Join host Amy Remeikis, political reporter for The Guardian Australia, in our new podcast – Bold Types. Based on the book authored by Patricia Clarke, Bold Types celebrates the pioneering women who took the world of journalism by storm. Each episode features contemporary female journalists reflecting on their experiences and those of their forebears.
The women you will meet in the series were, and are, bold beyond belief in every aspect of their lives. The pioneering journalists were gun-toting, adventure-loving characters, sometimes with both husbands and lovers, and sometimes cross-dressing, as they traveling to far-flung countries solo or with families in tow to cover wars, sieges, and invasions to be eyewitnesses to history for their readers back home in Australia.
Introducing Bold Types
Host Amy Remeikis chats with historian and Bold Types author Dr Patricia Clarke for a preview of what to expect across the season’s six episodes.
New episodes released weekly, starting Wednesday 3 May.
Purchase the book Bold Types – How Australia’s First Women Journalists Blazed A Trail from our bookstore.
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Introducing Bold Types
[00:00:00] AMY REMEIKIS: Welcome to our sneak preview of a podcast us, and possibly all of you, have been waiting for. We just didn't know it.
[00:00:13] It's about pioneering Australian women journalists who have been written out of history and we're about giving them a voice and celebrating their very big stories. Many of these stories featured in this podcast started from materials held in the collections of the National Library of Australia.
[00:00:32] It's called Bold Types, which is really quite clever because the women you will meet were bold beyond belief in every aspect of their lives. Cross-dressing, gun-toting, adventure-loving characters, sometimes with both husbands and lovers, traveling to far-flung countries solo or with families in tow.
And they put themselves in harm's way covering
[00:01:00] wars, sieges, and invasions to be eyewitnesses to history for their readers back home in Australia.
There were plenty of challenges of course, obvious ones like waiting 25 years for a pay rise. How's that for a pay gap? But there's also more disturbing trends like getting thrown under the bus by your male bosses when a scandal arose and the men had to be protected.
[00:01:26] All that and much, much more.
[00:01:33] Hi, I'm Amy Remeikis and some of you might know me as the political reporter for Guardian Australia. I'm so excited to be part of this podcast. And one of the greatest joys of making it was sitting down to interview the author of the book we've based this all on.
Writer and historian, Dr. Patricia Clark turns 97 this year. Bold Types is her 14th book.
[00:01:57] She's impressive to say the least. I've
[00:02:00] never met anyone quite like her. She's also lived the experience of the women. She's written about starting out as a journalist in a very, very blokey smoke filled newsroom in the 1950s.
[00:02:18] Q: Patricia, what were you hoping for when you set out to tell the stories of these women in Bold types?
PATRICIA CLARKE: Being a journalist myself, I always was interested in media history, particularly women and, uh, I just admired the women who'd gone before me. There were very few women journalists even when I started, but for them, they were the real pioneers.
[00:02:47] They were the brave, courageous women who grasped opportunities. They were the sort of women who took life as it came, took every [00:03:00] opportunity to travel, just to get an opportunity to write. And once they started writing, they had such talents, wonderful writing ability. But also they saw the world and stories in a different way.
[00:03:23] They saw with the woman’s eye, say, in wars. They didn't look for the statistics of how many men died falling off horses, but they saw the scattered children's toys left behind on battlefield.
[00:03:42] ACTOR: A human head almost fleshless, but with a long black hair streaming over the jacket behind. And the coarsely-made skirt showing plainly the sex of the dead.
[00:03:55] PATRICIA CLARKE: They saw the people dying from cholera all around them.
[00:04:00] They saw the bullet holes in house after house. They had an eye for the social problems as well as for the story they were after.
[00:04:16] The women in Bold Types, to me, these ones stood out as particularly showing this great effort to move forward to gain a foothold in what was an extremely male world and um, certainly the male reporters were very against them.
AMY REMEIKIS: It's kind of mind-blowing to think some of what they actually had to overcome. I mean, what did you learn about those obstacles?
[00:04:49] PATRICIA CLARKE: The long dresses. The early ones had to overcome the crinoline dresses billowing out. [00:05:00] Kept them from chasing a train accident or things like that. Having to write by quill pens.
[00:05:09] AMY REMEIKIS: And also because they weren't taken seriously as correspondents, they didn't have access to the same, you know, state of the art technology that their male correspondent did either, did they?
[00:05:20] PATRICIA CLARKE: Exactly. Anna Blackwell is a great example of that. She'd been on equal footing with men while their stories were sent from Europe to Australia by sailing ship. But, once cable transmission became available, she continued to have to send her stories by ship mail and the men, with the important stories allegedly, uh, sent theirs by cable.
[00:05:56] AMY REMEIKIS: Women also in, in your book also seem to have to balance their love and family life with their work life, which is not a new story but it's not something that the men of that time had to do either. What did you find was one of the common threads from the women in your book where they're trying to do that balance?
[00:06:17] PATRICIA CLARKE: There was no childcare, there was no government assistance, no maternity leave, but they just made do. They either employed people to look after children or really they employed servants if they really had to.
[00:06:38] ACTOR: I'm not born with a wife's instincts.
[00:06:41] AMY REMEIKIS: Because I suppose all of the men had wives, but these women had to hire wives in a sense.
[00:06:48] PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. In order to be able to do their jobs. Yes, exactly. Yes.
[00:06:52] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm, what about yourself when you entered the workforce? I mean, what was it like
[00:07:00] for you back in the 1950s walking into that male-dominated newsroom for the first time.
[00:07:05] PATRICIA CLARKE: I was the only woman there. And all the talk was of male interests. I was just the lone figure sitting in a corner, regarded as, if I was regarded at all, as an observer.
[00:07:23] I was not part of the conversation, which was about all sorts of male topics, the latest conquest, the races, just pure male interests. This didn't worry me particularly because you learn something from any situation you find yourself in. And it was, of course, this was common in those days everywhere… the smoke-filled room,
[00:07:58] the over-filled ashtrays.
Later, when I worked in the Press Gallery in Canberra, I had to leave the press gallery and go downstairs to the ground floor where there was a women's bathroom.
[00:08:16] AMY REMEIKIS: You and I have had many chats over the course of this book, and since then, about how little has changed in terms of some of the themes that you've discussed in Bold Types? What do you think stands out to you as, you know, some of the major areas where we haven't seen enough action or enough change?
[00:08:40] PATRICIA CLARKE: These days we see many women presenters on television, but often the people behind them, the people preparing the news, there's still a lot of male domination there. And certainly at board level, which
[00:09:00] really dictates the type of news that gets to the public.
[00:09:06] AMY REMEIKIS: So it's still being told through the eyes of a man, just with a prettier face.
[00:09:12] PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes.
[00:09:13] AMY REMEIKIS: What is the one takeaway you hope listeners will get from the podcast?
[00:09:17] PATRICIA CLARKE: I hope they'll be inspired by the sheer bravery of the women in this book, who really took on the world. They grasped opportunities, they grasped life as it came along and did the best they possibly could in the circumstances of the time in which they lived.
[00:09:46] AMY REMEIKIS: I promise you will hear a lot of unforgettable stories across all six jam-packed episodes to come.
And I'll also be speaking with a stellar cast of contemporary, Bold Types across the series. Superstars
[00:10:00] of Australian journalism like Patricia Karvelas, Mia Friedman, Suzanne Dredge, Zara Seidler, Avani Dias, Sophie McNeil, Nas Campanella, Zoe Daniel and Ita Buttrose.
And those ladies sure do have plenty of stuff to get off their chests.
[00:10:18] This show was recorded on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. We’d like to acknowledge Australia’s First Nations Peoples, the First Australians, as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of this land. We give respect to the Elders, past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
[00:10:40] Bold Types is a production of Ear Candy Media for the National Library of Australia. Subscribe or follow so you don't miss out when episode one drops next month. Catch you then.
[00:11:00] End recording.
Episode 1: Wild New Frontiers
Content warning: this episode contains descriptions of war casualties and sexual harassment.
Edith Dickenson was a fearless adventure-seeker who covered the Boer War with clear-eyed empathy as Australia's first female war correspondent. She also hunted boar from an elephant’s back in India whilst wearing a crinoline skirt, with the kids in tow. Patricia Karvelas appreciates that today’s crop of successful women journalists stand on the shoulders of giants like Edith.
Host: Amy Remeikis. Historian: Dr Patricia Clarke. Guest: Patricia Karvelas.
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Wild New Frontiers
[00:00:00] AMY REMEIKIS: Hi, I'm Amy and welcome to Bold Types, the podcast aiming to set the record straight about Australia's pioneering women journalists. And celebrate their most fabulous of lives.
This is the place for big characters with colorful histories. We didn't know these women existed until author and veteran journalist, Dr Patricia Clark came along and brought them alive in a book published last year. Pat teamed up with the National Library of Australia to publish Bold Types - How Australia's First Women Journalists Blazed A Trail, and that's the reason for this podcast.
First, we are going to introduce you to some of Pat's Bold Types from the past, most of whom packed in enough adventures to fill a Hollywood movie.
Then we fast forward to now. The idea is to riff off the past, then have an honest conversation [00:01:00] about just how far we’ve come, or not, in the fight for equality in this profession in the last 160 years or so.
And to do that, I'll be roping in some of my fantastic journo colleagues who are at the very top of their game. But first, let's rewind.
Imagine trotting off into the muddy fields of a war zone, far away from home. You're in a corset, a long skirt. You've got a notebook in your hand, a pen at the ready and lugging a big boxy camera. All around you soldiers, doctors, civilians are experiencing unimaginable horrors. And, in the face of censorship, you want people back home to know what's really going on.
This was the extraordinary life of Edith Dickenson, Australia's first female war correspondent. Edith's big break into reporting from the frontline [00:02:00] was way back in the late 1890s when the Boer War broke out. That's the one where the Dutch-descended South African farmers were fighting the British for independence. Like most wars, then and now, it was brutal and pointless.
If you look at photographs of the time, you see treeless planes littered with bodies, soldiers in pit helmets, some horses in artillery, but mostly just lines and lines of men with rifles charging towards each other getting mowed down. Edith was nearly 50 at the time. She'd been working as a journalist and photographer in Australia and overseas for about ten years.
Three Australian papers paid a Guinea each for her stories from the front. She was a bit of a unicorn, one of only a handful of women war correspondents in the world at the time. And she saw things differently. She was much less interested in the [00:03:00] tactics and politics behind the battle, and more concerned with the cost of war to ordinary people and how it divided families.
For Edith, it was personal. Her own son was part of the fighting. She was pretty clear-eyed about it…
ACTOR VO: A human head, almost fleshless, but with a long black hair streaming over the jacket behind, and the coarsely-made skirt showing plainly the sex of the dead. It was a woman's body. Near it lay a broken umbrella and a portion of a straw hat. The body was not a skeleton, but in such an advanced state of decomposition as to be most unpleasant to approach.
AMY REMEIKIS: Nothing about covering the war was easy. The sensors were zealously cutting the journalist's copy and her reports had to be [00:04:00] sent back to Australia by sea mail. The almost instant cable transmission available to male correspondents was deemed too expensive to waste on words written by a woman. So what did Edith do?
She pioneered written analysis from the frontlines. To say Edith Dickenson lived an adventurous life, is playing it down really. Apart from her time as a war correspondent, there were her travels in India riding elephants while shooting boar. She took the kids on that trip. When she wasn't hunting, she was taking photos and watching birds. On the personal front, Edith's life was not exactly conventional.
[00:04:45] Ditching her reverend husband in England for her doctor lover and following him all the way to Australia. Children born out of wedlock, that sort of thing. She was nothing if not a trailblazer.[00:05:00]
[00:05:02] To find out more about this remarkable woman, I had the great privilege to sit down with the person who's the reason we know all about this… historian, Patricia Clark, the author of Bold Types, the book.
Q: I'm very excited to get your take on Edith Dickenson. What struck you in particular about her story?
[00:05:25] PATRICIA CLARKE: Edith Dickenson was such an extraordinarily unconventional woman. She was the wife of an Anglican clergyman, the mother of four children. And she got on a boat and arrived in Melbourne and immediately became Mrs Augustus Dickenson, the alleged wife of her lover who was a doctor. And from there for the next nearly [00:06:00] 15 years, she followed him as he tried to escape the clutches of his former wife to the really most remote outback localities in the Australian bush where he could get a job as a doctor to keep them and also escape from publicity.
And here this very talented English aristocrat. Uh, she had two Dickenson children on the way. Everywhere she went, she had a, uh, her pen and her camera. She had a gun with her all the time. She shot birds in Australia and in India when she went there…
[00:06:52] AMY REMEIKIS: …with her camera or her gun?
[00:06:56] PATRICIA CLARKE: Both. Both. But she, [00:07:00] she wanted the, the birds for her ornithological collection. And that is now in. She stuffed them after she…
[00:07:14] AMY REMEIKIS: I mean, it's quite an eclectic group of interests that she has there?
[00:07:19] PATRICIA CLARKE: ...and they are now in the South Australian Museum. But, uh, she was a great writer too, and it's because of the book she wrote about her trip to India that she got the job as a war correspondent at the Boer War. [00:07:44] The proprietor of The Adelaide Advertiser was quite taken with her ability and the fact that she was an English aristocrat. She was the daughter of the Countess of [00:08:00] Suffolk.
[00:08:00] AMY REMEIKIS: I mean, it probably also didn't hurt that she wrote about shooting wild boar on the back of elephants while she was also taking her children with her…
[00:08:10] PATRICIA CLARKE: Yeah.
[00:08:11] AMY REMEIKIS: …on a trip to dinner in India.
[00:08:13] PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. Really most adventurous. A very, very feisty woman.
[00:08:25] AMY REMEIKIS: War correspondents always have a pretty dangerous job. And it wouldn't have been any different for Edith, was it?
[00:08:32] PATRICIA CLARKE: No, no. She saw many, uh, thousands of cases of cholera, people just dropping dead with cholera. She trudged across muddy battlefields where in one, one of them, uh, the bodies of the shallowly-buried Boer fighters rose [00:09:00] up out of the mud as she walked past, including the body of one Boer woman who had been fighting beside her husband. A very early case of a woman actually fighting in a deadly war. [00:09:19] And she had a child with her as well. She was extraordinarily brave, but she also saw the war so differently from the male reporters. She saw the remnants of the children's toys on the battlefield. She saw the, um, results of the houses burned. The furniture tipped out and broken pianos in pieces, the human cost of war.[00:10:00]
[00:10:00] AMY REMEIKIS: That's probably one of the first times readers were actually taken to a war zone to see that human cost, because a lot of war reporting was and still is, in a lot of cases, about the bravery of the troops and the victor victories and the glory of battle. It was pretty rare to actually say, well, here is the human cost of those glories.
