Politician Dr Carmen Lawrence talking at a press conference. She has many microphones in front of her.

Newscaf: Female firsts

30 years of NFSA News and Current Affairs
 Beth Taylor

For International Women's Day 2018 we celebrate firsts for females in Australia from our Television News and Current Affairs Program (Newscaf), which is 30 years old this year.

We've selected three news stories about significant moments of recognition for women in the political, sporting, cultural and religious spheres.

Solo sailor

We start with world first that we celebrated 30 years ago in 1988.

Sailor Kay Cottee was the first woman to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. Her courageous journey - the culmination of a childhood dream - took her 189 days.

Once back on land, Cottee was named Australian of the Year for 1988. In this clip from Seven Nightly News, we see her receiving her award from Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Kay Cottee named 1988 Australian of the Year, Seven Nightly News Sydney, 26 January 1989. NFSA title: 765576. Courtesy Seven Network

Common sense, generosity and hard work

In 1990 Dr Carmen Lawrence was appointed as the first female state premier in Australia's history. A year earlier, Rosemary Follett was the first female head of government in Australia when she became the inaugural chief minister of the ACT in 1989.

Of the stories about Lawrence's historic achievement in the Newscaf collection, one focuses on the circumstances of her appointment - the WA Inc financial scandal which took down Premier Peter Dowding. Another talks about Lawrence's childhood and we barely hear from her.

The piece below from Tas TV News, a report from Nine's parliamentary correspondent Peter Harvey (1944–2013), is included here because it contains a relevant sound bite from Dr Lawrence.

She says, 'I hope to bring to this position some of the attributes that underlie the contribution of all women in the community: a willingness to listen, a commitment to hard work, a generosity of spirit and lots of old-fashioned common sense'. 

The clip is powerful for showing her understanding of the wider historical implications of her appointment.

Australia's first woman Premier elected in Western Australia, Tas TV News, 12 February 1990. NFSA title: 50579. Courtesy Nine Network

Notably, it wasn't until 2009 - almost 19 years later - that we see Queensland's Anna Bligh become the first woman elected in her own right by popular vote as a state premier in Australia. 

Priests in Perth

The final story, about the first female Anglican priests ordained in Perth in 1992, is from SBS News

This moving news piece skilfully depicts the range of emotions for those present and the wider context of such a historic change to church practice. Vox pops with onlookers (some full of joy and others indignant) show us what was at stake and make us feel like we are amongst it all.

This report was chosen because it gives an emotional sense of watching history in the making. Archbishop Peter Carnley says 'Today we ordain ten, but we liberate hundreds of thousands from the stereotypes with which they have been bound'.

Perth: Anglican Bishop ordains 10 women as priests, SBS News, 3 March 1992. NFSA title: 65927. Courtesy SBS

Interestingly, Kay Goldsworthy AO - one of the ten women ordained, wearing the teal sash - has continued to be a pioneer. In February 2018 in Perth, Goldsworthy became the world's first ever female Anglican Archbishop. Another (stained) glass ceiling shattered.

Also of note in the first and third clips is the presence of, respectively, veteran newsreaders Ann Sanders (Seven Nightly News) and Lee Lin Chin (SBS News) who blazed the trail for female news journalists. Decades later they are still familiar faces in Australian news.


Newscaf highlights some of the significant and intriguing stories in the NFSA's television news collection that have been digitally preserved for future generations to enjoy and explore.

Photo credit (main image): 'Dr Carmen Lawrence first woman Premier of WA’, 1990. Courtesy of The State Library of Western Australia. Published under Creative Commons 2.0. Photographer: Evan Collis.