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

John Richardson


The role of the heroine in Greenwood's plan was of paramount importance. The heroine traversed the landscape working on nature or discovering it anew. The heroine was a leader who, by her tireless efforts, set the example for others to follow. She was neither a character in the fiction nor a fictional character. Unlike the characters of fiction, she was not the receptacle of psychological traits which invite an identification by the reader/listener "within" the text but, rather, a composite of the values required for the fulfilment of her task. She was, like Ruth Gruber, plucked from the plane of "fact" and deposited in the world of "fiction". Yet if Greenwood's heroines were factual they were exceptional in every respect.

Dr Ruth Gruber of "The Soviet Arctic", "had caused quite a sensation in her own country of America by becoming the youngest Doctor of Philosophy in the world, man or woman, at the age of 20". This was not the only qualification bestowed on Gruber, but unlike "education", the value of "science" was not given a priori - it was not a quality which she possessed independently of her quest. The narrative allows Gruber to appropriate "science" during the course of her adventure. Nor was science the possession of Gruber alone, this, like "leadership", was distributed among other actors in the story. In keeping with the socialist nature of the product "The Soviet Arctic" had not one but several heroines, each of them the bearer of at least one essential value. On occasions when the heroine played a more individual role in the transformation/re-discovery, it became necessary to prime her with a plenitude of talents. This operation often drove the text into a frenzy of excess. Consider, for instance, the case of Ella Maillart, a heroine who, in words attributed to co-traveller Peter Flemming, "often proved the better man of the two":

Ella Maillart is Swiss, an expert swimmer, yachtswoman and shi-er [sic]. When she was 21 she represented Switzerland at the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 - the only woman against 17 contestants from other countries. For four years running . . . she represented her country at the International Shi-ing [sic] Federation in Italy, Austria and Switzerland. She founded the first women's hockey Club at Geneva and played as Captain against France . . . she also taught French in English schools and English to private pupils in Berlin, became a stenographer in Paris and was a winter sports correspondent for a Geneva newspaper. In addition to sailing a yacht and yawl around Europe and across the Mediterranean, she did six months archaeological work in Crete and acted in a film made in the Swiss Alps. Finally, in 1930 she went to Moscow to study the youth movement there . . . .1

Maillart's outlook is broadly international. She traverses nature in a variety of ways (skier, sailor swimmer). As an archaeologist she works the land to re-discover a lost culture. As Olympian and captain of her country's hockey team she is a leader. She is also, like Gruber, an educator and journalist. Moments of excess such as this expose the fibres from which the heroine is composed. The same strands recur throughout Greenwood's opus. They take on different guises but in the end connote the same values. They are extracted from the general ideological field, re-modelled to suit the narrative and congealed in the figure of the heroine.

The heroine was seldom Australian, on occasions where she was she would be living and working overseas. She could be European or American but was usually British or Russian. Her culture was the culture of "The Great Elsewhere". If British she would be a member of the bourgeoisie or aristocracy, such as The Marchioness of Reading, "one of the most travelled, brilliant, truly cultured and handsome women in public life in England today"; Miss Bette Gibbs, "(daughter of Sir Harold Snagge)"; Lady Chalmondely, "(pronounced Chumley)"; or Miss Katherine Trefusis-Forbes who, "recently left England on a tour of Canada, Africa and the Middle East".2 Her class status was enough to connote "leadership". But class inequality was neutralised by her involvement in a project which was for the social good. The Duchess of Athol, for instance,

has always laboured to see that children receive the best that she can help to obtain for them whether education or milk and other food, living conditions or anything at all in fact which she as a member of the government has any control over.3

In the scripts which departed from the travel genre the figure of transformation was the dynamic which governed the heroine's project. Nature now became the Western social system. The project was always of direct relevance to the aims of the women's movement, its successful conclusion again resulted in egalitarian conditions, with a special emphasis on the historical reading of sexual equality. The project replaced the figure of the journey, its fulfilment would lead to utopian social conditions.

The Soviet heroine was no less a leader, no less elevated in the hierarchy and no less involved in a social project than her British counterpart. Her project would be aimed at producing a more advanced stage in the transformational process, or, in the wartime scripts, recouping lost ground. Thus, Tatiana Aetemeva, who set about restoring her collective farm after the Nazis had razed it to the ground, was elected chairman of the local Soviet.4 Olga Lepeshinska, the best ballerina in Russia, social worker and good wife and mother, was the recipient of the Stalin prize, "the highest award an artist can get".5 Valantina Grizodubova, who commanded a squadron of four engined heavy bombers, and was Chairman of the Women's Anti-Fascist Committee, wore on her breast,

the Red Star of the Soviet, Hero of the Soviet, Order of the Red Banner and Order of Lenin and also a little enamel flag which shows her to be a member of the Supreme Soviet.6

The heroine had a high education and in one way or another was an educator herself. If British she would often be a product of "Oxbridge", where she would have achieved outstanding results. For instance, The Hon. Camilla Wedgewood with double first class honours (Cambridge), holding a tripos for Old English, Old Norse, Archaeology and Anthropology. Wedgewood also lectured at the London School of Economics.7 Often the heroine's qualifications as an educator would be reinforced by claims of authorship, they frequently wrote books or newspaper articles. Soviet women were engrossed in their studies or had passed exams with high honours.8

The heroine would be a pioneer. She would have cleared the ground for others to follow. When she was not a traveller-adventurer her activities would usually be of a political or scientific nature. Politicians included the Viscountess Rhonda, "who for close on thirty years has been making efforts for peeresses to sit in the House of Lords" and Miss Florence Hornesbrough, "Who last November made history by moving the House of Commons Address-in-reply to the King's Speech". Parliamentary democracy was among the routes to utopia.