[00:10:26] PATRICIA CLARKE: Yeah, those sort of stories these days even, come later. Not while the war is going on.
AMY REMEIKIS: You've written about the time she had permission to visit concentration camps outside of Cape Town. Are you able to tell us more about her experience there?
PATRICIA CLARKE: She visited many of the concentration camps set up by the British to confine poor women and children. [00:10:56] They were prisoners and they lived in [00:11:00] appalling conditions. She wrote about, uh, starvation. Their deaths from disease of children of say, five years old, who were still skeletons from not getting food they could eat.
When she went to the camp at Bethulie, one of the worst camps where her husband was one of the doctors, the water was contaminated by all the horses. [00:11:39] They were just dying from the water. Death toll in those camps was tremendous, and the doctors suffered too.
ACTOR: The overworked doctors either fell ill and sometimes died themselves or resigned their [00:12:00] hopeless task. The camp had every fault possible - overcrowding, tents too near together and never moved for months. [00:12:11] Bad sanitary arrangements, insufficient water supply, and a poor and scanty diet. Some of the people are really mere skeletons.
PATRICIA CLARKE: [00:12:29] Some could not stay there. Edith's husband did stay, but he died from a heart attack only a few days after she'd been reporting that camp. And uh, she went back later to arrange to get a monument over his grave at Bethulie and she got very sick and within a year she [00:13:00] also was dead, both of them in their early fifties. And they left their two children as orphans.
[00:13:12] AMY REMEIKIS: What do you think women journalists today could take from Edith? What are some of the traits they could borrow from her?
PATRICIA CLARKE: That great verve for life. That grasping any opportunity, not overthinking whether this would be better for my career or, or not so good. But to just step in and grasp life.
[00:13:48] AMY REMEIKIS: Grab your gun and go ride an elephant.
PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. If you have the chance, certainly.
[00:14:00] AMY REMEIKIS: Whoa, I need to see a movie version of the Edith Dickenson story. Very inspiring stuff. And Patricia Clarke, the Patron Saint for these unsung women heroes.
My next guest is also inspiring, especially to me. She remains unstoppable across any given day. Up early every morning, and we mean early, as host of RN Breakfast on ABC's Radio National.
[00:14:27] Then off to co-host the Party Room podcast before preparing for a spot on Insiders for the weekend. Patricia Karvelas, or PK as we all know her, has been a journalist since she started on community radio as a teen, while still at school. Not only is she one of the sharpest political journos in the country, but she's an out and proud lesbian, married with kids and proud of her Greek heritage.
[00:14:54] But Patricia has also seen Canberra's toxic culture up close, and it wasn't pretty. [00:15:00] Especially when she first rocked up there 20 years ago.
Q: You've worked in Canberra's Parliamentary Press Gallery from about 2003, I think for eight years. To take you back, I mean, John Howard was Prime Minister. The block had just launched on Australian television, and you were just starting your parliamentary press career. Walking into that gallery, what did it look like when you arrived?
[00:15:27] PATRICIA KARVELAS: [00:16:15] It was very male, it was very Anglo-Saxon, and that was reflected in the press gallery as well as in the political class. Back then that was the case in, uh, the Labor and the Liberal party as well as the Nationals. We didn't see have as many independents back then. The Greens were a smaller operation and, as a result, I think that the journalists as well kind of reflected the parliament and [00:16:46] it was not a really welcoming place to work. It was a difficult place to work, particularly for I think, younger women or anyone who was different.
AMY REMEIKIS: You came into journalism at a [00:17:00] time when we did see a lot of change. A few years later, there was a change of government. Uh, you know, there was an, an apology to the First Nations people in stolen generation. [00:17:10] We saw, uh, same sex marriage made legal. But we also saw a lot of ugliness in all of those debates and continue to see a lot of ugliness in all of those debates. And it's not just in the chamber, is it? It can also be amongst newsrooms, uh, and journalists themselves. So how do you talk honestly about that time? How do you find the line of encouraging people that journalism is a place for all voices, while also acknowledging that you haven't had the easiest time in every newsroom you've been?
[00:17:44] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well, I think part of that is the only reason I can be honest, earnest, and not hold back and, and I try not to, is because I have the benefit of years of experience and also let's [00:18:00] not pretend that I don't have more social power than I did maybe 10, 20 years ago, because I do. So the reason I can be so frank with you, Amy, is because I'm no longer a 23 year old young woman in the press gallery [00:18:15] am I ? And so because I'm not I can tell you what happened when I was. And what happened when I was is that I had some wonderfully encouraging men who were wonderful. But I also dealt with some horrible sexism and, uh, sexual harassment and did have to traverse some pretty difficult spaces sometimes. And also among politicians, who sometimes were not appropriate and also in trying to get stories from people who were sometimes hostile.
[00:18:49] So that was not easy. But I don't think, if you asked me 20 years ago, I would've been as honest with you as I am now. That doesn't mean I was a dishonest person. I think I was really careful [00:19:00] because I was working in hostile spaces sometimes, and so it is important for people like me now to be really honest about.
[00:19:07] Our workplaces, the way things work, the way power transmits because there are younger and more diverse people coming through, and if people like me can't say it now with more social power, then how on earth is anyone who is a 22 year old version of me now ever going to be able to do it? So the power does change with time, but it does happen only if people find the bravery to speak up. [00:19:37] And lots of younger women have found that. And if women like me in kind of in the middle of their careers, which is where I'm at, can't be honest then God what a dire circumstance for everyone else.
[00:19:51] AMY REMEIKIS: Yeah. Uh, what you mentioned there about power, I think is really important because you don't have a lot of power as a young journalist, [00:20:00] regardless of gender. [00:20:01] But you do need people who have more power to back you up when they see what is happening. But there is a lot of gatekeeping even around stories in journalism and what is a real story and what is not. How do you traverse that and how is it different to how you traversed it when you first started out?
[00:20:23] PATRICIA KARVELAS: The demographics have changed a lot, so I think when the demographics change in newsrooms, and the culture changes, then the gatekeepers start changing.
[00:20:32] Who are gatekeepers? News editors, people who decide what stories should be run, what stories should be pursued. There's thousands of stories that can be told every day. Literally thousands of things happening all the time that I think probably are worthy of telling, but newsrooms only have so many resources, so they can only make so many choices about what they'll pursue.
[00:20:54] That's where the gatekeeping, the people who have the power to back reporters to pursue [00:21:00] different things, really matter. I think now you're seeing, and I think the best example of course is in Parliament House, where there has been a groundswell of shifts, um, in the sort of stories around sexual harassment in Parliament House.
[00:21:14] Obviously allegations of more serious assault as well that have been told. But those stories, it's not like, do you think those things weren't happening in parliament house 20, 30 years ago? They were. It's just that our gatekeepers didn't think they were worthy of telling. And, even if you got one of those stories, you probably wouldn't put your hand up and try and get it on the record because they weren't being told.
[00:21:40] And the rules were that they weren't appropriate or they weren't in the public interest. So something has changed, and that's like a cultural shift that's meant that those stories can be told, which is a great thing. But that happens not because just one reporter is a trailblazer. It happens because a culture is [00:22:00] shifting at the same time.
[00:22:01] And so it's wonderful that those stories are being told now, but there's probably gonna be a whole lot of new stories that we haven't been telling that will be told in coming years as well.
AMY REMEIKIS: Do you think there'll be that same amount of pushback against the fight to have different stories told or the same stories told from different perspectives?
[00:22:21] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, I do. I think unfortunately, the consequence of change is always backlash. And so yes, I think we will continue to see backlash. Women, journalists, sometimes being smeared as being activists. Diverse journalists. Um, I've, I've spoken to a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander journalists, journalists from diverse cultural backgrounds who talk about how they feel, for instance, like they are being watched or there is some assumption that they're… [00:22:57] there's a cynicism or questioning [00:23:00] around the motives that because for instance, they're Aboriginal, um, they can't possibly be unbiased. Do we look at, I don't know, a male journalist who has been brought up in privilege and think he can't possibly cover the banks?
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: …because he might come from a rich family and therefore he's gonna have a bias to the banks. [00:23:21] Like we would never ask that question right? By the way, I'm not suggesting we should.
AMY REMEIKIS: But it doesn't even come up.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It would never be asked.
AMY REMEIKIS: I've never heard a man being accused of being too close to a story.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Look, I’ve known of instances where I know male reporters have questioned themselves, because we should have ethical conversations all the time about closeness to stories, our own emotional attachments to things, but that's called being a rigorous ethical journalist.
[00:23:52] I have conversations with myself about every story. That sounds, that sounds like I have a split personality. I mean, don't you? I think we should, [00:24:00] we should always interrogate motives and ensure that we are fair and rigorous. That's actually being a good journalist. But we should encourage more of that, not less of that. [00:24:12] And it should happen everywhere, right? We want more perspectives, we want more rigour. We want to make sure that we don't have a really narrow prism for how we treat impartiality, because we wanna tell more stories, not fewer stories. That's my whole shtick. I reckon we need more stories. And, at the moment we're at a huge juncture, a moment I think, for our profession as journalists where we are [00:24:38] having a huge reckoning about the kind of stories we tell. I know you and I have bonded about this before, about the way we've treated violence against women. When I was a young reporter, that I will give myself some credit on. I often wanted to tell more stories about violence against women, right? I've always been very passionate about that, but I did feel restricted by the rules around me.[00:25:00]
[00:25:00] And I often would second guess myself. Why do I think this is so important? And, and noone else, I thought. Why is there this disconnect? And, and, and now I've realized that. The rules that were being formed around me were the wrong rules and my instincts on this were correct, that there was a crisis going on that was being under reported, badly reported. Um, that often men who were in charge were not interested in these stories or did not think that they were in the public interest, that they saw them as private sphere things. [00:25:37] And so we've seen that change.
[00:25:38] AMY REMEIKIS: Hmm. Yeah. We’ve talked about it before when I've, I had an editor who just said to me, ‘Oh, that it's just a domestic, they're just domestics,’ when I was a police reporter. But I wanna ask you, Patricia, what do you think is powerful journalism?
[00:25:54] PATRICIA KARVELAS: I think the most powerful journalism is the stuff people don't [00:25:58] want you to know, and it [00:26:00] always will be. I mean, there's a reason that we talk about that. Powerful journalism is telling stories that are being suppressed and it takes the bravery of investigative journalists to do that. And I think they are our most important journalists still. So the powerful stories are the ones that, um, powerful people don't want you to know, or where journalists provide a platform for people who have been disempowered or haven't been able to tell their stories, to tell their stories.
[00:26:33] What we often forget is that the best journalism also, though, comes from people who do care. And if you don't care, you should probably do something else. You do have to care about the people that you’re telling the stories of. You have to care about their right to tell their stories, and so powerful journalism to me is in that work. Now, but that's not the only work that happens.
[00:26:57] I'm, for instance, a daily [00:27:00] presenter. I do a lot of politics. I do a lot of policy. I'm not an investigative journalist, and that's been a decision I've made. It hasn't happened accidentally. I love what I do and powerful journalism can also be holding the powerful to account and being somebody who can do that without being fearful, that there's a power in that as well.
[00:27:21] AMY REMEIKIS: I was just gonna say on that, it's one of the biggest criticisms I see of women interviewers is that they're not being “nice” to their subjects. Like, ‘Oh, that wasn't nice’. Or, you know, ‘Oh, you're being rude. You interrupted them’. You don't see that with the men so much either. How do you deal with the, uh, you weren't being nice criticism that comes your way?
[00:27:46] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Oh, look, I've been told I'm, I don't sound nice since I was about, I dunno, seven. So I'm kind of used to it. Um, I, I, I am, I've been told I'm abrasive or too much, you know, I'm just so, ‘You're so [00:28:00] full on. You're so full on’. I've been told I'm “full on” my whole life, so I'm kind of used to it. Even in my execution, I've been criticized [00:28:08] right? And I think a lot of women are.
I do think there's a gendered nature to it, but I'm gonna add a couple of other layers to. I think there's also uh, there's a, there's a real sometimes race/class angle too, which I feel really strongly. And if I, um, just sent you some of the emails I've received in my time, which criticize the way I pronounce “Senator”, um, apparently I say that in a way that's, and I've really decoded it. [00:28:39] Basically it's a little too ethnic and working class.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It's not pronounced in the way that…
AMY REMEIKIS: …it's public school.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah. I, I don't say it right.
[00:28:47] AMY REMEIKIS: I say it exactly the same way and I often get criticized for the way that I speak because, uh, I don't have the rounded vowels or I don't have the private school accent cuz I didn't go to a private [00:29:00] school.
[00:29:00] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Again, goes to wanting different people in our newsrooms. Like, I think we've heard a certain type of bloke for years and, and you know, those types of blokes should continue to be employed. I'm not, I'm not against them. Some of them are my best friends. I like them, but we need to hear different people as well.
[00:29:16] And you know, you talk about, you like going back to your primary question, which I diverted from a little, which is, you know, you don't, not nice.
[00:29:24] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
[00:29:25] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Um, I think sometimes I'm being super nice actually , and if you don't think I'm nice, maybe. Haven't heard my kind of nice. Like I'm just, this is just my style and we're all different and that's cool and, and it should be cool.
[00:29:40] Um, but sometimes, yeah, I, I'm not there to be the best friend of a politician that I'm asking difficult questions of. It's true. I'm not there to be their buddy. Like they've got friends and they, and they're fine with that, most of them. By the way, this is another little thing I'd like to share with the public.
[00:29:57] They don't actually, they don't [00:30:00] care, most of them. Some of them are prickly, sure. Like some of them have got thin skin. Most don't though. They, they absolutely do respect, um, a journalist who asks hard questions and not all of them, uh, as bad as you'd think. They're like, ‘Of course you'd ask me that. Why would anyone be offended by that?’
[00:30:17] They're shocked that others are outraged on their behalf because they're not. They know that they're out there arguing for something that's difficult, that will lead to some people losing out, that they have to go and explain it to people. They understand that my job is to hold people to account, to be compelling and interesting, to make the, the interview be something worth listening to for people, and that I'm not there to be, everyone's like bestie, right?
[00:30:45] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. .
[00:30:46] PATRICIA KARVELAS: And if I wanna be everyone's bestie, if that's my objective, then I've probably failed as well.
