The Limits of Authorship: The Radio Broadcasts of Irene Greenwood, 1936-1954

John Richardson


In 1948 Greenwood left the ABC and joined the Whitford's 6AM-PM commercial network, here the scope of her activities expanded considerably. At the ABC she had broadcast weekly 15 minute talks within the framework of the Women's Session, at Whitford's she was responsible for the organisation and production of the session itself, on a daily basis six days per week. But the additional responsibilities were not matched by a freedom of editorial policy. At the ABC, from 1939 onwards, she had unremittingly contrived to publicise the egalitarian stance of the Soviet Union. At Whitford's, although formal censorship was relaxed, the social strictures of the Cold War bore heavily on her message.

In many ways the Cold war was nothing more than a resumption of the hostilities which had existed before the Nazi invasion of Russia. Greenwood had been the victim of a police raid in the early 1940s. At that time part of her library and some of her papers had been confiscated. She gave her Gollancz Left books to an unnamed Protestant clergyman for safe keeping (Rev Cuthbertson was the President of the LBC) who, she supposed, hid them beneath the altar of his church.1 1949 saw a spate of police raids on communists and "fellow travellers". In Perth,

about 18 suburban homes of Communists and suspected Communists were raided by the police . . . and documents found on the premises were seized . . . . The raids were made by plain-clothes police who produced search warrants giving them authority under the Criminal Code to search in view of suspicions of seditious activities.2

Greenwood was once again a prime candidate for this type of attention. Unlike the 1939-1941 period communist stocks continued to plummet. By June 1951 the West was again at war, this time in Korea, fighting against the Communists. At home the Menzies government was unsuccessful in its plans to introduce the Dissolution Bill but widespread antagonism towards communism remained. In general the early 1950s was a period in which the success of Western post-war reconstruction sharply contrasted with communist disarray in Hungary and Poland. The period indeed seemed to herald "the end of ideology in the West". "Communism" was a name which could only be spoken by those who decried it. But from her microphone at Whitford's Greenwood reviewed books and constructed parables. In May 1952 she reviewed Irwin Shaw's The Troubled Air:

He is almost destroyed, as his agent prophesied. And the curious fact I meant to mention is that I've been reading book after book from America on just this topic. Apparently the machinery for vilification of a person who espouses unpopular causes is very slick, efficient and easily set in motion, and these books are the attempts on the part of writers to expose to ordinary American readers of the novel, in story fiction form, what is happening . . . . In fact there is a direct parallel case here that had certain Federal legislation been passed last year, refused by referendum to the people and rulings of the High Court Judges, then these things that happen to Clement Archer could well happen to anyone in a similar position to that in which he found himself placed.3

Greenwood retired from broadcasting in 1954. At an organisational level she continued her feminist crusade from within the ranks of the WSG. During the 1950s Bessie Rischbieth moved to strip the Perth branch of the Guilds of its "social activists", yet somehow Greenwood survived. The Rischbieth purge was seen by Kate White as the reason for the organisation's decline as an effective force in feminist politics,4 but during the mid-1950s the movement as a whole began to spiral into decline. In 1955 Rischbieth wrote to Ruby Rich, a past president of the AFWV, telling her that the Federation was having difficulty in attracting "new helpers".5 In 1960 Greenwood identified similar problems within the WSG:

The problems I feel concerned about are

a) The inability to increase membership at a greater rate in spite of the fact that its [WSG] platforms and objectives are still to be achieved.

b) Growing age of its executive officers, who despite a wish to relinquish responsible positions find that younger members have not the time or wish to accept office.6

The decline was not exclusive to the organisations of the political right. The UAW, the most recently formed organisation of the era and socialist in orientation, held out until the early 1970s but it did so with the same core membership that had guided it through the 1940s and 1950s. In 1969 UAW President Roma Gilchrist was echoing Greenwood's reservations of some nine years earlier:

We were endeavouring to interest younger members in the National meetings and Conferences. We also felt that it was imperative to try and get a younger President here.7

In early 1965 Irene Greenwood was invited to address the UAW as a guest speaker. Her topics were "Women and Elections" and "How Women Won the Right to Vote".8 The UAW and the other organisations of this era were the last to maintain ideological links with the suffragists of 1899, they were finished as an effective force by 1960. From this point onwards a new generation of feminists would interrogate women's roles in the family and the relationship between the public and private spheres. It was precisely these areas that the early organisations could not effectively attack. Whether "radical" or "conservative" they had mounted their campaigns within liberal democratic institutions which themselves insisted on the separation of the family and the public sphere whilst simultaneously attempting to uphold the rights of the individual.

During the 1960s the organisations of the early women's movement were increasingly fighting their battles around community issues. These had always been a concern for organisations such as the WCTU and UAW, but now more so. The united front for the legalistic battle for equality supplied by the AWC was missing. Campaigns were launched for extensions to maternity hospitals or to save swimming pools. In 1967 the ninety year old Rischbieth waded into the Swan River as a protest against the reclamation of the foreshore. The political emphasis had changed, what was left of the movement had been recuperated from its once marginal position, and Greenwood with it. The institutions of liberalism had shifted ground too, women's studies became a legitimate course in the universities. In 1975 the Whitlam Government appointed Greenwood to the National Advisory Committee for the UN International Women's Year. In the same year she was awarded membership of the Order of Australia, "which HM the Queen bestowed as promised at an investiture at Government House Canberra".9 Finally, the latest addition to the fleet of coastal State ships was named "The Irene Greenwood". Not until the 1980s were the central objectives of the early women's movement finally granted (equal pay, anti-sex discrimination legislation). What remained as an issue was "world peace". Greenwood continued to campaign for this up until the end:

I attended meetings, spoke at them, went to conferences, and even to Geneva itself and sat in the great hall as an international delegate for a non-governmental organisation [WILPF] established in 1915 by the women who attempted to stop World War 1, in vain. Now a member of that International Organisation of Women, in world status, it, like the United Nations Peace Medal, is among my proudest possessions..10


1 Irene A. Greenwood and Grant Stone, "Peace Movements", 1975, Murdoch University, audio Tape.

2 "Red's Homes Raided", The West Australian, 5 May 1949, p. 2.

3 "The Troubled Air", Book of the Week, Woman to Woman, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, 6PM-AM, 14/5/52.

4 White, p. 220.

5 White, p. 220.

6 Irene A. Greenwood, untitled TS, attached to envelope marked June 1960.

7 Roma Gilchrist, "A Chronicle of the Union of Australian Women, West Australian Branch", TS, n.d., p. 49.

8 Gilchrist, p. 32.

9 Irene A. Greenwood, TS, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University, n.d.

10 Greenwood, "Go Proudly", n.p.

New: 25 March, 1996 | Now: 1 May, 2015