Science, by its very nature, was a pioneering activity. It was the tool which pushed back the frontiers, broke new ground. The effect was amplified by women's participation in it:

there will be a place for women in the scientific field after the war, in the opinion of Dr Katherine Burr-Blodgett, who is the discoverer of non-reflective glass, commonly called "invisible glass". She has pioneered a way for them.9

The accomplishment of the mission demanded a woman of considerable courage. The war provided the backdrop with which to emphasise this and, for a time, the defeat of fascism was itself a sufficient project. The heroine was bombed, blitzed and strafed but she could dish it out as well as take it; Ludmila Pavlichenko was a sniper with a score of 309 Nazis to her credit,10 Maria Sinkova was a machine gunner "who died with more than thirty dead Germans strewn near her post. Here the enemy did not pass".11 Before and after the War acts of extreme valour were less frequent but not altogether absent. In 1953, for instance, Mrs Harry Bonney won an MBE for exploits in a small Gipsy Moth plane and shot the Rio Grande rapids on a bamboo raft.12

It was not strictly necessary for each heroine to possess each and every value (although many came remarkably close). The heroine was pre-figured from Greenwood's concept of "an ideal type". They were selected on the basis of their compatibility with her ideal and shoe-horned into the mould. Inevitably there was some degree of "spillage". The credentials of the heroine were established in no single script, but in a process of endless repetition with some variation throughout the body of Greenwood's broadcasts.

The deployment of the "ideal type" in a documentary format was not unique to Greenwood. Similar strategies were used by John Grierson who headed documentary film units in Britain and Canada during the 1930s and 1940s. The films which Grierson's organisations made portrayed a variety of industrial workers from an idealist rather than a realist perspective. In essence his subjects were idealised workers performing idealised work. It was a legitimate and legible trope of the day. Grierson's approach was not only similar to that of Greenwood's, it was motivated by the same philosophies and towards the same ends. According to Peter Morris, Grierson shared Walter Lipmann's view that, rather than acting rationally, people "submit unconsciously to the desires of the mind",13 the masses could be manipulated through symbols, otherwise called, "the pictures in our heads".14 Lipmann and Grierson were neo-conservatives but the principles expressed here are non too different from the behaviourism of the liberal educationalists at the Australian Institute of Political Science.

The heroine, then, is not a character in the strict sense. She is a conglomerate of the values required for the fulfilment of a particular task. Her formation is governed by an assumed set of reading practices. She is formed discursively to reflect the system of educators and pupils, leaders and led, which was a feature of the period and adopted by both the ABC and the women's movement. In this respect the heroine is the equivalent of the "Mailbag to Microphone" adjudicator. She is an expert. She possesses a formidable array of talents which few listeners could hope to match. Her relationship with the listener is not one of identification but of example. It is from this vantage point that the listener reads off the heroine's cherished beliefs, follows her journey or is told of her project. Sometimes the project takes the form of a journey of discovery, at others it is embodied in a more recognisable social programme. In either event it takes place "Elsewhere". At the heart of the project is the transformation or the re-discovery of nature. The heroine is equipped with the major tools and talents for the fulfilment of her task, but she cannot accomplish it alone. If utopia was to be built then her example must be followed by the listening masses.


1 Untitled script, 8 Jan 1937, Greenwood.

2 "Women of Britain: Against the background of the Bombings", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission,

3 Untitled script, Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 14 May 1937.

4 "Re-building Russia - Women's Part", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission,

5 "Women of Russia", Greenwood.

6 "Women of Russia", Greenwood.

7 Untitled script, Women in Tomorrow's World, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 15 June 1945.

8 "Women of Russia", Greenwood.

9 Untitled script. 15 June 1945, Greenwood.

10 "Women of Russia", Greenwood.

11 " Women of Liberated Europe: Yugoslavia", Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 24 Jan 1945.

12 Untitled script, Woman to Woman, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, 6PM-AM, 6 April 1953.

13 Walter Lipmann as quoted by Peter Morris, "Re-Thinking Grierson: The Ideology of John Grierson", in History on/and/in Film: Selected Papers from the 3rd Australian History and Film Conference, Perth, Tom O'Regan & Brian Shoesmith (eds) (Perth: History and Film Association of Australia (WA), 1987), p. 23.

14 Walter Lipmann as quoted by Morris, p. 22.

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