[00:30:53] AMY REMEIKIS: We've also spoken about this issue before, which is also a bit tricky, which is that in workplaces that have fewer [00:31:00] women, it's not necessarily the women banding together, it can often turn women against each other. [00:31:07] Do you see that changing, this sort of divide and rule situation that can prop up when you don't actually have diversity in your workplace?
[00:31:16] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, it's the “only one of us can win because we know we are in a minority” so this is the group to compete with rather than having a, a, a broader look at it. Look, I, I was raised by a lot of matriarchs who really tried to train me out of that behaviour and cuz you do need to be really active about it. [00:31:39] Um, because so much sexism is internalized, I think.
[00:31:43] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. . .
[00:31:45] PATRICIA KARVELAS: And so I have tried very actively, even when I was a baby reporter, not to do that actively and being really thoughtful about it. And so even when I was a cadet journalist, I would actively try to compete with the young men that were up against me, not the women, like actively, like you have no idea Amy. [00:32:04] Like actually thoughtfully. And um, and I would, you know, I knew only one of us, for instance, was gonna get sent, sent to Canberra, and so I tried to beat the boys… and I did.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: …you know, But now, I don't see that as much. I'm not saying it never exists, it probably does, but I, I have for instance, on RN breakfast, younger people, younger reporters, and journalists [00:32:39] and producers. And they're very diverse, uh, mixed genders and they're really, they support each other. And I see a really different culture, and I love it. And I see young men supporting, uh, women the same age to be leaders. I see a really, and I'm not saying that's everywhere and I'm not trying to be utopian, but there is a shift again and it's great.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: …and I love it, but I don't think it was there when I was a young reporter. I'm glad that I tried to push up against it. Not saying I was always successful, but I did try. Because I don't think we win by pushing down other women, other people from minority groups. I don't think that's a way of winning. [00:33:24] That's not a win. We want more diversity. We want more interesting journalists writing interesting stories. We don't want fewer of us.
[00:33:33] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. It's actually a loss. Like if you're pushing down Oh, totally. Loss on some, it's, it's actually, it's, it's a complete and loss, and I think a failure. You know, not to be all like white girl, girl power about it, but it's, it's a failure because you are closing the door on others who have been screaming to get through.
[00:33:53] Because if you can't support somebody like you, how on earth are you going to support somebody who has a [00:34:00] completely different perspective and life to you? It just, it makes no sense to me. But I noticed such a huge difference when I went to The Guardian, which has a woman editor. My political editor, Katherine Murphy is, is obviously a woman, and I just noticed that it, it wasn't ever explicitly said, but you could just immediately kind of just [00:34:21] exhale because there wasn't that sort of competition. It was, uh, we are going to actively encourage all sorts of voices and all sorts of people to do the good work that we know that they're capable of, and that's why they're here. It's not a, ‘you are competing with your colleagues for this one prize’.
[00:34:38] It's, uh, ‘Let's all work together’. Uh, because that's, that's the job, to inform audiences. And I do think that that shift probably needs to happen in a lot more newsrooms. That it's not necessarily you are competing, it's that you are working together to try and do the best job that you can for your audiences.
[00:34:57] PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well, you've just nailed it. Because [00:35:00] I, I, I did work in a culture which was, dog eat dog to be honest. You know, set people up against each other and make them feel like they've gotta get the story first and therefore, you know, trample on anyone. And that wasn't just gendered, just trample on anyone to get it.
[00:35:17] But actually given there are thousands of stories, why are we competing for the one yarn? There are so many. Why aren't we all trying to get up as many interesting, important, uh, stories as we can and teach each other how to do them in compelling ways? Like there is a collaborative way to work and still be successful for your own self. Like I don't think that kind of really, really, negative model is one for successful outcomes.
[00:35:54] AMY REMEIKIS: When does it stop? When do those gatekeepers actually see the space and [00:36:00] go ‘My perspective is not the only perspective of Australian journalism’?
[00:36:05] PATRICIA KARVELAS: I, I dunno if we're there yet. Uh, when, when that happens, gimme a call. I suspect I'll be a very old lady or not here anymore. I think it's gonna take a really long time to get to a place, cuz what you're describing essentially is a place where we're, we are genuinely all equal. And I think we're not really at that place yet. I think there are newsrooms that are getting that things have to be done differently.
And you've [00:37:00] seen that. Like the best example I've seen is in the hiring of Indigenous reporters to cover Indigenous affairs. Now that's not to say cuz I've really strong views on this, where I think while that should happen, I don't wanna see non-Indigenous people not cover these issues or not take an interest because I think that silo approach isn't [00:37:23] healthy for democracy. I think we should all actually be more interested in those sorts of issues, which are at the heart of our country's inequality.
But, I do think that newsrooms have thought more deeply about that, and that's good. I'm happy about that, but we're not at the place yet where it's, you know, we've had a full shift on these issues, but we are starting and that's a good thing. And that's a good thing. [00:37:48] That means that newsrooms have realized that, ‘Hey. Wow. Imagine if we actually spoke to people in these communities about it. Imagine that? Wouldn't that be a good idea?’ [00:38:00]
[00:38:02] AMY REMEIKIS: …And that my friends is the perfect place to end, don't you think? Thanks to my guests, the two Pats, Patricia Karvelas, and before that, the one and only Patricia Clarke. Patricia's book Bold Types is available at all good bookstores and online. I suggest you go get yourself a copy.
This show was recorded on the lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. [00:38:28] We’d like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples, the first Australians as the traditional owners and custodians of this land. We give respect to the elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
[00:38:48] Bold Types is a production of Ear Candy Media for the National Library of Australia. Our producer is Karla Arnall. Our voice actor is Roslyn Oades. Sound design and [00:39:00] edit, Tiffany Dimmack. Executive producer is Ian Walker. Big thanks to the National Library crew: Lauren Smith, Ben Pratten and Amelia Hartney.
I'm your host, Amy Remeikis. [00:39:11] Catch you next time… and take care of you.
Episode 2: Fashion, Frills & Frivolities
Content warning: this episode contains mild coarse language.
The “women’s pages” were a blessing and a curse for opportunities. The biggest irony was that the women writing this stuff, like Stella Allan and Jennie Scott-Griffiths, were working mums whose lives were almost completely opposite to those of their readership. Mamamia’s Mia Freedman, who has successfully built a women’s podcast empire, learned early on never to underestimate the audience.
Host: Amy Remeikis. Historian: Dr Patricia Clarke. Guest: Mia Freedman.
The Fijian folk music used in this episode is courtesy of the David Fanshawe World Music Archive (1967 - 94)
Song: Vakamalolo - Sitting Dance (Fiji). Discover more
Further Reading and References:
- Articles by Stella Allan
- Articles by Jennie Scott-Griffiths
- Jennie Scott-Griffiths, ‘What Women Demand’, The Australian Worker, 30 November 1916, p7
Listen on Spotify Listen on Apple Podcasts
Fashion, Frills & Frivolities
AMY REMEIKIS: Hi, I'm Amy Remeikis and welcome to Bold Types, a podcast celebrating Australia's pioneering women journalists. Inspired by the book of the same name, by Patricia Clark. In this episode, we're going to explore the notion of “the women's pages”. I know it's a concept quite a few of you may not have grown up with but, believe me, it was a feature of Australian newspapers for a very, very long time.
Content for women by women. A few pages tucked away in a discreet section in the middle of the paper. The basic idea was that housewives weren't really interested in reading about lofty matters of state and were much happier focused on “fashion, frills and frivolities”.
[00:00:52] ACTOR: Do you like kitchen recipes and household hints? Do you like knitting, needlework and crochet [00:01:00] suggestions? Do you like to see what Paris, London, and New York fashions are like before they are worn in Australia?
[00:01:07] AMY REMEIKIS: We're going to look into how much has changed since that ad was published in the Australian Women's Weekly in 1942, and we'll find out just how different the lives of the women journalists writing this content were compared to those of their audience. Later, we'll be talking to someone who's reinvented the spirit of the women's pages and turned it into an entire podcast empire. I'm talking about the amazing Mia Friedman. But first, let's set the scene and meet two of the characters who lived and breathed content for women. Two Bold Types who both worked on the women's pages, but were almost polar opposites.
In Hollywood's scriptwriting terms, Stella Allen has a big story arc. As a student in New Zealand in the [00:02:00] 1890s, she seemed fearless, a committed socialist and feminist who became one of the country's first female law graduates. Her sister later became New Zealand's first female MP. By the end of her career though, Stella was writing and railing against women getting the vote.
Her first appointment as a journalist started with a bang when she was locked out of the parliamentary press gallery in Wellington by a bunch of cranky men who didn't want women invading their space. Stella took an offer to move to Australia and start the women's pages for The Argus, the wildly conservative Melbourne paper writing under the nom de plume “Vesta”. That empire lasted thirty years. She was fiercely intelligent, but allowed her own views to be subsumed by those of her husband and employer.[00:03:00]
Jenny Scott Griffiths, on the other hand, got her start in journalism because her husband was totally hopeless at his job of running the Fiji times. She was soon reporting, editing and proofing the paper herself, including during nine pregnancies.
When Jenny moved her large family to Sydney in 1912, she found work as a magazine editor. She had grown up amongst dirt poor white folks and evangelicals in Texas. A child prodigy signed up to the speaker circuit by her daddy to deliver his sermons against the evils of drink and debauchery. This dutiful daughter never lost her zeal.
And Jenny saw no good reasons not to share her staunch feminist ideas and public stances against war and conscription with her readers.
ACTOR: Women have a right to be individuals, neither [00:04:00] sex slaves nor pampered poodles. We have a right to demand to say whether we will do this or that work, and where we prove ourselves capable of equal work with men, that we shall be paid an equal wage for that work.
AMY REMEIKIS: But this eventually got her into bucketloads of trouble and cost her her job. To find out more about both of these remarkable women, I'm joined by Dr. Patricia Clark, author of Bold Types, the book published by the National Library of Australia.
Q: Welcome again. What about the Women's Pages struck you?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: The women's pages… [00:04:40] it opened up a new field of employment for women journalists, but in fact, there was such a contradiction between the fashion and the cooking recipes, but they were working women themselves, not the stay-at-home readers [00:05:00] of what they were writing. The employment itself also was double-edged because male journalists who were always against women joining what was a male profession, they saw that it was a way of corralling them really, spreading the idea that ‘Okay, they could be journalists maybe, but on the women's pages, not in any general reporting, certainly not on anything as dangerous as crime or court reporting’.
AMY REMEIKIS: I've read quite a lot of the women's pages throughout the years that they existed, and what struck me was that there are often articles of ‘Why I would never be a feminist’ or ‘Why work is for the men’ proclaiming ‘Stay at home little woman, you know, make your gelatin and feed your husband…
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yeah, and here is the recipe for steak kidney.
AMY REMEIKIS: When, as you [00:06:00] say, these women…
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: …here they were working away, sometimes keeping like Jenny Scott-Griffith, a family of ten children.
[00:06:11] AMY REMEIKIS: How did Stella Allen fit into this story? Because she's probably one of these pioneering journalists in Bold Types that people may have heard of before.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes.
AMY REMEIKIS: So how does Stellar Allen fit into the women's pages?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She began as a young radical social feminist soapbox orator in New Zealand. She was the first woman to ever report parliamentary debates in Australia or New Zealand. [00:06:42] She'd suffered quite a bit in getting permission to report the New Zealand Parliament.
AMY REMEIKIS: Yeah, I mean like the men were very angry that a woman dead to step into the parliamentary gallery, right?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. And they voted against her being a member of the [00:07:00] Parliamentary Press Gallery. But the proprietors said they had the right to appoint the person they wanted, and so they had to accept her, but very, very grudgingly.
[00:07:12] AMY REMEIKIS: So she was watching the parliamentary debates from the ladies gallery?
[00:07:16] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. They couldn't stop her. So they insisted that a cubicle be built around her.
AMY REMEIKIS: To stop the girl germs from spreading throughout the gallery?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Sounds like it.
AMY REMEIKIS: That can't have been a comfortable time for her?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: I mean, at that time, she was a really great feminist. The remarkable thing about Stella Ellen is that once she married a very conservative man who'd been a British diplomat, she decided that there was no room for political dispute in a [00:08:00] a marriage, and she adopted his politics.
ACTOR: The difference in his attitude was most pronounced. So I realized that it would not work for husband and wife to support different parties in politics.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: And then when he got a job on the Melbourne Argus, a notably conservative paper, she followed. And she became far more famous than her husband by grabbing the women's column. And the whole section eventually supported the paper and she became quite a figure in Melbourne, quite an establishment figure, progressing very good ideas in the women's pages, provided they weren't political, like kindergartens, all sorts of things that would help [00:09:00] women's lives. She was very, very good on that.
AMY REMEIKIS: So we had Stella Allen on one hand. And then on the other side of the spectrum, also very influential, you have Jenny Scott Griffiths.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yeah.
AMY REMEIKIS: Kind of polar opposites, right?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Exactly. They were exact opposites because Jenny Scott Griffith was originally from the Texas bible belt. Evangelical. Very, very conservative. From a very early age, she ran the children's pages and they're full of morality and ‘not doing this, not doing that’. Then she came to Fiji and quite rapidly married the editor or the son of the proprietor of the Fiji Times. Rapidly [00:10:00] had ten children and, at the same time, she started working on the paper because she was such a natural writer and eventually was editing the paper.
Then, she decided he should sell the paper in Fiji and they come to Sydney so the children could start to get educated properly. He lost all their investments and she had to find work. And she was appointed editor of a women's paper, a typical women's paper of that time, appealing to the stay-at-home women. Full of fashions, cookery recipes, romantic short stories… always with a happy ending. Childcare, gardening, anything furnishings, anything [00:11:00] to do with the home. And she continued in that mould for a short time but, when the First World War began, she got caught up in a sort of maelstrom of radical ideas that grabbed women, particularly women who were against war and conscription.
And she embraced these ideas like a convert.
AMY REMEIKIS: And, but that would've been coming from a confederacy town. She would've seen the damage of, of war, particularly with people from lower socio-economic areas. And the cost of all of these families losing their sons?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She did. Yes. Yes.
[00:11:48] AMY REMEIKIS: And so even though it was quite a conservative town, it probably planted the seeds of more progressive politics because she lived through the damage in the aftermath of, of that [00:12:00] war.
[00:12:00] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Exactly. Yes. Yes. I suppose you would say it was latent. But she also embraced not only violently anti-war, but she promoted contraception. And she started infiltrating this really ordinary women's paper into gradually the women were reading about communal living of a Marxist type. You know, one mother would stay at home and look after the children, and all the other women would be free to go to work.
