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

John Richardson


Irene was the first of five children born to the family of Henry and Mary Driver. Her parents owned a small business and later became pastoralists. Living in the heart of the rural South West the Drivers, like the majority of this community, appear to have held uncritically to the ideology of colonialism. Certainly Greenwood's early childhood bore the marks of the Empire:

I had been reared in the tradition of England and I learned by rote the birth and date of all the Kings of England . . . . We sang the national anthem always on Empire Day. It was a colonial upbringing we had.1

Albany was also a port and coaling station for maritime shipping. Among Greenwood's earliest memories is the image of her uncle, in puttees and feathered hat, disembarking from a steamer on his return from the Boer War: "A girl Harry - next time better luck".2 If Henry Driver took heart from of his brother's condolences his wife may well have had other views on the matter. Mary Ann Driver was already committed to the aims of the women's movement. At various stages of her life she held executive positions with the WCTU, the Women's Service Guilds (WSG) and the Australian Federation of Women Voters (AFWV). Irene would follow her mother as an executive member of the latter two organisations.

Greenwood's early education was dominated as much by the Church as by her local school. In Albany she and her brothers attended two church services per week as well as Sunday School.3 Henry was Vestryman and Churchwarden at St John the Evangelist and like her father Greenwood maintained close links with branches of the Protestant Church throughout her life. The Protestant Church was allied to pressure groups from the women's movement in a number of social campaigns. Prominent amongst these were the various attempts to limit the use of contraception, prevent the regulation of prostitution and further the aims of world peace.4 But the Church/feminist coalition was more than a case of political expediency on single issues. The upper and middle class women of the feminist organisations cherished what Gail Reekie calls a specifically bourgeois ideology of womanhood - an ideology centring on the values of "domesticity, marital fidelity, temperance, industry and respectability".5 It was the Church, above all, which upheld these ideals.

If the Church was often the closest ally of the Women's movement its male dominated hierarchy provided a pattern of discrimination which the feminists struggled to combat. Later, Greenwood would frequently speak from the pulpit in the cause of world peace, but she would also attack the church for its exclusion of women ministers:


I myself have spoken from the pulpit of one of its city churches [Presbyterian] on the invitation of the present moderator . . . [however] . . . The Church of England does not ordain women to the full priesthood . . . . Nor does the Church of Scotland, as I well know from the experiences of a friend of mine who obtained honours in Divinity at a well-known Scottish University, topping her year's students, but the bursaries to which she was entitled went to another student, the man who came next . . . and she, not having a church and congregation to administer to, took a position at a Girls College.6

To allow women access to the higher reaches of the ecclesiastical hierarchy would be to compromise the ChurchÕs dogmatic view of the family structure and women's place in it:


God created the female to be mother, and to take a main part in the reproductive process, and in the making of a home; and the male to be a father, and to take a main part in the heavier work of bread winner and protector of his mate and little ones.7

The central paradox of the early 20th century women's movement was that it too held to the belief that women's primary function was that of child bearer/rearer and home maker, whilst simultaneously striving for equality within the public sphere. Seen in this light the issues of contraception, prostitution and world peace were related by the common threat which the former two, and war, posed to the unity of the family. It was around the issue of women's contribution to the public sphere that the views of the feminists and those of the church diverged. Perhaps it was for this reason that Mary Driver and many of her contemporaries within the women's movement turned to Theosophy.

The Theosophical Society had a considerable impact on Australian women's organisations between 1900 and the mid-1930s. Nowhere was the bond between Theosophy and feminism stronger than in Perth.8 Here, the Theosophical Order of Service was largely responsible for founding the WSG, which would later become perhaps the most influential women's organisation in the State. In addition to Mary Driver the list of prominent Theosophical feminists included Edith Dirksey-Cowan (founding member of the WSG and pioneer woman parliamentarian) and Bessie Rischbieth (founding member and later State President of the WSG and President of the AFWV).

As a religion Theosophy embraced aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism and Mysticism, including the Buddhist belief in re-incarnation, an unusual canon for the bourgeois feminists of Perth. Jill Roe points out that some women Theosophists kept their prior denominational affiliations, suggesting a selective approach to the dogmas of the religion.9 Greenwood too recalls that her mother "churched", particularly after the birth of her children.10 The appeal of Theosophy to the feminists of the era was almost certainly its doctrine of sexual equality.

Greenwood did not follow her mother into Theosophy but she nevertheless embarked, along with her listeners, on the quest for equality within Theosophical terms of reference:


The cable news last week told of the death of the Dali Lama and the search which is consequentially taking place to find a new born babe who is the re-incarnation of the holy Lama. Monks have set forth on a long pilgrimage, and the child who handles the orders and personal possessions of the dead ruler, as to the manner born, will be deemed to be his incarnation and be reared to that high destiny.

While practically every organised religion in the world does not admit women to the higher orders, there is in Tibet one notable exception - Dorge Phagmo. She is the head of a famous monastery at Samding, the residence of fifty monks. She is considered as holy as the Tashi and Dalai Lamas, and she travels to Lhasa, once every two or three years. An escort of Lamas from the Polala is sent to meet her as in the case of the ruling Lamas. She is the only woman in Tibet whom the strict sumptuary laws allow to use a palanquin.11

On occasions Greenwood took up the basic tenet of Theosophy - "universal brotherhood" irrespective of "race, creed, sex, caste or colour"12 - in her radio broadcasts of the 1930s. During the 1940s, however, the phrase increasingly came to be contextualised within the rhetoric of socialism. "Class" was substituted for "caste" and universal brotherhood became the feminist target of "equal citizenship rights".13 Through the mid-1930s onwards The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) began to rival Theosophy as a promoter of women's organisations. The Modern Women's Club and later the Union of Australian Women (UAW) had strong connections with the CPA. Aspects of communism, like those of Theosophy, were selected on the basis of their coincidence with the egalitarian notions of the feminists. For these women, communism and liberalism were not incompatible, they could be reconciled in the same way that Theosophy was reconciled with Christianity.


1 Irene A. Greenwood and Grant Stone, "Book Reviews and Upbringing", 1984, Murdoch University, audio tape.

2 Greenwood, "Go Proudly as a Woman", TS, Murdoch University, n.d., five loose pages n.pag.

3 Greenwood, "Go Proudly".

4 On the issues of contraception and prostitution see Robyn Davidson, "Dealing with the Social Evil", in So Much Hard Work: Women and Prostitution in Australian History ed., Kay Danials, (Sydney: Fontana/Collins, 1984).

On the issue of peace see Brown, "West Australians and the World".

5 Gail Reekie, "War, Sexuality and Feminism: Perth Women's Organisations, 1938-1945", in Historical Studies, 21. No 85. October (1985), p. 576.

6 Irene A. Greenwood, Letter to ABC Weekly, 6 Feb 1941, The Irene Greenwood Collection, Murdoch University.

7 R.A.Willis, The Facts About Sex (Methodist Young Peoples Department, 1926), as quoted by R.Auchmuty, "The Truth About Sex", in Australian Popular Culture ed., P.Spearrit and D.Walker (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1979), p. 181.

8 Jill Roe, Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939 (Sydney: New South Wales University Press, 1986), p. 164

9 Roe, p. 200.

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

11 Untitled Script, Women in the International News, The Women's Session, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 7 Aug 1936.

12 Theosophy in Australasia, 1 May (1918), p. 38, as quoted by Roe, p. 247.

13 For instance, "The Power of Women in Politics", The Women's Session, Irene A. Greenwood and Isabel Johnson, The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 20 July 1943.

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