La Trobe University Graduation Ceremony May 17th2018 3pm
I want to talk to you today about the value of rejection and of reinvention.
When young I might have been called a media junkie. I listened to the top 10 hits on radio, I had a comic collection, read True Romance magazines and I loved going to the pictures. Fortunately my father did also and the Friday night movies were the highlight of my week.
Forty-nine years ago I returned to Australia from the United States with a Master's Degree in Film from Stanford University, something I had done for fun, when my husband Don was doing a PhD. I happened to be the only person in Australia with a higher degree in film at that time and I wondered what I would do with myself.
I saw that La Trobe was establishing a new School of Education based on Centres of Study, one of which was Educational media. I thought I would try my luck and phoned the newly appointed Dean, Ronald Goldman.
He agreed to see me and we met not far from here. He was a rather jolly looking Englishman in striking red socks and sandals and with a large Alsatian dog prowling around his office.
I explained why I would be an excellent appointee to his new Centre, and then he gave me the run around. He had made all his appointments, although not one to the media centre. His budget was running out and perhaps I could work half time on trial. But half time people didn't get half time salaries and so on.
I went home and wrote a letter telling him what he could do with his job.
To my surprise, he phoned and offered me a one year contract on what I considered fair terms, to set up the Media Centre.
I began with great enthusiasm but discovered I was not allowed to teach. The Senior Lecturer in charge of the Education Diploma Course didn't consider film studies relevant.
What was a young woman doing trying to set up anything, much less a Media Centre in a University in 1970? Cinema Studies and film production weren't disciplines worthy of study. Where was the body of knowledge, the academic Journals? Had she bought her degree in America they suggested?
I asked if I could give a lunch time lecture in the Agora. I had all six screens going, demonstrating the impact of media and the need to understand it. We still don't. The students, who came along, took up a petition to demand I teach them.
And so, the first course on film production was taught in an Australian University, at La Trobe, in 1970. It was 6 weeks long and the equipment was Super 8.
With Ronald Goldman's support I applied successfully for a grant to run a Diploma of Education course based around film production projects, with my husband Don, who was teaching in the Sociology Department then. The resulting five films, about current issues in education, became a unique resource which other tertiary institutions wanted to access.
The Committee, which had given the grant, allowed me to keep control of the income for further projects. This meant I could set up research projects and do what I wanted, as the films made a lot of money.
One thing I did was take a crew to Mexico City to the International Women's Year Conference in 1975 to make a documentary; the only Australian record of the event which gets screened on anniversaries.
That situation annoyed some colleagues and the Dean who succeeded Ronald Goldman did his best to take the fund away from me. He was a traditionalist who saw me as a canker in the institution. I kept a file on his abuse to me. But R G had made me a senior lecturer with tenure and I pressed on.
The Media Centre set out to attract, along with teachers, part-time mature-aged students - some of them senior journalists and broadcasters who didn't have a degree but wanted to extend their knowledge.
Top industry practitioners were invited in to teach, at a time when the film industry was going through a rebirth. The distinguished Polish Historian, Professor Jerzy Toeplitz spent a year teaching in the Centre, while waiting to take up the position as Head of the New Australian Film and Television School.
But such initiatives, which might be commended now, were considered by the new Dean to be out of step with the purpose of an Education School in a University in the 70's.
To aggravate my position further I published a book with Hilary McPhee called Media She which was an expose of the treatment of women by the media?These were the days when it was legal to specify gender and age in job advertisements. If you think we haven't come far, listen to this.
Wanted Special Girl Friday, bright young bird, aged between 20-35, who likes doing lots of interesting things. Put on a pretty face and apply as our receptionist, telephonist, and coffee girl. Charming young boss and lots of fringe benefits. You will need to be well groomed and efficient.
I had two young male technicians working in the Media Centre who were very happy, to be photographed posing, like images taken from women's magazines, in states of undress, to feature in Media She. I wanted to show what an absurd proposition it was when men were used as commodities in the way women were commonly used.
There is one image where the young techies are tripping along the edge of the La Trobe moat, stark naked , under the heading 'Peak a Boo Boys its Spring', for an ad selling cement.?
Imagine doing that today. I would probably be behind bars, for I was effectively their employer. At the time, the public reaction to Media She was a bit like it is now to the hash #metoo movement. The book got national media attention and I got a reputation as a trouble maker.
Ronald Goldman put me up for promotion to a Chair and the selection committee split in two camps. My nemesis prevailed. The Vice Chancellor invited me for a cup of tea to explain that I would not be elevated to a Professorial role as the Committee considered that my work, after careful scrutiny, was not up to academic scratch.
I walked out of his office, leaving my tea thinking, 'I just have to get out of here,' and from that point I focused on what I could achieve outside the university.
Opportunities came my way and in 1975, International Women's Year, I was appointed by the Whitlam Government as the first woman on the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The publicity surrounding Media She had drawn me to the Government's attention.
I was introduced to public policy and shocked to find that the broadcasting regulator befriended the networks rather than the public. (think Banks today).
I began to speak out and soon after my appointment PM Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General. That was not my fault. But the broadcasting industry lobbied the new government to get rid of the Control Board, with its troublesome membership. They did, and I received a telex to tell me I was sacked. Thank you for your service.
Once again I was unsure what I could do with myself. I did not fit. I had not climbed the work place ladder. I had jumped all over the place, in a pattern probably more suited to today's world. I had a PhD by then, from La Trobe , I was an educator, teacher, researcher, policy analyst, film producer, activist, writer and commentator but where could all that lead? Looking for a new direction I began to work on Saturday mornings in a delicatessen.
Then opportunity struck. Another maverick, Bruce Gyngell, the Head of the new Broadcasting Tribunal, invited me to Chair the Committee establishing Children's Program Standards. That appointment changed my career direction.
In time I became Founding Director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation, and over 20 years kick-started an Australian international children's television industry with programs such as Round the Twist.
Everything I had learned in my wide ranging career became relevant for that job.
Jump forward and along comes a very different Vice Chancellor, John Dewar, a man who takes pride in the fact that this university was based on an innovative concept and among its many initiatives was to pioneer media studies. A Vice Chancellor who knows that the University that flourishes today will be one that can embrace change.
I am delighted to be welcomed back to la Trobe in this way. Some of my films were screened for the 50th Anniversary celebrations last year and pages from Media She were blown up and posted on the walls. The irony of those celebratory actions has me reflecting on the value of my La Trobe experience. You can't beat experience, and I learnt a lot of useful stuff in my decade here. La Trobe was my launching pad.
I was challenged and rejected here, but that strengthened me, for I passed the deadline for blaming others. I learnt to think strategically, I learnt the value of courage, persistence and patience; the importance of seizing opportunities, taking risks and reinventing myself.
I learnt that changing an institution takes time and individuals lacking drive and direction will always cling on to the status quo.
One of my advantages was that being a woman in the 70's meant there were no expectations. I wasn't expected to succeed. I should have been in the kitchen.
That was actually liberating, as I could go after what I believed in and enjoyed, seeking others who shared my goals. I found many of them who became part of a successful team. We all need others, for we can achieve nothing alone.
So as new graduates I say, be brave, stick your head up, initiate, think outside the square, find your allies, forget the naysayers, be patient, persevere, but think big.
Be prepared to be rejected. Then when you are, and at some point you will be, rethink, reinvent. Change is difficult. I had no idea, when I began at La Trobe, just how difficult. But I learnt here, and you have as well - much more than you can know.
I wish you all well in forging your exciting futures.