She promoted some of the famous writers on women's rights and contraception and all the things that were not really written about in papers at that time.
AMY REMEIKIS: Although if I had 10 children, I also would be looking into contraception.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: You would think it was a bit late, [00:13:00] but so eventually, She infiltrated the paper to such an extent with anti-war, anti conscription, socialist ideas on and feminist ideas on life that the proprietor sacked her.
[00:13:19] AMY REMEIKIS: How did she handle being sacked?
[00:13:21] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She just had to take it really? She said something like ‘They couldn't put up with a woman like me’. She had become the ultimate radical. And she didn't ever get another full-time job in journalism. She became a famous radical in Australia. The whole family moved to Brisbane and she led what we called “red marches” there in support of no conscription, imprisonment of people who were against conscription [00:14:00] and who were regarded as “reds”.
[00:14:03] AMY REMEIKIS: And all of this came from the women's pages?
[00:14:08] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. The women's pages, despite their sort of harmless appearance, changed two women's lives radically.
AMY REMEIKIS: Indeed it did, and it changed the reader's lives. [00:14:25] If there was one lesson Patricia and I took away from our chat about the women's pages is that you'd be foolish to underestimate the influence on its readership. Because it largely flew under the radar of the men who ran the establishment media of the time and also made them money, much of the time the editors were left to their own devices. And so radical ideas found their way into editorials.
Some of you may remember growing up during the Dolly Doctor years of that very popular magazine for teenage girls. [00:15:00] Readers were encouraged to write in and ask about the things no-one else was willing to tell them. Things like sex, contraception, menstruation.
Another more recent example was Teen Vogue. During the early part of the Trump years, that magazine did a big explainer about “gaslighting”. So the lesson is, do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the modern-day heirs to the women's pages. And I know that my next guest will be nodding her head in agreement.
Q: Mia Friedman, the legend. As we move forward into modern history, you too have been a pioneer of what we would probably consider to be the modern women's pages, and that is women's magazines. You were the youngest editor of Cosmopolitan at just 24. You also edited Cleo and Dolly. You eventually went on to become an [00:16:00] executive at the Nine Network and the only woman executive at the time.
But that wasn't the right world and, from what you have created from that, you have just launched women's issues into a completely different stratosphere, pioneering women's content in this digital age and just taking it in a completely different direction. So, I suppose if I was to sum up your career in a sentence, it would be sustained, wild Success brought on by listening to women.
Mia, thank you for joining us. How would you sum up your career in a sentence?
[00:16:38] MIA FREEDMAN: It's not even a sentence. For me, it's just, it's women. I've only ever worked in women's media making content for women on whatever platform that might have been. Whether it was magazines. I wrote, written a newspaper column. I've done a radio show. And now, of course, it's digital media.
We've first a blog, [00:17:00] now a women's website and a women's media company and of course podcasts and social media. So what's remained the throughline, I suppose, is trying to make the world a better place for women and girls. And that sounds very lofty. And I think it's important to unpick that, which is why I'm so glad I'm on this episode.
I think that making the world a better place for women and girls is not just about equality and feminism and social justice, although it is about all of those things, but it's also about making women feel seen, heard, and understood. And one of the best ways that women's media has always done that is by allowing women to tell their stories so that someone else can hear it or read it or see it and say, ‘Oh that's me. That's putting some words around my life experience or my, my inner life experience’.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. I suppose one thing though that has stayed exactly the same is that women journalists could never just be [00:18:00] journalists. So now in a time where women still do most of the unpaid labor in their home, they have to be a little bit of everything to everyone, as well as holding down full-time jobs and, if they have children, would be most likely the primary carer. Do you think that's something that you can relate to and that women who listen and who read MamaMia can also relate to? We always have to be a little bit of everything.
MIA FREEDMAN: I think that's our greatest strength because we're plugged into the world in a way that men don't have to be. That's why it always amuses me, this idea of women's issues being so narrow. And people are like, well, from a political lens, women's issues are considered to be health and education because, within a family context, a woman is usually the person who is most responsible for things like looking after children, looking after everyone's healthcare, all of those sort of caring roles.
All our research that we've done since the beginning of Mamamia shows that women [00:19:00] are responsible for 85% of household purchasing decisions. So that's not just lipstick and tampons and cereal, it's everything. It's insurance, it's travel, it's cars, it's mortgages, it's finance… it's all of those things. So there's no part of life and the world that women aren't plugged into, and I think that's what as journalists gives us our edge over men, to be frank.
AMY REMEIKIS: I think because we are plugged in to so many different aspects of society, it also takes a little bit of reinvention where we suddenly have to become something else to try and fit in or stay on top of things. Has there been a time in your career where you've had to reinvent yourself?
MIA FREEDMAN: Oh many times. You know, when I left magazines and I was looking for what was next, and I just didn't know because I felt that, that I'd done everything I could there. And I was also frustrated, you know, working in monthly magazines, which is what most magazines were at that time. Women's lives were becoming incremental [00:20:00] in text messages and emails, and it was not something that happened once a month.
And so, I was moving away from women's magazines, but I didn't quite know what I wanted to do, so I took this little detour via television broadcast, which was a disaster for me. The male CEO who recruited me was very much, ‘I'm tired of trying to sit around boardroom tables with twenty men trying to work out what women wanna watch on television’.
And he was very smart about that. But when you bring one woman in with those twenty men, I ended up being put in charge of literally hair and makeup at the network. And also doing a daytime women's talk show that nobody watched. And that was always destined to failure because it was never given any support.
So, that was me going down in flames. But I think just like you have to have a terrible relationship often to recognize a good one. I had to have that terrible work experience because, previous to that, I'd spent 15 years in women's magazines in the warm, estrogen-soaked bosom of [00:21:00] women's magazines. And I don't mean that it was soft, but I mean that it was such a shock to me when I was suddenly among the dick-swinging and the sexism and the ingrained misogyny.
It wasn't that these men were bad people, it's just that they just didn't understand what to do with women. They just didn't get what the point of us was really. If they didn't wanna have sex with us or we weren't mothers, what was really the point? So it was a big shock to me, and that's when I didn't know how it was gonna pan out, but I just thought what I wanna do is communicate with women. So I started a blog ‘cos I didn't know what else to do. There was no barrier to entry, didn't cost me any money. And I used the redundancy that I'd fought hard for before I left television to support myself because it made no money for the first two years at least, and I had to work 18 hour days.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm. It's, yeah, it's, it's an incredible but also very familiar story I think, you know, for, for a lot of women and particular women in the media. We'll revisit that. But let's [00:22:00] first go back to the nineties, um, which was a little bit of a Wild West when you look back on it from this modern lens. Just to quickly recap that time for some of our younger listeners where the cultural conversations were at.
At the time a lot of them seemed cutting edge and some of them, you know, absolutely were, they had progressed us, but there was also still a lot of misogyny, a lot of ingrained misogyny, a lot of body shaming, a lot of pitting women against women as some of the narratives. An easy example of that is, you know, Paris Hilton and her friendship group, or the way that we spoke about Britney Spears and, you know, women's celebrities.
And then you, Mia Friedman, were building your name in women's magazines and coming through that. So what was that like for you?
MIA FREEDMAN: Oh, Amy, I love your take on it because of course you are [00:23:00] so wise when you say that. When you're in it, you think you are so ground-breaking at the time. But I was sheltered from a lot of that, from that condescension around women because in women's magazines, it was your whole world. So we weren't the women's pages of a newspaper or the cute little, you know, item about fashion stuck in at the end of a news bulletin. We were everything. We were 360 degrees of women.
I try to explain to people that if you wanted to know anything about being a woman or a girl, and I don't just mean about tampons or you know, contraception, but everything from feminism to sexual health, to domestic violence, to breast cancer, to fashion, to sex, to relationships, to career. You had to go to women's magazines because there was nowhere else to find it. And so we, we built our tribes then around these different titles.
So, you know, we started with Dolly and the saying goes: Dolly taught you what an orgasm was. Cleo taught you how to [00:24:00] have one. Cosmo taught you how to fake one… and the Women's Weekly taught you how to knit one. So we kind of moved from magazine brand to magazine brand, depending on our life stage and the kind of information we needed about that life stage.
And so we were at the centre of the conversation. Until digital came along, women's magazines were it, you know, they really were it. So women's magazines did all these wonderful things, and so it was a very exciting time but, at the same time, they were sold on the idea of making women feel insecure. So it was this weird dichotomy about ‘We are gonna empower you, but we're also gonna make you feel really insecure’.
So I remember being in meetings and we would come up with cover lines like, Does your sexual history make you a slut? That went on the cover of a magazine that I worked on. Is your makeup making you look old? We did diet specials, the drop a dress size by [00:25:00] Saturday diet. 10 signs he's gonna dump you. So, all of these things, and we also used insecurity to market to women.
And all the women in the pages made you feel terrible about yourself. So, I loved magazines, I was passionate about them, but they also made me feel shit about myself as a consumer. Because there was no-one that looked like me in there.
AMY REMEIKIS: Well, I remember looking at these magazines and seeing beautiful women talking about how they just ate burgers and fries and I was like, how are you doing that? Because yeah, I am, you know, doing the Britney Spears a thousand crunches before bed thing and I still do not look like that. So what was that experience?
MIA FREEDMAN: There were no other women in women's magazines other than tall, thin, blonde, white, young. And if you didn't tick every one of those boxes, and maybe 1% of the population did, you would never see anyone that looked like you in a magazine.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
MIA FREEDMAN: And I thought that was just dumb. I thought it was dumb for women as a feminist, but I thought it was dumb for business because why do you wanna make your audience feel shit about [00:26:00] themselves? So I flipped it. I took out diets because I felt that that was really bad for women. Women didn't buy magazines ‘cos diets weren't in there.
And what I realized is that I put in images of women of all shapes, sizes and skin colors. This was pre those iconic Dove ads where it showed body shapes.
AMY REMEIKIS: It was really interesting cuz I do remember reading the magazines at the time and I remember seeing these subtle shifts happening and just going, oh wow, okay. Like there is a bit of a new generation coming through. I mean, I will say that I was taught to worry about taking an outfit from day to night, a little bit more than I was actually needed in my life.
MIA FREEDMAN: No, didn't you? None of us ever needed to know how to go from beach to bar.
AMY REMEIKIS: I've never actually had to do that. I haven't had to, you know, take my makeup from day to night yet. But you know, I have those skills if needed. But it also was my first introduction to politics. And I think that's probably something that a lot of people outside [00:27:00] of this conversation may be missed, that women's magazines were very political and you played a role in that.
MIA FREEDMAN: We absolutely were. And I think that when no one else was talking about things like the gender pay gap, about domestic violence, about women's representation of government, women's magazines. You know, maybe not every issue, but we were. Whereas, even still, you look at the finance pages, you look at the business pages of any major newspaper legacy title, and it will just be wall to wall male, pale, stale.
AMY REMEIKIS: That's been one of the big ways that women's media has been underestimated. Probably from the time it began.
MIA FREEDMAN: A thousand percent Amy. And I think that there's always been this idea that if women or girls are interested in it, it must be stupid. It must be frivolous; it must be dumb. And that's why there has always been this [00:28:00] condescension when it comes to content for women and why the terms often used to describe either the content itself or the women who make it are so incredibly condescending.
Things like “mummy blogger”. I'm still called a mummy blogger because I have a uterus and an internet connection. You know, “chick lit”, “mummy porn”. All of these words that are used to describe women's content, you know, “trash”.
So many things that women are interested in are called trash, “trash mags”, “trash tv”, all of those kinds of things. And yet sport is held up as this pinnacle of achievement on every level. I mean, it's in every news bulletin, literally. And yet things like women are interested in, like pop culture or health or…
And again, when when I first started Mamamia, it was so funny because it was not the nineties anymore, it was 2008. And yet the websites for women were either parenting [00:29:00] sites or gossip sites, or cooking sites or fashion and beauty sites. And that was it. So I wanted to start a site and no-one could understand what Mamamia was. And I, I think probably the name didn't help. People are like, oh, mama, is it, is it a “mummy blog”?
And I'm like, ‘No, it's an Abba song and it's my name’. I mean, I should have given more thought to it. But it was this revolutionary idea that women are interested in, they might be interested in parenting, cooking, fashion, whatever, but they're also interested in news, politics, sport, pop, culture, health, all of these kinds of things, business… and people couldn't get their head around it.
Like I remember talking when we were trying to get advertising clients, talking to some big guy in an agency and saying ‘It's a women's website’ and he's like, ‘Oh what, like parenting? And I went, ‘Well no, all the things that women are interested in’. And he goes, ‘Women, gosh, that's an interesting niche’. Can't understand it.
AMY REMEIKIS: 51% of the population. What an interesting niche!
MIA FREEDMAN: …Such an interesting niche. And there are [00:30:00] still people in, you look at the way that women's media is depicted, even, you know, Anna Wintour and The Devil Wears Prada. It's all this idea that even women's magazine editors, of which I was one, are these dumb, fluffy manicure-getting… like they're business women. You know, the, the women who were helming brands like Women's Day, Women's Weekly? Not anymore cos they're not part of the big conversation. But, when they were, they're running businesses that did back in the nineties generate millions of dollars. And so, you know, it's no accident that Ita Buttrose, who is now the chair of the ABC, began as a women's magazine editor.
The big changer for women and journalism and all forms of content creation was digital because suddenly there were no gatekeepers. There was no male program director, there was no male news director, there was no male editor. You know, in radio, the wisdom has always been, and I still think is, ‘No-one wants to hear women talking’. Like, literally, that's what they [00:31:00] say. And if there's was ever a female host on a radio show, you'll notice, even to this day, they'll put one or sometimes two men with her just to balance it out because ‘No-one wants to hear those female voices’.
And we've built a podcast network of 53 podcasts and close to a billion downloads of just women's voices out of one small room. So that is what changed. And we are not the only ones. So suddenly, I could start a blog in my lounge room. I didn't need a male program director or tv whatever to say, ‘Yes, I'll give you a go’.
And so women started blogging. Women started publishing themselves, and that's how it grew. And then we reached out to other women and said, ‘I'll publish what you write and I'll publish what you write. And so you can share your experience. And otherwise every gatekeeper was male. Even the people that were hiring magazine editors, women's magazine editors were men. The publishers were by and large, certainly in the nineties, [00:32:00] male. The editors of the opinion pages were men. So that's been the game changer.
AMY REMEIKIS: It seems like a very strange question, this one, but have you ever felt hemmed in by women's content, given how other people think of it?
