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

John Richardson


Greenwood joined Whitfords in 1948, here she devised, produced and announced the station's women's session, Woman to Woman. Initially broadcasting five days per week her programme consisted of regular daily features. Some of these, such as her theatre critiques, book reviews or broadcast talks were necessarily scripted. At Whitfords Greenwood herself was in a position to exercise control of the message by devising and/or self-censoring the scripts. This does not imply that her role as broadcaster/censor was in any way unique. The commercial authorities would have expected all employees to exercise some form of control over what was said over the air, and particularly so in the years of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting. But, within the terms of these constraints, Greenwood was free to inject her politics directly into the product without the mediation of an external censor. Other features, such as her interviews with the "Woman of the Week" and her listeners letter's competition, "Mailbag to Microphone", took on an unscripted or uncontrolled appearance. Yet here too Greenwood employed techniques which gave her a high degree of control over the broadcast message.


Although she was now free of the tight vetting procedures under which she had laboured at the ABC, Greenwood's Whitfords interviews were no less a consensus dialogue than was the typical ABC product. The initial selection of her interviewees came a long way towards ensuring this, and her subsequent techniques put the matter beyond all doubt. Greenwood's methods can be traced through her communications with various interviewees. The extent to which a formal script was employed varied and seems to have been based on Greenwood's assessment of the competence of the interviewee. But in all cases she made her guests aware of the questions which she would ask:

The questions I'd ask would be. How did you come to take up the legal profession? Our first woman lawyer? When was it made legally possible? (with appropriate praise for dear old Mrs Cowan) [followed by a list of further questions].1

In some cases "consensus" extended to the point of allowing the interviewee herself to play a major role in structuring the interview:

May I call on you for not more than half an hour one day this week to have a chat with you along the lines our interview might take. There are so many matters you would probably like to introduce, and I shall not know quite what questions to ask to lead up to your answers unless we could discuss them before hand. I shall telephone you to fix a time suitable for you.2

Greenwood's papers suggest that in the majority of cases she would, after discussing the interview with her guest, draw up an "outline":

Here is the outline promised you of questions I will ask, with your replies sketched in much as you said them to me, and giving you leads to follow up any way you want. You see what I mean when I say it shouldn't give you cause to think out anything more, nor prepare anything. I could see how the thought of those scripts for [the] ABC was worrying you, and was more than ever grateful to you for agreeing so readily to do this for me, and want to save you one moment's worry about this little effort.3

Greenwood in fact developed her "outlines" into a standard form which she would forward to her guests prior to the broadcast date. Often the outline would contain only the questions and their running order, at other times strategic answers, or cues which served to remind the interviewee of pre-arranged answers, would also be sketched in.4 The format did allow for some ad-libbing but the technique was essentially carried over from that developed by the ABC. The resulting product was inevitably one of consensus with Greenwood the censor able to dictate the topics and raise the points on which consensus would be achieved. At times these topics were controversial. For Greenwood "women's issues" were never separate from the broad, and often sensitive, political issues of the day. In June 1953, as the Korean war truce was being negotiated, she concluded an interview with Ada Bromham of the WCTU as follows:

If the women's organisations such as your own WCTU and the YWCA are co-operating with the new regime in China, it augers well for [a] broadly based Women's movement there, and gives us a somewhat different picture of the position to that we have been getting. You, with your long reputation based on social service built on Christian principles, are in a unique position to judge. Few people have seen China as it was in 1935, and again seen it today. Therefore we respect your judgement, and hope, for all our sakes, that it will lead to greater goodwill between ourselves and our near northern neighbours in the Pacific.5


The Mailbag to Microphone competition was structured in manner which allowed it to be understood as "impartial". Listeners were invited to submit their written comments on a topic chosen by Greenwood. A selection of the letters would be forwarded to a specialist adjudicator who would nominate a winning entry and a runner up. The successful letters would be read over the air, the winner receiving a cash prize of one guinea. The opinions which were finally broadcast would thus be the listener's own rather than Greenwood's.

Greenwood, then, chose the topic and nominated the adjudicator. On occasions an expert speaker was invited to introduce the "pros and cons" of the topic. This too was subject to Greenwood's intervention:

Dear Mrs Conochie,

I have a Thursday session called "Mailbag to Microphone" when I seek listeners' letters on topics of the moment. That set for this month is "Are comics harmful?" Could you manage to come along on Thursday at 2 for about ten minutes, and open it up? I heard what you said at the Town Hall, and if you could put in some of the side where they do not cause a great deal of harm to give some pros and cons to start with, then rock in the superiority of the harmful side, and stress the pitfalls for unthinking mothers, it would stimulate a lot of thought.6

Once submitted the letters were screened by Greenwood and the suitable entries forwarded to the adjudicator:

Dear Mrs Greenwood,

I feel very honoured that you have asked me to adjudicate in this very interesting subject, "Is a Good Institution better than a Bad Home" . . . .

PS. I noticed that I have placed the three letters in the same order that you had folded them together, did you likewise make this placing? Interesting if so!7

And similarly: "Dear Mrs Greenwood, Enclosed please find the entries for your competition . . . . I quite agree with the order in which you placed the entries" [Cammilleri's emphasis].8 The winning entries were then broadcast under a pseudonym.

The system differentiated between the entrants, who were the apparent authors of the broadcast message, and the adjudicators who lectured the entrants, then screened, judged and authorised the entries. The adjudicators were predominantly middle class professional women who were receptive to the ideology of the women's movement. But the system did not disbar similar women from becoming entrants themselves. When they did, it enhanced their chances of success. This figure can perhaps best be illustrated by tracing the correspondence surrounding a single Mailbag to Microphone competition.

