For Love or Money: A very efficient secretary

For Love or Money: A very efficient secretary
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This clip looks at how women were brought back into the paid workforce to fill the lower paid positions as the economy boomed in the 1960s. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

This is a beautifully edited segment showing the types of jobs on offer to the first wave of baby boom girls leaving school and to the married women who, after years of being told to stay in the home, were now being encouraged to enter the paid workforce.

About to revolutionise office work, the first computers began to appear in the workplace. They were monster-sized affairs, often taking up whole floors of buildings. They required that data be entered on punch cards by data entry typists. Data entry pools were the call centres of their day, with minimum quotas and highly regimented hours and breaks. Repetitive strain injury (RSI) or tenosynovitis was a common affliction among data entry workers. In 1984 Margot Nash made the short film Teno about the condition.


For Love or Money synopsis

Using a vast array of historical footage, the film proposes a history of women and work in Australia, from 1788 to 1983.


For Love or Money curator's notes

A concurrence of initiatives arising from the 1977 Women’s Film Production Workshop and the 1978 inaugural Women and Labour Conference, resulted in four filmmakers – Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver and Jeni Thornley – commencing a film history of Australian women at work. Meticulous research unearthed an extensive collection of material – feature films, home movies, news and newsreels, documentaries, television shows, commercials, photographs, radio shows, diaries, popular music, letters and interviews – dating back to the 18th century and showing women, of every decade and every background, at work in all its myriad forms. Over five years in the making, the film – an epic 109 minutes long – is set out in four parts: Hard Labour (1788-1914), Daughters of Toil (1914-1939), Working for the Duration (1939-1969) and Work of Value (1969-1983). A narration by Noni Hazlehurst connects hundreds of excerpts from hundreds of historical sources, painstakingly collected and reproduced. At a time when historical footage reproduction meant interpositives and internegatives, and costings per feet and frames, it’s almost impossible to imagine the methodical cataloguing and ordering of the material involved.

Released in the wake of films like The Song of the Shirt (UK 1979) and The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (US 1980), For Love or Money was one of a new genre of historical documentaries, where young filmmakers took command of the archive and used its images (both those that had helped determine national histories and those that had been denied a contribution to these histories) to attempt to reformulate – or at least refocus – collective memories. Most of these films today, some 25 years down the track, stand the test of time. For Love or Money is no exception.

However, while a film like The Song of the Shirt investigated a particular moment in history and used it to expand into broader political debates, For Love or Money set for itself an extraordinarily ambitious project. Using almost totally historical material and including only small segments of new footage, it embarked on a history encompassing the role of all Australian women (young, old, Indigenous, colonial, modern, white, non-Anglo, middle class, working class, et al) in both paid and unpaid work, over a 200 year period. There was almost no choice but to funnel this massive compilation into a chronology – albeit one with three sides. On one side is the story of the struggle for equality and better conditions in the broad spectrum of the paid workforce. On another side is a proposal for a radical analysis of women’s work as mothers, carers, householders and lovers. And on a third side is a dialogue on feminism and history.

It was the project’s ambition, and the consequences of that ambition, that generated criticism at the time of its release – in particular the film’s attempt to unify its content, and produce a single position (the narration’s ‘we’) from which to both speak about the content and to move forward into the future. In their 1987 essay 'For Love or Money: A Work of Loving’ (included in Don’t Shoot Darling), Ann Curthoys and Susan Dermody pointed out that ‘the rewards of this approach can be great, as the film amply shows. But the accompanying dangers – closely related to the blurring and blending of modes of address and appeal in the voice-over – are also great. The film risks being seen as eliciting a kind of homogenising sentimentalism, one that counters the whole vast work of its analysis of history.’

A decade later, Felicity Collins, in her 1998 essay 'The Experimental Practice of History in the Filmwork of Jeni Thornley’ (included in Screening the Past, Issue 3), argued for a retrospective viewing of the film ‘in the light of a renewed interest, since the late 1980s, of feminist film theorists in questions of history’. Collins saw the image of female unity in For Love or Money as ‘fragmented into multiple reminiscences which work against the unifying voice of the narrator and against the linearity of historicist time’. She went on to add however that the film attempts to subsume these ‘multiple reminiscences’ into ‘one temporality’, in order to find an resolution – that is, to find a position from where a feminist future can begin. The attempt results in what Collins saw as multiple endings to the film.

Today, another decade later, it’s these multiple endings that most strongly articulate a particular problem for the feminist telling of history. They point to why, even by the time For Love or Money was released, significant numbers of younger feminists had begun looking for new modes of identifying themselves. This unresolved problem of feminism and history was explored, in varying degrees and to greater extent and effect, in later films made by the filmmakers individually: To the Other Shore (directed by Jeni Thornley), Breathing Under Water (produced by Megan McMurchy) and Shadow Panic and Vacant Possession (both directed by Margot Nash).

Following its release, For Love or Money was accepted into just about every international film festival on the map, picking up a swag of awards on its travels. A book, For Love or Money: A Pictorial History of Women and Work in Australia, written by the three of the filmmakers (McMurchy, Oliver and Thornley), was released in conjunction with the film. Published by Penguin Books, the book was edited by Irina Dunn, with Lyndall Ryan the historical consultant.

Notes by Adrienne Parr


Secondary Curator's notes

For Love or Money is an interesting documentary that, through archival footage and photographs, attempts to give a feminist perspective on the role of women in Australian history. The inclusion of archival footage of Indigenous women in traditional, urban and rural settings within various periods of history, is somewhat tentatively placed. The inclusion of stolen generation issues, assimilation practices, blackbirding – or the theft of Melanesian people for cheap labour – was included with good intentions by the filmmakers, but to link the issues of Indigenous womanhood with white womanhood is somewhat misleading.