MIA FREEDMAN: That's a great question. No, not at all. Because, I mean, I've been frustrated enormously with the condescension from the outside. I've also been frustrated enormously by the antipathy I've had from some feminists who've believed that because we are a successful women's media company, that somehow that is bad. Somehow we must be doing bad things, or we are not doing feminism right.
Because I think that, you know what's important is when you're in a women's media company, We are for all women. We're not just for women who vote a certain way or think a certain way or dress a certain way or are a certain age or have certain opinions. [00:33:00] And it doesn't mean that every piece of our content is for every woman because women are a broad church as we know.
So I found that the idea, also sometimes the fact that our core purpose was, we're a purpose driven media company ‘to make the world a better place for women and girls’ and, and so all our content goes through that filter and all business decisions goes through that filter. For example, we don't support the paparazzi economy, and that's a terrible business decision because we could make a lot more money like all our competitors do by running paparazzi photos of celebrities at the beach with their children, in swimsuits.
But we know that goes against our core purpose. It's not good for women. So we don't endorse that. We don't support that economy at all. That's one example, but what it doesn't necessarily mean is that you have to agree and support every woman. So, we would never run something attacking an individual woman, but it doesn't mean you have to agree with the choice of every woman to be a women's media company. People try to put those boundaries on us, and we very gently just [00:34:00] make sure that we push back on those ideas because they're just not true.
AMY REMEIKIS: If you got to chat to 19 year old Mia, what would you tell her?
MIA FREEDMAN: Well, I always say slow down because I was in such a rush. I was in such a rush to kick career goals, life goals, have a baby, have another baby, become an editor.
I wanted to be an editor by the time I was 25, and I thought if I wasn't, that even seemed really late. Maybe I should be one by the time I was 21 because my first boss, Lisa Wilkinson, was an editor when she was 21. And 25 seems ancient. And then I wanted to go bigger, bigger, higher up the ladder.
And I guess what I've learned is there's climbing up the ladder, but there's also climbing the lattice, which is going outways. Your career isn't linear. Because I think that what I see so many people do, certainly women that start as journalists and content creators in all fields, is that they then decide that the way to advance is to become a features editor or then an editor or a [00:35:00] producer and then an executive, and then a manager. And they wanna go up and up and up and they end up managing other people's creativity, not having any of their own.
And I think what I have learned is the importance of “deep skill”. Not just going up, also going down if that makes sense. Getting better at what you do and then going out and getting other skills. Getting new skills. You know, you and I Amy, learning to podcast. Whodda thought? I'm on Instagram, like I'm editing my videos, learning how to make funny little videos.
Who would've thought? All of these things I think are staying alive to the coal face of whatever it is that you love doing and just being aware that the higher you climb, the further away you often get from loving what you're doing. Because managing people who are doing the thing is different to doing the thing yourself.
[00:35:55] AMY REMEIKIS: …Some amazing empire management tips from the Queen of Women's [00:36:00] podcasting. Thank you so much Mia Freedman for making the time to chat. And before that, of course, the legendary Patricia Clark, author of the book, Bold Types, which is what this podcast is all about. You can pick one up at any good bookstore, analogue or online.
[00:36:18] This show was recorded on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. We’d like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples, the first Australians, as the traditional owners and custodians of this land. We give respect to the elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Bold Types is a production of Ear Candy Media for the National Library of Australia. Our producer is Karla Arnall. Our voice actor is Roslyn Oades. Sound design and edit, Tiffany Dimmack. Executive producer is Ian Walker. Big thanks to the National Library crew: Lauren [00:37:00] Smith, Ben Pratton and Amelia Hartney.
Episode 3: Bold Types – Rewriting The Rules
Content warning: this episode contains mild coarse language.
Some of the most successful of the Bold Types made their own road map and were deft at the pivot, while relentlessly sticking to their principles. Pioneers like Jessie (Tasma) Couvreur, who covered Europe for The Times during the Franco-Prussian War and flapper Frances Taylor, who launched her own magazine promoting a love of cars, foreign travel and DIY housebuilding. Zara Seidler and Suzanne Dredge are two modern trailblazers who took different paths to the top of their game.
References and Further Reading
- Articles by Jessie Couvreur
- Articles by Frances Taylor
- Jessie ‘Tasma’ Couvreur, ‘Autumn in Paris’, The Australasian, 14 January 1882, p7
- ‘Tasma photographed in Turkish costume’
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Bold Types – Rewriting The Rules
[00:00:00] AMY REMEIKIS: Before we start today, a quick heads up. There are a couple of bad words later in the show. What can I say? We got a little bit passionate and carried away. Consider this your language warning.
Hi, I'm Amy Remeikis and welcome to Bold Types, a podcast where we set out to blow apart the myth that some things, even after all these years, are still considered best left to the boys. Journalism being one of them. And we're here to celebrate stories of remarkable women who rewrote the rule book. And later I'll be talking to a couple of contemporaries of mine, Suzanne Dredge and Zara Seidler, who've proven themselves very deft at the pivot, and equally good at relentlessly sticking to their principles.
But first, let's meet two Bold Types who did great things with buckets of flair.[00:01:00]
Francis Taylor was your typical flapper of the 1920s. She was a sassy self-starter, outward-looking, a globe-trotting adventurer who started her own magazine without any backing but her own gumption. On one of her classic adventures in the pursuit of sexy copy, Francis dressed as a man to go undercover in Chinatown in Rabaul.
She loved cars, driving them long distance and fixing them herself, and she couldn't stand how men mocked women drivers.
[00:01:36] ACTOR: A man will come home and with a “what else can you expect” air, tell of the hairbreath escapes of women drivers which he and his men pals saw. The next minute probably he will exultantly boast of the number of curbs he nearly crashed into or of the tram cars he so neatly grazed with never a hint that it may have been due [00:02:00] to recklessness on his part. Oh, no. Merely an example of his consummate skills in steering and control.
[00:02:09] AMY REMEIKIS: And Francis also did a great job of talking up her magazine and became a bit of a hit on this new-fangled thing called radio. And when it all got too much, she'd speed herself away to Spinster's Crescent on the outskirts of Melbourne where she'd built a weekender.
To find out more about this remarkable woman, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Dr Patricia Clark, the author of Bold Types, the book published last year by the National Library of Australia. And I started by asking Pat about what irked Francis Taylor the most when she decided that it was time for a brand new women's magazine… one that fit the mood and changing times of the 1920s…
[00:02:55] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She was quite unhappy with the ones that were [00:03:00] around at that time, and her idea with this was to empower women to get them to enter the flapper era, which was an empowering era for the 1920s for young women. She did this by deciding to describe to women how they could run their own lives, how they could become independent of men.
AMY REMEIKIS: She even built her own self-contained bush shack in the hills of outer Melbourne and encouraged her readers to do the same. And she was so successful at one stage that there was a crescent up in the hills that was called Spinster Crescent or Spinster Alley. And she had her own tiny A-Four [00:04:00] car and she fixed it herself.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: And she wrote articles for women about how they could fix their own cars. And she also widened their horizons on where they could travel overseas. To the Pacific Islands in particular, where you could go by trading ships.
AMY REMEIKIS: She took this to new heights in 1921 by traveling to what was then New Guinea and dressing as a man to get stories. [00:04:33] Australia had just been given the power to administer New Guinea and Francis “The Midge” wanted to know what was really happening on the ground.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about that. Why did she do that? How did she do that?
[00:04:47] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She wanted to get stories from the most interesting part of Rabaul, which was Chinatown, but a woman could not walk into [00:05:00] Chinatown at night with the opium dens and the brothels and the wonderful street life. So she dressed as a young man and got a wonderful story. Of course, when she interviewed the wife of the administrator, she dressed in perfectly fine, feminine clothes.
[00:05:26] AMY REMEIKIS: So she was a, a very adaptable woman, but also very cunning. She knew, she knew exactly what she wanted to do When she went out and got it?
[00:05:31] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. The paper she started, she had this vision for it. She had no money with no institutional backing. Nothing. She succeeded. And, of course, everyone said it would fail. They hardly expected more than the first issue, but it was successful.[00:06:00] It went on to get quite a very big following after a year or so, but she was continually refreshing it with new ideas.
[00:06:13] AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. And Women's World, her magazine, essentially the main, like the motto of it seemed to be “A man is not a financial plan”. You can do this yourself.
[00:06:23] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Exactly. Yes. Women could do anything. Fix cars, get jobs as engineers, get jobs in industries where women had never been before. She just wanted women to take control of their lives. She did gather this following of women. And later, during the depression, she pioneered radio broadcast, morning tea chats. Every morning she'd be on the radio [00:07:00] empowering women again to make the most of no money. How do you feed your family? At one stage, she invited women to send in their money-saving recipes, and at one stage she got a recipe for a “mock duck”. And, and then it followed an avalanche of recipes, followed mock everything you could imagine.
She was just an innovator on legs. She just charged into life. She was like a breath of fresh air to her women readers and women listeners. Unfortunately, she died at a very young age from cancer.
[00:07:51] AMY REMEIKIS: She left a mark though, and I think she also showed the ingenuity of women…
[00:07:58] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes.
[00:07:58] AMY REMEIKIS: …because, as you've said [00:08:00] throughout all of bold types, women weren't interviewed, women's views weren't considered, you know what women were doing wasn't considered news. But Francis showed, not only did women have the get up and go to launch a magazine or start cross-platforming reporting by going on the radio, she also harnessed the ingenuity of women to make ends meet in the worst financial crisis that the world has seen.
[00:08:29] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes, yes, I agree with that.
[00:08:45] AMY REMEIKIS: Another woman of great style and substance who also achieved success by defying convention was Jesse Couvreur, also known as Tasma. Her claim to fame was being appointed Brussels correspondent for the Times [00:09:00] London. It was the mid 1890s and, for a woman from Colonial Australia to be covering Europe for one of the UK's most prestigious papers, well, it was pretty astounding. But Jessie got there by going the extra yards and telling gritty human interest stories, like spending time in a night shelter for destitute men in Paris.
[00:09:22] ACTOR: It is sad to see that among civil engineers, officers, and lawyers in very small numbers, sadly, 200 teachers and professors have inscribed themselves as paupers. Many a despairing waif has been saved from suicide by the knowledge that there was at least a comfortable bed open for him to reflect in.
AMY REMEIKIS: Jesse did great work at The Times, but had a controlling boss who criticized, praised, and berated her. [00:09:53] Her text was sometimes cut to a few sentences or not published at all. Adding to that, most of the time she [00:10:00] only got paid enough to cover the cost of the telegram she was sending. The pay gap… it's just the gift that keeps on giving, isn't it? But Jessie never seemed to lose her poise. There's an amazing black-and-white photo of her in Patricia's book, which I asked her to describe for me.
[00:10:20] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Tasma was an unconventional woman from the beginning of her life really. Bold Types was illustrated with a very unconventional photo. She is dressed in a harem outfit and she is photographed in a harem in Turkey. She was traveling there with her husband and decided to interview the women of the harem. It's a gorgeous photo. She just looks the part.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm.
[00:11:00] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Her whole life was unconventional. She left her first husband, uh, when the marriage wasn't working out. She kept herself in Europe by, uh, sending articles back to The Australasian, and then later she succeeded in the extraordinary task of becoming Brussel's correspondent for the London Times.
Throughout all of that, she didn't ever disguise her left-wing politics. She didn't ever disguise that she was interested in the poor. She wanted to write about the people who were poor and deprived. At one stage, she spent a night in a night shelter for men in Paris, and she discovered that, to her surprise, a lot of these [00:12:00] men had been professionals but, because it was a terrible downturn in jobs, here they were in the night shelter.
[00:12:11] AMY REMEIKIS: But, I mean, she was also a lecturer, a novelist, as well as a journalist. How did she handle being Brussel's correspondent, given how highly competitive correspondent roles were at the time, and still are?
[00:12:27] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: It was highly unusual. For The Times to hire a correspondent overseas. She succeeded by just bombarding them really. But she also had to put up with a great deal of denigration on the way. For quite some months, she was not paid at all. She kept sending stories to them. This was like probation. She sent her [00:13:00] stories. She was paid for the cost of the cable, nothing more, and they were publishing. Can you imagine a young man being considered as a correspondent for The London Times being treated like that? Impossible.
[00:13:22] AMY REMEIKIS: It was far from an easy road for Tasma. And we'll be hearing a bit more of what happened to her in a future episode. But now it's time to catch up with two colleagues who've made it their mission to rewrite the rule book for women journalists and blaze a trail all the way through their careers. Their pathways, though, have been very different.
Suzanne Dredge is currently the Head of Indigenous News at the ABC. She's a proud Wiradjuri woman and the very first First Nations staffer on the ABC's Executive team. She's award-winning… three Walkleys so [00:14:00] far for her work with Four Corners, 7.30 and ABC Investigations. Suzanne's work has taken her to the Middle East, reporting on the end of ISIS, and investigating the Australians who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight with Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
Our second guest is still early in her career, but already kicking it out of the park, just the same. Zara Seidler started her work journey, and interest in politics, as a staffer here in Canberra. Then, in her early twenties, she went on to co-found the social-first youth news service, The Daily Aus. It quickly became a wildly popular news brand… nearly half a million followers on Instagram. And Zara is no stranger to podcasting either, co-hosting a daily news show… and she's still only 26.
I wanted to know what it was that drew both Zara and Suzanne to journalism and whether the path was [00:15:00] always clear. It certainly wasn't for Suzanne.
[00:15:04] SUZANNE DREDGE: The simple answer is no, it hasn't been clear for me. I didn't get into journalism until I was 27 years old. I was a community development worker running outreach programs, um, in Southwest Sydney with Youth Off The Streets. And I was surrounded by so much poverty and injustice. And I would often think back to the young girl who grew up in social housing and wanted to become a journalist and tell the stories of my people.
And so I, I enrolled in a journalism degree at Western Sydney University. I had so many people at the time tell me, “You're never gonna get a job in journalism. There is no jobs. Um, they're not gonna employ anyone like you. There's pretty much no space.” But the great thing is, is that I just, I didn't believe it… and I just allowed that fire to drive me and keep going. And here I am 13 years later.
[00:15:58] AMY REMEIKIS: It is amazing the [00:16:00] gatekeeping that happens so early in, in careers where basically even before you get to the starting line, they're like, “Oh, don't even bother lining up on the blocks”. So, was that something that you had experience with?