The topic for April 1951 was "What in your opinion are the qualities needed by your candidate for parliament?" In early April Greenwood was in touch with Ida Swift. Swift was a member of the West Australian Women's Parliament, an organisation which met formally to simulate parliamentary debates on political issues considered to be particularly pertinent to women.9 On the third of April, Swift wrote to Greenwood:

Just on chance this Competition hangs fire I'm sending you two "entries".

I did write the letter you suggested, but apparently missed you - I waited one day outside 6PM but I'll enclose it.10

Enclosed with the note were two "entries" written under the pseudonyms "Supreme Optimist" and "Common Sense". Greenwood replied nine days later:

I am so sorry to have missed you the day you waited for me . . . . The letters you sent me made up for it however, and I read one last Thursday - opening the discussion - the other today. I do please want you to be the judge, and in consideration of making you ineligible for a prize I have sent you two small handkerchiefs this week. (This is not a bribe but a reward!)11

Swift agreed to adjudicate and offered her help in other directions:

Yes, I'll adjudicate gladly, specially as there won't be many entries, in fact if you run out of letters phone me and I'll see if I can't goad someone into writing.12

By the twenty-seventh of the month, however, Greenwood was able to send Swift "a fat bundle of letters," having "gathered in all those that count".13 Swift selected the winner telling Greenwood that,

the remainder were all quite good and of course the prize is not so important as that our own ideas winged over the air find not only a resting place, but set other folks thinking and so it snow balls.14

The following day Greenwood wrote to Isabel Johnson of the WSG, congratulating her on winning first prize in the competition.15 Johnson's entry, signed in her proper name, was broadcast under the pseudonym "North Cott".

Swift, Johnson and Greenwood had a number of common interests. All were committed parliamentarians and both Swift and Johnson were Justices of the Peace. Greenwood and Johnson were members of the WSG, Swift and Johnson were near neighbours in the middle class suburb of Cottesloe. But if collusion can properly be said to have existed it was motivated and legitimated by a belief in the division between "educators" and "students" identical to that fostered by the ABC. With the "Mailbag to Microphone" system differentiating its actors into positions of positive and negative power, Greenwood was able to fill the powerful adjudicator positions with women who could be guaranteed to deliver the appropriate results. Again this did not necessarily involve collusion, but rather, an ideologically legitimate superimposition of "expert opinion" over the opinions of the entrants. Often the adjudicators were professionals who had broken into the workforce and in this way fulfilled the ideals of the women's movement. At other times they were activists like Swift who were involved with the movement itself. Either position qualified them to act as adjudicator in a system which duplicated the student/teacher relationship which both the ABC and the women's movement imposed on their respective audiences. Like the interviews, "Mailbag to Microphone" continually reconstituted the message which Greenwood and her colleagues propagated. It did so by following the philosophy of "giving the public what they need" and by employing the related vetting techniques developed by the ABC. At Whitfords the Institutional and political voices were again heard in harmony. Here the production ploy of "informality", belonging more clearly to the province of the commercial institutions, had entered the equation. It served only to veil the didactic structure of the message.

The ideologies which Greenwood's political voice attempted to deliver changed little through the period of her broadcasting career. In December 1950, Katharine Susannah Prichard contacted Greenwood from her home in Greenmount saying, "Irene, my dear, Use this item with or without my name, as you think fit".16 Enclosed with the note was an entry for the Mailbag to Microphone topic, "Why Peace". Prichard's letter was broadcast on Dec 14 under the pseudonym "KSP Greenmount":

Dr Hilda Bull was recently given an official farewell by the Melbourne City Council, when she was leaving the Health Department after 23 years service.

The town Clerk, Mr H.S.Wootton said . . . that she had earned a world wide fame for her research into poliomyelitis and for her work during the epidemic in Victoria.

Why should women bear children, rear and educate them, try to make fine citizens, if they are to be slaughtered in wars for the benefit of those who profit from war? . . . . The sacred function of women does not end with giving birth to a child. It needs peace for mothering of the life which has been created: the building and strengthening of all that is noblest in the human family.17

Prichard's "entry" exemplifies the tension between the public and private spheres which defined the formulation and reading of the women's movement's objectives. It was the desire to penetrate the public sphere in the manner of Dr Hilda Bull, whilst holding firm to "the sacred function of women" which was at the core of Greenwood's programme of social reform.


1 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter headed "Dear Margaret" (Lawyer), 11 May 1948, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

2 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to Mrs Basil Henriques (of The Appeal for the International Children's Emergency Fund), 19 May 1948, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

3 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to "Miss Pendred" (probably Gladys Pendred, Broadcaster), 12 Aug 1948, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

4 See Appendix 3 for sample "Outline".

5 "Ada Bromham", Women of the Week, Woman to Woman, Ada Bromham (of the WCTU), and Irene A. Greenwood, 6 PM-AM, 9 June 1953.

6 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to Mrs E. Conochie (lecturer at the Perth Technical College), 2 Oct 1950, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

7 Dorothy Saunders (retired magistrate of the Children's Court Bench), Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 29 Aug 1950, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

8 Cara Cammilleri (of The Western Australian Historical Society), Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 7 June 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

9 "Orders of the Day", The West Australian Women's Parliament, TS, 19 Sept 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

10 Ida Swift, Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 3 April 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

11 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to Ida Swift, 12 April 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

12 Ida Swift, Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 13 April 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

13 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to Ida Swift, 27 April 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

14 Ida Swift, Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 2 May 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

15 Irene A. Greenwood, Copy of letter to Isabel Johnson, 3 May 1951, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

16 Katharine Susannah Prichard, Letter to Irene A. Greenwood, 6 Dec 1950, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

17 Katharine Susannah Prichard, Submission to "Mailbag to Microphone", 6 Dec 1950, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

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