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90 Years of an Australian Icon exhibition: Meet Dorothy Drain

In honour of The Weekly's 90th Birthday, we take a closer look at the trailblazing women who helped build this iconic brand.

It was a horrific scene: a once thriving city reduced to a wasteland; those who hadn’t been seared to death in the terrible blast were slowly dying from radiation poisoning. In the aftermath of the atomic bomb, Hiroshima was considered no place for anyone, let alone an Australian woman. It was 1946 and Dorothy Drain was breaking new ground on many fronts as a reporter for The Australian Women’s Weekly – as a woman in a warzone, but also as a social influencer, directing women’s discourse from “needles and napkins” as she once remarked in an interview, to the human stories behind major world events.

As one of Australia’s first female war correspondents, Dorothy went on to cover Malaya, Korea and Vietnam for the magazine, delivering with fierce grit and determination what she knew women wanted – ‘real’ news, told with insight and compassion. “Dorothy believed, and I think with great cause, that Australian women got their news from the Weekly,” her nephew, Kenneth Hayne, would later marvel. “And not just fashion and recipes, but the real intellectual grit in it was the news. And she thought that was terribly important to the readership.”

LIFE IN FOCUS

Born in 1909, Dorothy grew up in Mount Morgan, Queensland, as the eldest of three daughters. During her schooling she was misdiagnosed with an eye condition and was instructed not to read for two years, yet even this didn’t prevent her from becoming a formidable wordsmith. “Dorothy was always destined to be a journalist, she had what was referred to as ‘ink in her veins’,” comments historian Dr Jeannine Baker. “When she was in high school she contributed regularly to the school newspaper and won a state-wide essay competition.”

After graduating, Dorothy began her career in the public service in a clerical position that left her underwhelmed. As a woman in the 1930s, “you could be a nurse or a teacher or you could work in an office. I wanted to do something that I regarded as dramatic and exciting and since I couldn’t see how to be an actress … newspaper work seemed to me exciting,” Dorothy remarked in a later interview.

AN EXTRAORDINARY CAREER

The quest for an interesting life led Dorothy to embark on a rare career move for a woman: journalism. “The 1933 census shows that only about 10% of journalists were women,” says Dr Baker. Even then, they were mostly restricted to writing for the social pages. A move to The Australian Women’s Weekly in 1938 – a title she would remain on for the rest of her career – gave Dorothy an opportunity to cover topics she considered more newsworthy.

Until she retired as editor in 1975, Dorothy expanded the magazine’s coverage of social issues and published articles on ground-breaking topics, such as women’s rights, health and education. Her ‘It Seems to Me’ column was hugely popular for 16 years and offered readers a witty, unique perspective on current affairs. “She showed women that you could have a successful career in journalism and you could get to the top.” says Dr Baker.

Despite her impressive achievements Dorothy remained humble and committed to her work. “I have always regarded The Weekly as my baby,” she once said. “I have nursed it, I have spanked it, I have dressed it up and sent it out into the world. And now, after all these years, I am still as proud of it as ever.”

Dorothy passed away on May 31, 1996, after suffering a heart attack. After a distinguished career as one of Australia’s most important journalists and publishers who strived to inspire and empower women, her legacy lives on through the continued success of The Australian Women’s Weekly today.

The Australian Women’s Weekly: 90 Years of an Australian Icon exhibition

The Australian Women’s Weekly: 90 Years of an Australian Icon opens on Sat 27 May and closes on Sat 27 August at Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo VIC. The exhibition celebrates the contributions of some of the influential and trailblazing women who have made the Weekly a magazine for women, by women. On display will be Dorothy’s scrapbooks, writing and photos amongst other memorabilia from her time as an editor and war correspondent for The Weekly. The exhibition will also feature photos from past editors and staff including Ita Buttrose and Alice Jackson and five stunning pieces of contemporary Australian fashion design which have graced recent covers, worn by an inspiring range of notable Australian women, including an Aurelio Costarella gown worn by Crown Princess Mary of Denmark amongst others.

The Australian Women’s Weekly: 90 Years of an Australian Icon

27 May – 27 August, 2023.

10am – 5pm daily

FREE ENTRY

Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street Bendigo VIC

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