[00:16:13] ZARA SEIDLER: I didn't study journalism. I was always curious and I think that guided me in my early career. I, I will say I'm 26, so speaking of a career as this long thing is just a farce because I haven't had a long career yet. Hopefully I will. But, um, I was always curious and that led me to, to interrogate what I thought was the different parts of our political system and try and understand it from different perspectives.
So, I did a short stint in a newsroom and then decided that wasn't for me, uh, but not as a journalist, just as you know, hooking people up with their microphones and making sure they were all hooked in when they yelled at me at 4:00 AM in the morning. Uh, and then I, I went on to work for a politician briefly and then to do government relations [00:17:00] for a peak health body.
And so I tried to understand the political system from all these different points of view, but what I found was that none of these perspectives were doing a good enough job. Uh, and none of these bodies were doing a good enough job of engaging young people. And that's what led me to what I'm doing now.
[00:17:18] AMY REMEIKIS: So you've both had fairly similar motivations. You have looked at the situation, you've had experience elsewhere, and you've just gone, this isn't working. And, like Suzanne, how important do you think that has been to making you the journalist you are?
[00:17:35] SUZANNE DREDGE: Oh, look it, it's everything. It's what drove me to get into journalism and it's what's kept me here. I mean, it hasn't been an easy path. When I started, um, I remember walking into a newsroom that was white, uh, and mostly male. And people who had predominantly attended private schools and had all kind of taken the same path into journalism.
[00:18:00] And I realized, it's interesting, Zara, that you talk about perspectives because I realized that there was one perspective that was always the narrative and that perspective wasn't representative of me or my community or where I came from. So, it was extremely challenging though to kind of find a space and figure out where I fit in.
And there were times where I thought, I'm not sure if I can do this. “This isn't, these aren't my people, this isn't my world”. And I had to navigate that and just keep in mind that I'm here for a reason and there's a purpose. And it's bigger than me. It's bigger than all of us. And if I don't create a space for myself, then how can we have those spaces for those that are gonna come after me?
AMY REMEIKIS: Zara, having tried legacy media and gone immediately, “This isn't for me” and then we are seeing the wild success of The Daily Aus as it started up, and it's really influencing the conversation. Have you found that you are getting some of [00:19:00] those same reactions from people who were just going not only “Where did you come from” but “Where did this organization come from?”
ZARA SEIDLER: The short answer is Yes. My favourite story to recall is that we were really proud to send a journalist into Budget Lockup a couple of years ago. It was a really big milestone for us. We were this kind of tiny little operation with no idea what we were doing and managed to get into Budget Lockup. And the first thing that an unnamed legacy publisher said was, “Oh, you're those little TikTokers. How cute.”
Um, and it… just that utter, utter condescension, you know, how could there possibly be a new player? How could there possibly be people doing things different and reaching new audiences? And so, um, it was both simultaneously enraging, but also invigorating and, and gave us the push that we needed to keep, keep getting those audiences that that said publisher couldn't get.
[00:20:00] Um, and so we are taking up space that has not traditionally been, I think, a priority for other publishers. I think that hearing the voices of young people and suddenly of the next kind of voting block isn't a priority, but is becoming one. And we've been really proud to lead that charge.
AMY REMEIKIS: It's a really interesting point that you raise about the next voting block because I don't think that media companies or politicians, or society at large have really cottoned onto the fact that millennials are about to become the biggest generation in Australia, and so younger voters really, really matter.
Q: Suzanne, how important do you think it is having different perspectives when you are reporting on these issues, considering that society and our politicians have not caught up with this generational change that we're seeing?
SUZANNE DREDGE: Well, I think there's a huge disconnect within [00:21:00] politics and young people and, as you say, just this lack of understanding of how engaged young people are in politics and that they no longer follow the major political parties. That they are interested in issues and they want to hear from our politicians about how they're going to tackle those issues. And I think social media, the internet has really brought that to the forefront.
I don't think we have enough young people in politics for starters. Um, I think that politics is very similar to the media industry. There is a particular path for one part of society um, and you get some, like, you know, Anthony Albanese who grew up in Department of Housing, who were able to forge their own path and don't come from, I guess, the normal kind of background. Um, however, if they don't tackle that soon, they are going to lose a huge part of the voting public.
Um, we're gonna [00:22:00] continue to see more Independents come through because young people are engaged. They do care about policies, they do care about politics, and they wanna see our political leaders address those in a way that they understand and they care about.
AMY REMEIKIS: Zara, is there power in being underestimated?
ZARA SEIDLER: I love this question. I've been thinking about it a lot because, um, during the federal election, it was an uphill battle to get, um, one of the leaders of one of the major parties - I'll let you decide which one it was - uh, to come speak to us because we were dismissed as, you know, the young journalists who really just won’t be doing much with that.
And then post federal election where young voters and young women specifically sent a very strong message to the major parties, we have had both major political parties flocking to us, really trying to get in front of our audience. And I do feel like the federal election last May [00:23:00] did send a very strong signal that if you ignore young voters, do so at your own peril.
And I've noticed a real change. I would say they are still letting down their guard in front of us. There is still this believing that they won't be getting hard hitting questions but all the more reason for us to ask those harder questions. And it's been a really fascinating process. I mean, we've just had, um, interviews with both the Premier of New South Wales and the Opposition Leader and we can feel that we are growing our presence and that they are starting to recognize, in turn, how important young voters are. Which is a good sign, slowly but surely.
SUZANNE DREDGE: I'm interested to hear what you think about this, Amy?
AMY REMEIKIS: Yeah, I think that politicians do put their guard down a lot when it isn't a middle-aged white man who is speaking to them. Partly because they don't take us seriously, they don't take our audiences seriously, and partly because [00:24:00] they mistake, particularly with women, they mistake tough questioning sometimes for being shrill or being emotional. And so they respond defensively instead of responding logically or taking it seriously. And I think when you, when you pierce through that and get to the emotional response, you often get an unthinking answer. And when you get an unthinking answer, it can lead to a lot more questions and they reveal more than perhaps they meant to.
So I do think there is power in it, uh, although I do think that it's also a huge struggle not to be seen as emotional, just to be seen as “I am just asking questions”. Uh, and I think it's particularly difficult for women journalists who have to be seen as being nice. And so whenever there is a tough interview, they're often accused of being awful or, uh, you know, just being like too aggressive when [00:25:00] really they're just asking a question. It's just in maybe a higher pitch.
Suzanne, like you have one multiple Walkleys for your reporting, including the incredible work you did on the downfall of ISIS in the Middle East. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience of reporting from those camps where the orphans of ISIS fighters were still living? And did that open up more reporting opportunities for you when you returned to Australia? Did you see a shift in how people viewed you as a reporter?
SUZANNE DREDGE: Oh, this is a really good question that [00:26:00] requires probably a little bit of context. Uh, so the film Orphans of ISIS was five years in the making. I was, I think in my first year of journalism, uh, as a full-time employee when my editor at the time Jo Puccini asked me to go knock on the door of the grandmother, Karen Nettleton and see if she wanted to chat to us about what was going on. ‘Cos there was just so much coverage of Australians traveling over to Syria to join groups. ISIS wasn't even really a thing at the time. And I knocked on her door. I had an iPad full of photos of, um, her grandchildren that she hadn't seen. I didn't ask her for an interview, I just asked to have a chat. And she invited me in and we sat down for an hour or two and she told me what had been going on for her. Her experience with the media, that they were camping [00:27:00] outside her door day and night. Um, and realized that here was a woman that there had been many reports on, but she didn't have a voice. And what I had been reading actually wasn't accurate.
So I spent a lot of time building trust and rapport with her until one day she came to me and she said, “Suzanne, I'm gonna travel to Turkey and I'm gonna try and rescue my grandchildren. And, uh, I want you to come and film it because I feel like if I have a film crew there, the world will know the truth.”
So, being so green, I was employed as a researcher. I didn't really know what to do with it. Um, but I understood that it was a huge story and an important story. So I approached my colleague, Dylan Welch, who I had done a few stories with on this topic before and we took it back to Jo Puccini and she said, ”Absolutely, we've, we've gotta make this film”.
And it turned into, you know, this really long journey, multiple trips to [00:28:00] Turkey, multiple trips to Iraq and Syria. Five years down the track once we found out her grandchildren were still alive, cuz there was a period of time where we thought that they may have passed cuz she hadn't heard from them for six months.
We went into Syria, we found them in the detention camp, reunited her with her grandchildren, and that was the ending of this incredible film. Because I wasn't the reporter on the story, a lot of people would come up to Dylan and say, “Dylan, amazing work. I can't believe that you were able to tell that story.” And I was often forgotten about.
But Dylan, being a great reporter, would say, “Actually, you know, this is all because of Suzanne. She's been doing this really hard work for years.” So I had to kind of fight to get recognized outside of my circle of colleagues. People outside the ABC didn't really know, people inside the ABC didn't really know that that was years and years [00:29:00] of work.
So it didn't really get me a whole lot of opportunities in the sense that it probably should have at the time. But I absolutely was recognized for the hard work that I had put in and my drive to never give up, to just keep going, even when things were extremely difficult because there was a huge payoff at the end.
AMY REMEIKIS: And Zara, I just wanna come to you about, about your path as well, because you were a producer, you're a political advisor, and then you started your own company. How determined are you to do things differently to the way that you might have seen traditional media do, both in the way that it covers the stories and the audiences that it reaches?
ZARA SEIDLER: I think we're really keen to do things differently in the delivery of the information and, as I said, reach new audiences. But also in, in who we bring in to these newsrooms. Like I [00:30:00] said, um, I don't have a background in journalism and, and certainly didn't go the, the traditional path. Um, but we have managed to attract people of a kind of similar story.
So we have a brilliant, brilliant journalist who has a deep, deep understanding of economics and, and is able to convey that in a way I've never actually heard before. And he's got, the day we hired him, he didn't have a minute of journalism experience and he's now, you know, one of the most incredible, incredible young journalists.
And so I'm, I'm really keen to bring in new voices, new ideas, young people who feel like they have the space to be heard and listened to. And also so that our audience feels like the newsroom reflects them, which I think in, um, in certain cases isn't always what's happening.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mm-hmm. And, and it's still sort of seen as if you don't have those sorts of, uh, qualifications, then there's no possible way that you [00:31:00] could be a journalist. But journalism is storytelling and there's so many different stories to tell, and the fact that we often just tell it from that one, you know, white, predominantly male private school, you know, middle class perspective means that we do miss a lot of stories.
ZARA SEIDLER: That makes me think about an, an organization that's been started by two friends of mine called Missing Perspectives. Um, and the logic behind Missing Perspectives is that, um, these two young women, Hannah and Phoebe, were watching the fall of Kabul and watching, um, coverage of the fall of Kabul and saw that there were predominantly white men who had been flown from Sydney, uh, to cover the fall of Kabul. And yet the, the impacts and the effects of, uh, the Taliban's return to power was going to have a, a far outsized, um, impact on, on women and on young women.
And so they're trying to empower local… they, they basically [00:32:00] wanna get rid of the foreign correspondent as a concept and empower local journalists and local teams to be able to tell those stories and bring them to diverse audiences. So that was just something that came to mind, that there are really new, innovative like brains on this issue that are actively trying to change who is telling the stories and how those stories are being told. And I, I just think that they're doing amazing work.
One of the things that we do quite a bit is we try to crowd source stories. Um, so because we exist primarily on social media, we're really, um, very much able to communicate with our audience and they are very much able to communicate with us. But, in doing so, we have this really beautiful, um, circle of communication that means that they can also tell us the stories that they wanna be hearing and they weren't told. And so in doing that in a 13 person newsroom, you are never going to be able to reflect the true diversity of [00:33:00] this country. But with the half a million young people that we've got on our channels, we are able to start to engage with them more, to hear their stories more, and to figure out how we can capture those stories in a more meaningful way.
And. So I think that, um, I, I'm not gonna pretend we're anywhere near where we need to be, um, in telling those stories, but I think we're starting and being able to hear those stories in the first instance and be told them and create the space for, um, those conversations to be had I think is where we're taking that first step.
AMY REMEIKIS: How much better would our national discourse be if we had a balance of perspectives from different cultures, from First Nations people, from people of different religious backgrounds?
SUZANNE DREDGE: Well, a country that's more reflective of Australia, that makes sure that we hear from minority communities. It's, you know, when I first started in the newsroom, Brooke Boney and I were [00:34:00] the only aboriginal women in that newsroom for many years, and we, we had a lot of tough conversations with people that were extremely confronting. Um, things, conversations that would not be accepted in this day and age.
However, we still had to prove that if we were to tell First Nations stories that we wouldn't be biased. Um, and to be honest, those conversations sometimes still come up that if we employ people with lived experience from different backgrounds, are they able to report fairly about their own communities? But we don't have those conversations with white journalists who are reporting on issues representing white people every single day. So I think that we still have a really long way to go. Um, it's exciting that we have more [00:35:00] First Nations journalists, more diverse journalists in the industry… but we're not there yet. We're nowhere near there yet.
And we also need to consider, um, the pressure that First Nations journalists and diverse journalists go through on a daily basis. Um, it's really hard to articulate because I have so many conversations with my staff about how the stories we're telling impacts them day-to-day. They feel a lot of responsibility to their communities to make sure that the stories are told, that their voices are elevated.
At the same time, they're working within a system that still doesn't quite understand First Nations communities, aboriginal people across the country. There is a lot of goodwill, but we have such a long way to go and it's something we need to prioritize. We have to make sure that we have people from all different backgrounds, women, men with [00:36:00] disabilities, um, religious backgrounds, more First Nations journalists. We need to have more of those people in senior management in editorial roles who also influence the day-to-day decision making.
AMY REMEIKIS: You're both trailblazers and you're both, you know, recognized as being among the first to do a particular style of reporting, or you know, the first woman in a particular role, or the first person to actually, you know, be able to take an idea and run with it, which is great, but it, it, it's also a heavy load because I imagine there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that as well, that you don't, you know, fuck it up for those coming up behind you. So Zara, as you travel this path, how much does that contribute to your desire for success?
ZARA SEIDLER: I mean for, for me, and I, I understand the privilege that I have in saying this, and of course the privilege of my, the position that I'm in, but it invigorates me, it [00:37:00] excites me, it pushes me. Um, and I think that I want to do more. I want to push more boundaries. I wanna piss more people off. I mean, the thing is that I also have a male co-founder and, um, I think that, that my experience would've been entirely different had I not had him.
And I'll never know what that experience would've been like but, um, together, I think we're a really mighty team and I just have a fire in my belly to keep going and to make it easier. I mean, the startup world is another world altogether. It's absolute bullshit. It's only men. Um, and so, uh, if we kind of move from journalism and, and focus on the startup world, that's a world that I wanna change. But, in terms of journalism, I just, yeah, wanna keep doing what we're doing and make it easier for the next person with a good idea to do the same.