While the story of the Suffragettes, the fight for equal pay for women and the historical struggle for equality for women that continues into the present day is greatly informative, the issue for Indigenous women is one of racism as well as sexism, for the struggle for liberty of Indigenous women, like Indigenous men, is the struggle against racism. The rights and privileges of white womanhood for example, are not the same simply in that Indigenous women endure fewer rights than white women. Indigenous men also, arguably, have less rights than white women. The feminist framing of Indigenous womanhood suggests that the struggle of Indigenous women is aligned with white womanhood, when in fact, the struggle for Indigenous women is, like Indigenous males, one against racism as well as subjugation based on gender.

Secondary notes by Romaine Moreton


Education Notes

This clip shows black-and-white and colour footage of the world of work for women in Australia in the 1960s. Women at that time, including married women, were being urged into the workplace. Women in factory production lines are shown, followed by footage of women doing office work at typewriters, adding machines and early computers. The song 'I’m a very efficient secretary’ introduces a section that shows the growth of the role of the personal secretary, seen as an asset to the 'busy executive’. Voice-over readings of commentaries of the time as well as a voice-over narration link the visuals.

Educational value points

  • The clip refers to inequalities in pay for men and women in 1960s Australia. In 1912 women’s minimum wage was set by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court at 54 per cent of the male rate. A consistent and widespread organisation lobbying for equal pay began in the mid-1930s, led by women like Jessie Street and Muriel Heagney. In 1950 the basic female wage was set at 75 per cent of the male rate. Continued agitation led to the principle of equal pay for work of equal value being established by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1972 and the National Wage Case of 1974 extended the minimum wage to women, phased in by June 1975.
  • The subject of equal pay, raised by the clip, is one that is still of concern in contemporary Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for 2005 show that women’s pay still lags behind men’s. Women employed full-time earn, on average, $160 less per week than men, with a woman’s average weekly salary at $904 and a man’s at $1,064. When part-time workers are taken into account, women’s average weekly earnings are $322.50 per week less than men’s. In 2005, 45 per cent of women worked part-time in Australia compared to 14 per cent of men.
  • The so-called marriage bar in the Australian Public Service was abolished in 1966. Between 1967 and 1970 the number of women employed in the service increased from 3,606 to 10,940. When the Public Service Act 1901 barred married women from permanent employment in the Service it effectively blocked women’s opportunities for promotion and restricted their accumulation of superannuation. The Act allowed for equal pay but this was gradually eroded between 1916 and 1920, and during the 1950s married women were the first to be targeted for retrenchment. In 1958 the Boyer Committee recommended removing the bar. Cabinet did not approve its removal until 1966.
  • The 1960s was a period of great economic and social change for Australia, as can be seen in the footage. The economy was boosted by the influx of more than 2 million migrants and the development of new technologies that enabled the mining and manufacturing industries to grow and compete on world markets. The value of mineral production rose spectacularly and the ensuing economic boom propelled more women into the workforce. The availability of the oral contraceptive, new equal pay legislation and a higher percentage of young women entering tertiary education provided them with more life choices.
  • The clip is from the award-winning documentary For Love or Money (1983) by Megan McMurchy, Margot Oliver, Margot Nash and Jeni Thornley.
  • For Love or Money draws from a wide variety of archival sources, including home movies, newsreels, documentaries, diaries, popular songs and interviews. These are unified by a voice-over narration by actor Noni Hazelhurst. It also draws from more than 200 films made in Australia between 1906 and 1983 and has original music by Elizabeth Drake. The film won many awards including the United Nations Media Peace Prize of 1985.
  • For Love or Money, produced in 1983, is an Australian archival compilation documentary. Other examples of this style of documentary from around the same time are The Song of the Shirt (UK, 1979), about women working in the clothing industry in 19th-century Britain and The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (USA, 1980), about women replacing men in US factories in the Second World War.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

This clip starts approximately 1 hour 16 minutes into the documentary.

A sequence footage of women working in factories, and then as secretaries in offices is accompanied by narration and a fictionalised male announcer from the period.

Narrator There’s a boom on, and for the first time since World War II, married women are wanted. 
Male Announcer The truth is, we can only achieve the potential growth in our economy by introducing more and more women into the workforce. 
Narrator And married women want to work. An escape from isolation at home. Some independence. A second income for their children’s education. Attitudes change as the economy calls the tune. The public service lifts its ban on married women. Now working mothers can be good mothers. 
Male Announcer There are 5.5 million females in Australia, and nearly 1.5 million of these go to work. The average female earnings are $37 a week; the average male earnings, $64. Women either work in the lowest-paid jobs, in which men don’t, or else they work in the same occupations as men but at a lower rate of pay. 
Narrator In offices and banks, the first computers appear. They begin taking over routine clerical tasks. But, like the typewriter half a century before, office automation creates a new ghetto of women’s work.

The song I’m a Very Efficient Secretary introduces a section that shows the growth of the role of the personal secretary.
(song) Mr Jones, I’m here to do anything you want me to. 
Mr Jones, I’m your right hand. 
From nine to five, your wish is my command. 
‘Cause I’m a very efficient secretary.

Male Announcer A capable girl, good at shorthand and typing, may succeed at secretarial work. A competent secretary is of great value to a busy executive.

(song) And when you dictate to me, 
I’m as happy as a bee in a honey tree. 
Please be advised I’m yours faithfully. 
Would you like a nice cup of tea? 
‘Cause I’m a very efficient secretary. 
I’m a very efficient secretary.