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

John Richardson


Irene Adelaide Greenwood was born in Albany in 1899, the year that West Australian women won the right to vote and the year that saw the great question of Federation hotly debated in the State Parliament. These two issues, women's rights and the problematic nature of Australian relations with "the mother country", would touch Greenwood for the rest of her life. During her broadcasting years Britain took its place alongside the USSR in a textual system pushed to the extremes of model and metaphor. Here, the mother country would slide between the sites of colonial oppressor and democratic model. It would vie with the Soviet Union for the roles of cultural fountainhead and origin of Greenwood's most esteemed heroines.

That Britain could play such diverse parts in the Greenwood script was partly a function of what Sylvia Lawson calls the paradox of being colonial. 1 By the time that Greenwood came to produce her message of resistance Western Australia had long since ceased to be a colony, that much was achieved by the time of her second birthday, but the colonial mentality both coloured and obstructed her ambitions for Australia. In an epistemological period partly defined by a quest for origins, a broad international outlook was perhaps inevitable within a community whose history began elsewhere. In the context of late nineteenth century colonialism, Sylvia Lawson describes "the great Elsewhere" as "the centre of language, of dominant culture and its judgements", to be imitated and modified, yet somehow resisted in the trajectory towards nationalism. 2 With a form of nationalism achieved the Australians of the early twentieth century relied no less on the Elsewhere as cultural mentor than did their predecessors. This was particularly the case in Western Australia where, during the inter-war period in particular, the Western Australian community was psychologically more attached to the UK than it was to the Eastern States of its own country. 3 Greenwood's material suggests that similar sentiments lingered on into the 1950s, but if the type of cultural re-inscription described by Lawson was as important to Greenwood as it was to her peers her own conception of "the great Elsewhere" was not confined to Britain. In the 1940s the USSR emerged as her preferred cultural model. Many of Greenwood's broadcasts exhorted her listeners to re-build the "Soviet Jerusalem" on West Australian shores. This would be achieved, not by revolution, but by Westminster parliamentary democracy. In this and in other ways, Greenwood attempted to use the dynamic of re-inscription as bearer of her own radical politics - a politics which owed more to feminism than to theories of socialist democracy.

In her role as radio broadcaster Greenwood played her part in satisfying the demand for overseas news. Among her papers is a circular issued by the Orient Shipping Line headed "List of Notable Passengers - For Information of the Press". Among the notables "Sir Arthur, Lady and Miss Fadden, Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Australia. To attend the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' Conference commencing in London 15th of January. To be in time Sir Arthur will fly from Naples to London". 4

Fremantle was the first port of call for visitors to and from Europe. Greenwood interviewed many passengers from the steamships, presenting them on radio as a first hand source of international affairs. The incoming traffic was particularly valuable, providing the West with overseas commentary in advance of Sydney and Melbourne. Yet Greenwood's interviewees were selected according to a criterion which excluded such notables as Sir Arthur Fadden in favour of the likes of Mrs Doris Blackburn:

*The weeks doings.

Tuesday, two Mail liners berthed and I had an interest in both. Unfortunately I was only able to catch up with the passenger on one. Miss Noble, who was on the ORION going to England and the Coronation after some 40 years as Home Consultant with the Gas and Fuel Board in Melbourne, I missed. (told you of her). However I was luckier with Mrs Doris Blackburn, returning from some months abroad on the Strathmore, and she I managed to record an interview with for you to hear on Monday next. The widow of the late Mr Maurice Blackburn M.H.R she contested his seat and held it for four years in the house of Reps. Canberra on his death. She is the president of the Aus. section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a group founded in 1915 by Jane Addams, which has had two Nobel Peace Prize winners (a unique honour for any women's group) and which has not only consultative status with U.Nations, but has been invited to be a member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of UN a rare honour for a women's assn. Mrs Blackburn tells how she was invited to address (and her fares and exs. paid) in several Scandinavian countries. One of the most interesting guests we've ever had on our session. 5 *

Miss Noble en-route to England and the Coronation Greenwood missed, but what of the woman she found? Like most found texts Blackburn's encounter with her author was far less a case of chance happening than one of studied selection. As parliamentarian and pacifist Blackburn takes her place as bearer of two of the major themes which Greenwood publicised throughout her broadcasting career.

Greenwood was, like Blackburn, a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and herein lies another aspect of her internationalism. Successive generations of pacifists had pinned their hopes on some form of international mediation. During the inter-war years Greenwood had campaigned for a branch of the League of Nations Union to be established in Perth. After 1945 she publicised the aims of the United Nations.

Support for the peace movement was never numerically strong in the West. The vast majority of its members were women and the formal peace organisations were often founded by branches of the women's movement. 6 By the mid-1950s the central aims and beliefs of the West Australian women's movement could still be traced back to those of their predecessors at the turn of the century. The two major organisations that had campaigned for women's suffrage, the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Karrakatta Club, were still operational. The core members of the movement were, like Greenwood, women in their fifties or older. Particular objectives and a preferred interpretation of them evolved from the ideologies which circulated amongst these women for most of their lives. What resulted was a historically specific brand of feminism. Irene Greenwood was, above all, a feminist of this era. Throughout a broadcasting career spanning the years between 1935 and 1955 she struggled to appropriate the textual practices and production techniques of arguably the most influential medium of the age to the ends of disseminating this specific kind of feminist message.


1 Sylvia Lawson, The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship (Ringwood: Allen Lane, 1983), p. ix.

2 Lawson, p. ix.

3 Margaret Brown, "West Australians and the World: Anti War Organisations as a Case Study, 1919 - 1939", MA Thesis, University of Western Australia, 1981, p. 27.

4 Press release from The Orient Line, 20 Dec 1951.

5 Untitled Script, Radio Roundabout, Woman to Woman, writ. and prod., Irene A. Greenwood, 6 PM-AM, 24 April 1953.

6 Brown, p. 98.

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