AMY REMEIKIS: Mmm. Do you have that similar fire in your belly, Suzanne?
SUZANNE DREDGE: Oh, yeah. [00:38:00] I mean, that's, that's the whole reason, um, why I'm here and how I got here really. The term trailblazer is really strange. I don't think I'm a trailblazer, I just think that I'm a strong, independent woman. I always have been. I mean, I was, I was a teen mum. I had three kids at the age of 23, and what drove me was looking at my son and thinking, “I've gotta break the cycle. We've gotta get out of this poverty.”
I was living in Department of Housing when I enrolled at university. I didn't even have the internet. I used to go to the library to do my assessments, work night shift. Like, it was hard. There were moments where I thought, you know what? I don't know if I can do this. And I looked at my sons and I looked at my siblings and I thought, yes, I can. I have to do it. I can't. I have to make a change in the world. I have to be a part of that change. Um, and if I'm not, then I have to stop complaining.
So it's kind of [00:39:00] sad that I am the first, um, Aboriginal person on the News Exec at the ABC. That should have happened a long time ago. That's, you know, I shouldn't be called a trailblazer for that. It should have already happened.
AMY REMEIKIS: Suzanne, if I could take you back to that woman who was, you know, doing the night shift and, and looking at her sons as, as you were navigating university and entering journalism, what advice would you give her now? [00:40:00]
SUZANNE DREDGE: Oh, don't give up. You can do it. We can all do it. Allow yourself to have the hard days. Take a break when you need it, but never give up. If you're knocked down, you get back up and you keep going.
AMY REMEIKIS: And Zara, given that you are navigating both journalism and the startup worlds, what would you go back and tell yourself a few years ago?
ZARA SEIDLER: It's not meant to be easy. I think that's just the thing that I would tell myself that, that you've gotta sit with that discomfort and, and sit with being uncomfortable. And as, as someone who I admire greatly said, just get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Um, but I think everything Suzanne said and more, I think it's just, it's difficult. It's hard. It's worth it. And that's all I would say so far. And ask me in a couple years, I might have a completely different answer. [00:41:00]
AMY REMEIKIS: Wouldn't that be great to do a follow up with that dynamic duo in a couple of years? A very big thanks to Suzanne Dredge and Zara Seidler for making that time to chat and for being so generous. And, before that of course, Dr Patricia Clark, author of the book, Bold Types, which is what this podcast is based on. And I suggest you go grab yourself a copy. We've put a link in the show notes.
This show was recorded on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. We’d like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples, the first Australians, as the traditional owners and custodians of this land. We give respect to the elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Bold Types is a production of Ear Candy Media for the National Library [00:42:00] of Australia. Our producer is Karla Arnall. Our voice actor is Roslyn Oades. Sound design and edit, Tiffany Dimmack. Executive producer is Ian Walker. Big thanks to the National Library crew: Lauren Smith, Ben Pratton and Amelia Hartney.
I'm your host Amy Remeikis. Catch you next time… and take care of you. [00:42:29]
Episode 4: Bold Types – Eyewitnesses to History
Content warning: this episode contains descriptions of war casualties, rape and violence against women.
Right place, right time gave some enterprising women journalists, like Anna Blackwell and Janet Mitchell, a front row seat to report on momentous events for their readers back home in Australia. Avani Dias and Sophie McNeill explain what it’s like to cover natural disasters and warzones for today’s correspondents. Is covering war different for women?
‘Continental Gossip’, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1888, p4
‘Continental Gossip’, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 May 1882, p9
‘Continental Gossip’, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August 1883, p3
Government Bank thrift organiser Janet Mitchell, New South Wales, ca. 1930, 1 [picture]
Government Bank Thrift Organiser Janet Mitchell, New South Wales, c.1930, 2 [picture]
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Eyewitnesses to History
[00:00:00] AMY REMEIKIS: Hi, I'm Amy Remeikis and welcome to Bold Types, a podcast where we delve into some history, then shine a light on the women journalists who continue to break new ground. We're talking about the types of women who are smashing, not just the glass ceiling, but the walls, windows, and doors that try to contain us in a narrow view of what journalism should be.
And, this episode, we focus on a couple of characters from the past who were in the right place at the right time to get a frontrow seat at some extraordinary moments in history. Then we'll get to meet two current players standing on the shoulders of those giants, Avani Dias and Sophie McNeil, and hear what it's really like escaping warzones and being an eyewitness to global conflicts. Is reporting war different for women? And, if so, how? Let's [00:01:00] find out.
Anna Blackwell found herself in Paris in 1870 in a pretty hairy situation. The Franco Prussian war had begun and the French emperor expected a quick win, but that's not how it went. Official sources downplayed the conflict, but Anna nailed the unfolding human drama in the copy she sent back home to the Sydney Morning Herald.
[00:01:29] ACTOR: The sweeping up of the young able-bodied males is going on at such a rate that one involuntarily wonders if ordinary life here will not come to a standstill. Your butcher has gone, your milkman is going, your green grocer’s son went last week, his nephew goes tonight. And your bread was brought to you by a poor woman whose tears flow fast as she explains that her husband has been called for and that she's forced to take his place at the [00:02:00] baker's to get bread for her children.
[00:02:03] AMY REMEIKIS: With the Prussians approaching the city, Anna had to escape Paris by train. For putting her life on the line, she did get a pay rise… 25 years later. To find out more, I sat down to chat with Dr Patricia Clark, the author of Bold Types, the book, and I started by asking her what was so special about Anna Blackwell.
[00:02:27] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She was a brilliant reporter of major events that were happening in Europe. She gathered them from her far-reaching contacts all over Europe while she was sitting at her desk in Paris. The major conflicts going on there all across that southern part of Europe was her domain. But she also picked up the [00:03:00] quirky things in history. She'd find stories about the French taking to eating potatoes. Or a Bulgarian prince who buried an archbishop alive because of his antagonism to his views.
[00:03:23] AMY REMEIKIS: How rare was it to have a female reporter for a paper like the Sydney Morning Herald in 1860 talking about European politics and conflicts?
[00:03:35] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: It's quite remarkable that the proprietors of the Sydney Morning Herald, John Fairfax and Sons would contemplate. They were a very conservative family, but here they were 1860, deciding that a woman, Anna Blackwell, could represent them best [00:04:00] in Paris. To keep her on for twenty years until she decided she was old enough to resign. Quite remarkable. But they did it, of course, because she drew readers. She was very, very popular. They liked her insights into Europe, based on major events, and its quirky events.
AMY REMEIKIS: What was it about Anna that made her so special?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: She grew up in a family of high-achieving women who'd been fighters for women's equality in England, where they were born, but particularly in America when the whole family moved to New York. They were fighters for freedom for slaves and for women having an equal role in life. One of her [00:05:00] sisters became the first qualified woman doctor in the world.
AMY REMEIKIS: It's quite the family. [Laughs]
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Quite a family, yes. And competitiveness in the family is very influential. And Anna Blackwell also wrote very well. She was quite a vivid writer. And, of course, the most famous episode in which she was involved was when all foreigners were told to get out of Paris in the Franco Prussian war, when the Prussians were at the gates of Paris about to lay seeds to the city and foreign mouths were too many to feed, so they needed to clear the city. So she had to flee on a train to the coast. But her [00:06:00] description of that train journey is so vivid, it remains in the memory long after you read it:
ACTOR: The train by which your correspondent quitted the capitol was delayed three hours on the road by the enormous crowding of the line. Train after train of interminable length, bringing stores of grain, flour, provisions, cattle, forage, coal to the city so soon to be beleaguered by the foe.
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: And it goes on: “seeing the pathetic young men lined up at railway stations along the way”, conscripts for the French army. She saw them as so small and young and pathetic. Unknowing about what was ahead of them..
ACTOR: At every [00:07:00] station, even the smallest, was a group of people eagerly waiting for news and a squad of country bumpkins being drafted off to war. It was heart rendering to see all the young faces, all the figures, generally small, going off thus to form flesh for cannon. For whatever else may be the results of this war, the downfall of empire is sure to be one of them.
AMY REMEIKIS: Even though her reports arrived in Australia after the official war dispatches, they were still very eagerly read. Was it because of the vividness of her writing, but also the stories she was telling you ‘behind the story’?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. Her stories arrived about six weeks after people knew about the event itself. But they still flocked to buy the paper [00:08:00] when they knew that her story would be in it, because they'd got used to her vivid style of writing. They knew they'd hear the news behind the news. She was quite a money-maker really.
[00:08:23] AMY REMEIKIS: …So there you have it, the bankable Anna Blackwell. Let's fast forward sixty years to the 1930s and meet another Bold Type who reported on major historic events in the middle of a warzone. Janet Mitchell is her name, another name we should all know and respect.
In the early 1930s, Janet found herself in the strategic city of Harbin, China, where a global powerplay was unfolding as Japanese troops marched in. It was incredibly dangerous and she was unable to leave for nine months. She [00:09:00] sent some vivid descriptions of what she was witnessing back home via letters to her family...
ACTOR: One evening a week or so ago, I watched the reflections of burning villages from a high point in Harbin. The more fortunate villages perish, the less lucky escape to a nomadic life of slow starvation. Many drift to Harbin to swell the already appalling numbers of the destitute here. It would be difficult to imagine more pittable human wreckage than that which lines the streets of Harbin.
AMY REMEIKIS: The horrors Janet was witnessing are now pretty much seen as the prequel to World War Two. And Patricia also rates her very highly…
[00:09:48] DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Janet Mitchell was a very brave correspondent. She heard in Beijing, many hundreds of miles to the south, that [00:10:00] something was going to happen in Manchuria, that the Japanese army was gathering strength. And so she got on a train. It was torpedoed a few times. She still stayed on it. She had to walk the last part of the journey because the train couldn't get any further.
So she was in Harbin, the major city in Manchuria, in early 1932 when the Japanese army marched in to take over Manchuria from the Chinese. She was unable to send stories from Harbin. It was eight months before she managed to escape and, during that time, she just had to live the life of the people [00:11:00] in Harbin.
She saw the refugees pushed ahead by the Japanese army, often opium-ridden, very poor, starving people. It was dangerous to go out on the streets at night. It could be fatal, as happened to one of her Australian friends who was murdered for her jewellery. She, at times, was starving with the rest of the population. She had only what she could grow to eat.
She stored all this up in her memory. And, when she did escape from Harbin on the only train that got through for months actually, she had the first eyewitness accounts of what Harbin was really like, [00:12:00] what the people were suffering. She gave an absolutely vivid of what was happening to broadcast and in news columns.
AMY REMEIKIS: She not only witnessed history and told us about it, she witnessed the beginnings of what became one of, well, the biggest conflict the world has ever seen?
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes, what she witnessed at Harbin is now regarded as the forerunner of World War Two. And, from then on, the Japanese took over more and more of China. The rape of Nanking as a well-known episode in later years, all before the start of the Second World War, but it's well-known now.
AMY REMEIKIS: And we had a woman voluntarily [00:13:00] fight her way to be there in order to witness…
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes.
AMY REMEIKIS: …because she just knew how important it was going to be…
DR PATRICIA CLARKE: Yes. She had this great sense of history. Really well-educated woman with great regard for history and for recording it.
[00:13:24] ACTOR: The present conflict raging in Manchuria itself, in China and Japan and in Geneva, may develop into a worldwide conflagration. It is a topic of vital importance to every nation. To Australia, much more vitally than to many of those European powers which, from the distance of Geneva, attempt to settle the destinies of Asia and the Pacific at the League of Nations.
[00:13:51] AMY REMEIKIS: …The words of Janet Mitchell, one of Australia's unsung eyewitnesses to history.
Time to fast forward again to [00:14:00] find out about the life of a modern-day war correspondent. Both of my next guests have reported from some very hairy situations… natural disasters, political upheaval and even war zones. They've both had a knack for knowing when to back off and get out of trouble, but those big stories haven't come without some scar tissue. Thankfully, they're still here to tell the tale.
Sophie McNeil worked as a Middle East correspondent for ABC and SBS, covering countries including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Palestine. She turned in multiple award-winning stories for ABC TV's Four Corners. In 2020, she published her book, We Can't Say We Didn't Know. Nowadays, she's the Senior Australian Researcher for Human Rights Watch. Suffice to say, Sophie has seen some stuff.
Avani [00:15:00] Dias is in her first overseas posting for ABC as the South Asia correspondent, based in New Delhi. You may have heard her a few years back as host of Triple J's National News and Current Affairs Show Hack, or doing stories for ABC TVs Four Corners.
Let's hear what life’s really like for a foreign correspondent these days…
Q: Avani, listeners may have seen you on ABC TV’s Four Corners, 7.30, heard you on Hack, but what drew you to being a foreign correspondent?
[00:15:34] AVANI DIAS: Oh, Amy, it's such a big question. I feel like it was always a life dream to become a foreign correspondent. You know, it seems very glamorous being able to go from country to country and be in these different exciting new places, and it's obviously really thrilling.
The reality is quite different. It's not as glamorous as I thought it would be, and it's kind of tiring. But it is really amazing to be able to witness so many different parts of history and [00:16:00] just have this frontrow seat to it. But one thing that I've found, I didn't really expect actually, was just how emotional some of this job would be, and some of the things that you end up witnessing can be really hard to kind of handle. And in some ways it's really difficult, but in some ways it's, it's quite amazing to be able to use that emotion and, and take it and put it into our stories as well.
AMY REMEIKIS: Sophie, you've previously said that you always wanted to be a Middle East correspondent. Why that role in particular?
SOPHIE MCNEIL: I kind of grew up during the time of the Iraq invasion. You know, I was, uh, working in a newsroom. I was, yeah, 18. I managed to sneak my way into SBS. And it was just before the US invasion of Iraq, so I watched all the feeds coming in and, uh, yeah, I just wanted to be there. You know, it seemed like such an unjust war, and I wanted to be among those journalists on the ground documenting some of the horror that unfolded in the wake of that invasion.
But, you know, it had begun a few years earlier I think, [00:17:00] watching what had happened in Afghanistan, um, you know, the Tampa crisis, seeing people fleeing Afghanistan and being turned back at my country's borders as a teenager at high school. Uh, the intifada, the second Palestinian intifada, watching those horrific visuals coming from the streets of the West Bank. I think, yeah, it just seemed like a place where so many unjust and moral things happened and where the people were suffering such terrible grievances.
