Radio highlights from the NFSA's collection written, directed, produced and performed by women from Australia's radio history.
The arrival of Australia’s wireless age in the 1920s signalled modernity. Radio soon became a central domestic and social activity as entire family groups gathered around the radio set for communal listening.
But Australian women’s relationship with radio went deeper than simply being avid listeners – they also played an important professional role during Australia’s early years of radio broadcasting.
The women listed below –and many others – became pioneers in media production techniques and were integral to the shaping of Australian cultural identity.
Their stories from the golden years of radio in the 1930s, 40s and 50s can be told through radio recordings, photographs, scrapbooks, scripts, books, magazines, and oral histories from the NFSA collection.
Queenie Ashton was born in England in 1903. Ashton studied dancing from the age of four.
From the age of 16 she studied voice production, drama and sight reading.
Her first professional appearance was at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, where she sang a duet with Noël Coward, in a production of Happy Family.
Ashton began her radio career in 1924, at Radio 2LO in London, singing brackets of classical songs.
Amber Mae Cecil was born in 1938 to two of Australia’s best known radio figures: actress Rosalind Kennerdale and senior producer for the ABC, Lawrence H Cecil.
In 1953, at the age of 15, Cecil left school to co-star as the daughter, Janie, in the popular family comedy, Life with Dexter, with Ray Hartley as the son, Ashleigh.
The show was recorded live each week before an audience at 2GB and Cecil continued in the role for 11 years. Cecil was in constant demand for ABC radio plays.
Born in Melbourne in 1911, Dorothy Crawford was a television and radio drama producer.
As co-founder of Crawford Productions she made a significant contribution to the company’s success.
Crawfords not only dominated radio production in Melbourne, but was one of the few independent production companies to successfully transition from radio to television in Australia.
Born in Sydney in 1914, Lynn Foster was an important pioneer in the radio industry.
She was the first woman in Australia to direct a major radio serial on a national network, as well as the first to write and direct one.
She also played a major part in the advancement of the status of writers in the radio industry.
Grace Gibson was born in Texas in 1905. On completing her schooling in Hollywood, Gibson found work with the Radio Transcription Company of America.
This was one of the first radio drama production companies in the US.
A few years later, she was selling radio programs to prospective sponsors.
When Grace formed Grace Gibson Radio Productions in Australia in 1944, it became one of the most successful radio production companies in the world.
Though Gibson concentrated on the sales side of the business, she could recognise a good script and was noted for her skill at spotting talent.
Ethel Lang was born in Sydney in 1902.
Ethel Lang played leading ladies for ABC radio all through the 1930s.
Her notable parts included: Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth and the leading role of Jane Marryot in Noël Coward’s Cavalcade.
She also worked extensively with 2SM and 2GB.
Lane, Richard and National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, 1994, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1923-1960: A History Through Biography, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic
This article was first published in 2013. The text was updated in 2023.
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Main image: Radio performers (from left to right) Beryl Walker, Margaret Johnston, Elizabeth Wing, Margaret Mouchemore and Patricia Kennedy. From the Grace Gibson radio documentation collection. NFSA title: 716427