in production offices, in television studios, control rooms and radio booths. In doing so it highlights the barriers that confronted so many women working in broadcasting in the decades after World War II.
As I look back now on the creation of the book, I’m incredibly grateful I was able to access a range of insightful – and invaluable – oral histories. One that particularly stands out is Graham Shirley’s interview with Joyce Belfrage in 2001, created under the auspices of the Film & Broadcast Industry Oral History Group (FBIOHG – today called AMOHG) for the NFSA’s Oral History Program. I distinctly remember the day I put the headphones on and listened to revelations about Joyce’s career and her time at the ABC, which, it turns out, was a very challenging and tumultuous experience! The first chapter of my book begins with the story of Joyce’s sensational departure from the ABC in 1963. Demoted for a second time, she returned from lunch – where she had retreated to gather her thoughts and calm her temper (and have a few drinks, apparently) – but became so frustrated again that she grabbed a large typewriter and heaved it out the window. After scrawling a few choice words for the ABC on the wall with her lipstick, Joyce packed up and left. Hearing her tell Graham this story was the beginning for me. I just had to discover more about the reasons for her demotions and learn what she experienced in those early years of television at the ABC.
I’ve spent the past few years revisiting Joyce’s oral history. Initially I gathered a lot of very useful biographical information and noted names of her colleagues and the projects she worked on. I then did more digging, triangulating her memories against caches of material in the archives, comparing her accounts to statements made in ‘confidential’ ABC memos, reviewing her Producer’s Assessments, and reading the scripts of projects she spoke about in the interview. It was also useful to compare her memories with that of other broadcasters in the NFSA collection (Tom Manefield’s was revelatory). I learned many things about the post-war ABC thanks to Joyce’s testimony, but I think one of the most fascinating was the power struggles between the organisation’s radio-centric Talks officers and the new cohort of TV producers. Some fearful programme officers (like Joyce’s nemesis, Murray Gordon) battled to have the new TV producer/directors stripped of their authority to create content on their own initiative. Gordon wrote a self-serving manifesto and sent it to other ABC managers, insisting Joyce and these other ‘so-called producers’ were untrustworthy and not real ‘Talks men’. There were other battles as well; Joyce’s recollections also highlighted the difficulties production teams faced at the time, particularly the often-fraught allocation of resources, equipment, and experienced production staff.
Trailblazing Women of Australian Public Broadcasting, 1945-1975 presents a range of fascinating insights into ABC history, seen through the eyes of Kay Kinane, Catherine King, Therése Denny and, of course, Joyce Belfrage. If you get a chance to have a read, I hope you enjoy it.
Some oral history recordings mentioned here and held at NFSA: (except for the short clip of Joyce Belfrage, these recordings can be heard by applying to NFSA.)