And I, I just, yeah, it was just like a mix of kind of fascination, but also frustration at what was happening there and wanting to somehow contribute to exposing the truth of what was going on on the ground and, and hoping that that would help change things for the better I guess.
[00:17:43] AMY REMEIKIS: When you're reporting from hairy situations though, like natural disasters, political upheaval, that sort of thing, and the situation's moving super quickly, do you also have to listen to your instincts? Do you know now when to pull the pin and get out of what is a dangerous situation?
[00:17:59] AVANI DIAS: You know, there's the [00:18:00] excitement, the thrill of being a foreign correspondent, and you read all these books and articles about these crazy situations people get into. But now that I'm actually in this situation, I do feel like my safety is more important than anything else that I'm doing, and I wouldn't wanna jeopardize that, not just of myself, but also of the amazing fixers that we're working with on the ground.
The people who help us translate, who help us find talent, who help us with the language skills and the location skills. These people aren't as well paid as us, without the same kind of contracts and protections and so you wanna make sure that your crew is safe. And so, for me, it is pulling the plug when we need to.
And, you know, especially last year in Sri Lanka, we were covering the protests, there was lots of tear gassing, lots of just huge amounts of police coming at these protestors. They don't care that you’re media, even if you're very visibly media, they are just trying to get rid of these protestors.
There was one incident where they were just pushing back on the protestors and everyone started running in one [00:19:00] direction, but there was no side streets to go down, so it became a bottleneck. And it became kind of scary ‘cos we were stuck in this crowd, there's tear gas everywhere and you're just thinking, ‘I need to get out’. Eventually, it was completely fine. But it's moments like that where you think, ‘Okay, we just need to leave. How do we get out? What are the exit situations?’
And I think our workplaces are doing a lot more to help us think about those things as well. They really make sure we have safety front of mind. So yeah, it's definitely something I think about. And often you're just thinking very quickly in those hairy situations.
SOPHIE MCNEIL: It's funny because when you're in a dangerous situation, the journalism sometimes almost has to just be intuitive. [00:19:38] Like you can't be thinking too much about it, you know, because with one eye, you're looking your talent in the eye while you're doing an interview, or you're looking down the lens of your camera and, you know, the other eye, you're kind of looking what's happening behind you, what's happening in front of you?
Where is the crowd going? Where are those soldiers or what can you hear? You always have one headphone off. You know, if you've got the audio coming in on one side, but what's the external noise that [00:20:00] you might not be tuning into as much as you can? So I think you have to know your subject so well, cause you don't have time to indulge yourself and you know, ask twenty questions or delve into some of the finer detail. You might have five minutes, ‘This is good for five minutes’. And then, you know, those people down the road will see our car or whatever it is. And so bang, bang, bang, let's get what we need. You have to be very decisive.
I remember once being on the outskirts of Kirkuk, in the late naughties, there was Al-Qaeda all around. This is like up in the north of Iraq and we were clearly being followed and we just weren't sure if this was a good or a bad thing. Were these guys gonna stop our car? We had gone into this Sunni town from the Kurdish area, and we knew that there was lots of Al-Qaeda there, but we just had this very specific task to interview the mayor and we're like, just, you know, kind of running into his office during the interview and then getting out.
And it was only on the way out, after about three turns, that we realized we were being followed, you know? So, I guess you've just got to stay calm and just think like, ‘Okay, I told this person where I am’. Worse comes to worst [00:21:00] somebody knew what we were doing today. Hopefully they'll put two and two together.
You just always had to be prepared because those days could be so mundane and just be the same like they always were. Or, you know, you could see a teenager shot next to you and seriously injured and rushed off to hospital. So there's all kinds of different scenarios that you'd encounter on a weekly or monthly basis working in the Middle East and yeah, there's always risk, but it's how you manage it I guess.
AMY REMEIKIS: There is being prepared, but there are still some things that you can't prepare for or, you know, risks that you can't manage for. And in some places, uh, gender can be one of those risks, or one of the things that you can't actually plan for because it just is. And so, if when you're reporting in places like Iraq or Syria or Yemen where the rights of women and girls are under such constant scrutiny, how does being a woman in those places impact your reporting? Or is it, in fact, actually, uh, a bit of, um, it gives you a little bit [00:22:00] more, uh, scope to hear stories that we wouldn't necessarily hear from the men?
SOPHIE MCNEIL: So, for me, in the Middle East, it was always an advantage because I was a white Western woman, you know, who had an Australian passport. So I was incredibly privileged, unlike, you know, the women that I would be interviewing. And I got treated like an honorary man in most, most circumstances. So I used to be able to enter places that were only reserved for men, you know, go into the General's office and sit there and you know, while they all had a smoke and we had a coffee and they, you know, either kind of blocked me entry or pretended they were considering my request for something or I was doing an interview. You know, a situation where like no local women would've been welcome or allowed into. But I would then go into a tent with only women and girls and do the interview or, you know, go into that part of the mosque or that section of the funeral or that part of the hospital.
So actually it was a total advantage for me being a woman in the Middle East. And I always thought it was [00:23:00] much harder for male journalists who had that whole kind of fifty percent of the population often blocked off to them. If they were in a really conservative place, you know, they weren't even allowed to talk to local women or they couldn't enter those parts of the hospital or whatever.
AVANI DIAS: It's definitely been a difficulty, for example, trying to report on Afghanistan, which is in my [00:24:00] patch. It's a huge story. I started in this role a few months after the Taliban takeover and it, it's a big, big issue, the crackdown on, on women in Afghanistan.
And, on one hand, it has been really amazing making connections with young Afghan women and remotely being able to do stories about them and they feel that sense of trust because I am another woman, I'm not another man and that's something that continues, not just in South Asia, but in my reporting in Australia with sexual assault survivors and so on, you can make those connections as a woman with other women, and that's a real advantage and really special as well.
But I'm trying to get into Afghanistan and I need to really analyse the fact that it is much riskier for me to go as a woman there. I'll have to dress in a particular way. I'll really have to watch my back when it comes to security checks and interviews with Taliban leaders or anything like that. Major international media organizations have taken their journalists out of Afghanistan because [00:25:00] of the dangers. And while I do wanna go there, I do wanna witness what's going on and, and bring those stories to Australia and the rest of the world, it is something I need to consider. Will I be more unsafe as a woman there? The answer is Yes. Um, so it's about assessing those safety risks and whether it's actually possible.
And then there's the added element as well that I don't openly look like a foreigner in South Asia. I have brown skin. So, um, sometimes that's an advantage blending in as a brown woman, but then sometimes it means that you don't get that immunity that foreigners do in these parts of the world. So sometimes it's an advantage, sometimes it's a disadvantage, but it definitely does hinder our reporting on those kinds of occasions.
AMY REMEIKIS: I wanna take [00:26:00] you back to what you were talking about earlier when you were saying emotional moments can sometimes inform your reporting. Can you tell me about any of those unexpected experiences, uh, and, and how that did actually help you to tell a story better?
AVANI DIAS: Yeah, I think that a lot of, um, these stories that I've covered have been quite depressing and often they do affect me emotionally in a way that I didn't expect. One of the ones that stands out is kind of late last year, I went to Gujarat in sort of Central India where a bridge had just collapsed and almost 200 people died. They were just holiday makers, families, kids, mums, walking across this suspension bridge which is a tourist attraction, and it had lost, um, it, it gave way and everyone fell sort of to their death.
And it was really heartbreaking scene, um, some of their clothes on the side of the river banks, some of their shoes. And when I first saw it, I think I was in adrenaline mode. You're just kind of going, you're covering the story, you're doing live crosses, you're doing all your filing [00:27:00] commitments.
But then afterwards it starts to get to you when you're really tired and you're sort of reflecting on what you've seen. And I read this great piece last year about the female war correspondences that are redefining coverage in Ukraine. And they're these amazing journalists like Clarissa Ward from CNN and all these different people who say that their kind of asset as women in the field is to capture an emotion and deliver that emotion to the audience. And so, instead of kind of freaking out about the emotions that I feel, I'm trying to use it and put that into my reporting.
I think, um, gone are the days where you see a man standing in front of a scene at, in a warzone or at some disaster zone saying, you know, ‘Well, behind me this this, this, this and describing the artillery that they see’. I think what audiences want to see and what we can give them that's different is that feeling and capturing that. So yeah, I definitely try to use that emotion, um, and, and [00:28:00] convey it in my reporting when I'm out on those difficult stories.
SOPHIE MCNEIL: I was often told that I, you know, had gone too far in terms of whether it was, you know, a story in my book. I talk about when we were on the ground during the refugee crisis, the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, and the Greek islands where you were having like tens of thousands of people arrive every day in these inflatable boats from Turkey, all these Syrians, and we had met this man on the beach.
We had a very clear brief that day, which was to find a family who’d just landed on the beach and then followed them to the capitol Mytelini of, of this island Lesbos, where the ferries were leaving for Athens. And, you know, follow them all the way there and, and tell that story for the 730 Report.
But you know, we came across a guy standing on the beach, you know, he was 65 years old, he was quite crippled and frail. Nasir his name was. And he was sobbing because he'd lost his family in the crossing and all he had was like 20 Euros and his family Qu’ran that he was carrying in a plastic bag. And yeah, he had a very bad leg and he could [00:29:00] barely walk and Mytelini, the capitol, was like twenty Ks away. And um, most families spent a couple of days walking there and the local authorities had actually said it was, um, not allowed to help these refugees. You couldn't put them in your car and help them.
But our ABC team, me, a producer Fuad and cameraman Aaron, we all decided, well, you know, we just have to do what's right here. Like, here's this poor old guy like sobbing who's lost his family. Let's do two things today. Let's do what the ABC asked, which was tell the story. So we started filming and we filmed Nasir, after he agreed to obviously. And then we also, you know, put him in our car, which he weren't technically meant to do, but we weren't gonna, you know, let Nasir limp slowly to Mytelini over the next five days in 38 degree heat.
So, you know, put Nasir in our car, got him some food and water ‘cause he hadn't drunk or eaten anything for two days as he sat on the beach on Turkey waiting for the people smugglers to put them in in these little inflatable dinghies. And then, yeah, we took him to the Red Cross in Mytelini as he tried to find his family. And yeah, it's a bit of a long story, but we [00:30:00] actually did, um, find his, his family in the end. You know, it took us a couple of weeks, um, and we had to keep kind of supporting him along the way, but, you know, I feel like we had the best of both worlds with that.
We told an amazing story, the story of Nasir separated from his family. And then, you know, I did a Part Two where we found his family and I filmed these joyful scenes in Germany, um, where his wife and kids who thought he'd died got to be reunited with him. So, you know, he ticked all the journalism boxes that I had, that was my job for the ABC. But I also, you know, I was a human first. I was a, you know, I, I didn't turn my back on someone in their real moment of need. And I think imagine if I had just kind of taken a shot of Nasir crying on the beach there and being like, ‘Okay, mate, you know, good luck with that. And then just like, headed off. Like I, I couldn't have lived with myself.
So I think if you're in those situations, which can be life or death, if you don't make the choices that you can live with, then they do haunt you. And that, that's why a lot of people in this profession do develop PTSD because [00:31:00] you know, there is a lot of trauma and you have to make hard decisions. So I guess for me, my solution of dealing with that was just always making the decisions that I knew I'd be able to live with. You know, that I'd be able to sleep at night. And if I got a bit in trouble with the ABC, well for me it was worth it, you know, because of helping someone like Nasir.
AMY REMEIKIS: Okay, advice time. If you could go back and talk to your younger self, uh, what would you say to them as they're just starting out in their career?
AVANI DIAS: Oh, so many different things. I think, um, the main one would just be don't listen to a lot of people who try to tell you it's not gonna work out. I think probably a lot of people have that same theme, especially women in our industry. But, you know, I got everything from ‘Your accent sounds like it’s too Western Sydney’, ‘You will never be on radio’ to, um, ‘Your voice isn't good enough’ or, you know, ‘Your head's moving too much on screen’. Or just a constant litany of different, um, criticisms that were really difficult to [00:32:00] take on at the time.
Uh, I would definitely tell my younger self to persevere and, and not listen to those people as much as I did at the time. Um, and I think, yeah, maybe just like getting as much sleep as you possibly can in these really difficult situations. ‘Cause I think that's been something that's really helped me throughout these difficult assignments.
I think also another piece of advice that really helped me out when I was starting out was the ability to say ‘No’. And to ignore things. Um, someone once told me I was kind of debating over whether to move to Adelaide for a random job or not, and I didn't really feel great about it. My gut was telling me ‘No’, but I thought I should take it.
And uh, I think that advice of just being able to think, okay, this isn't right for me. I don't need to say yes. To everything. I think as women you often feel the need to just be positive and you know, accept everything that comes your way, but being able to say ‘No’ is actually a really amazing skill as well. So I think, yeah, [00:33:00] trust in your gut and just like moving beyond everything that comes at you in terms of the noise and the opportunities, because some of them are gonna be great, but some of them aren’t gonna be for you. So I think that would've helped me out as well while I was going through the industry.
SOPHIE MCNEIL: I'd often get stressed that like, I missed that news event or, you know, I, um, my maternity leaves, like I had my first baby during the 2011 uprising in the Middle East, and I remember breastfeeding on the couch watching the Egyptian revolution, and I'd just been in Egypt like a year and a half before, and then I was stuck there and I couldn't go.
And I remember being so upset, like I, you know, wasn't there. And my husband telling me confidently, ‘You know, there'll, there'll always be work for you to do’. And, and you know, of course he was right. He's always right. But that's probably the advice I'd give myself is just, you know, chill out. [00:34:00] There's always enough work to do. You're not missing out on anything.
[00:34:06] AMY REMEIKIS: …Some fantastic advice for any baby Bold Types starting out on their career journey. Thanks to Avani Dias and Sophie McNeil for making the time to chat. And before that, of course, the wonderful Patricia Clark, author of the book, Bold Types, which is what this podcast is based on. You should buy it, find it at all good bookstores and online, or follow the link in our show notes.
This show was recorded on the lands of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people. We’d like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples, the first Australians as the traditional owners and custodians of this land. We give respect to the elders past and present, and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Bold Types is a production of Ear candy media for the National Library of Australia. [00:35:00] Our producer is Karla Arnall. Our voice actor is Roslyn Oades. Sound design and edit, Tiffany Dimmack. Executive producer is Ian Walker. Big thanks to the National Library crew: Lauren Smith, Ben Pratton and Amelia Hartney.
I'm your host Amy Remeikis. Catch you next time… and take care of you. [00:35:29]