Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia

LISTENING IN TO THE LAWSONS

RADIO CROSSES THE URBAN-RURAL DIVIDE

Many scholars have acknowledged the artificiality of the dichotomous ‘urban-rural divide’. Few, however, have examined the shared cultural influences and experiences that help to create and perpetuate real and imagined similarities between country and city. This chapter attempts to address this problem with an analysis of The Lawsons, a 1940s radio serial that at once represented, and facilitated an understanding of, rural Australians in terms of alignment with, and likeness to, their urban counterparts.

On 21 February 1944 The Lawsons: A Story of the Home Front Family1 was first aired on ABC radio. It was an outstanding success for the national broadcaster. The exploits of the farming family featured in this dramatic serial – John and Ellen Lawson and their children Ted, Wally, Chris, Jean, Sue and Brian, along with their neighbours in the district of Tanimbla and their hired hands, Hilda and Joe – quickly gained a large following. For five years, the serial could be heard every weekday in a ten-minute lunchtime slot; as of 16 April 1945, episodes were repeated over the Alternative ABC network after 6 pm as well.2 In February 1947, an Anderson poll estimated that 52 per cent of Sydney’s sets-in-use were frequently tuned to The Lawsons3 and in June of the same year Richard Sneddon, the ABC’s Rural Officer for New South Wales, professed himself ‘amazed at the percentage of listeners who regularly tune[d] in’ to the program.4 Although it ended in February 1949, its replacement, Blue Hills, featured several of The Lawsons’ characters and survived until late 1976.

Every episode of both The Lawsons and Blue Hills was researched and written (or dictated) by Sydney University-educated Gwen Meredith. A playwright who had enjoyed some success with her work Wives Have Their Uses (Meredith 1944), Meredith was already familiar with the radio industry when she was approached by the ABC in 1943 with an offer to write a new serial set in rural Australia. She was, in fact, an inspired choice for the job. Her experience peculiarly suited her to the task: Richard Lane has noted that by the time The Lawsons went to air she had already written documentary broadcasts dealing with agricultural issues as well as episodes for the popular radio serial The Everybodys5 (Lane 1994 pp. 232–237). As Michelle Arrow has convincingly demonstrated in her astute analysis of listeners’ active participation in ‘constructing’ the serial, in Meredith’s hands The Lawsons swiftly established a firm place for itself in the popular culture of the day (Arrow 1998).

Diana R Combe (1992) has applied to the radio industry in its heyday Benedict Anderson’s ideas about the nation-building properties of print media (Anderson 1991 pp. 22–36). According to her argument, radio, even more than print media such as daily newspapers, creates a simultaneously shared (if differently felt) experience for listeners who might be widely disparate in geographic and other terms. When listeners tune in to and respond to a program they subconsciously build a sense of camaraderie with others who are doing the same thing. As Combe has stated with specific reference to radio serials, ‘when from Perth to Cairns people could swap tag lines and funny voices from their favourite serials, the networked serials had become the basis for some kind of national identity’ (p. 149). Following this argument to its logical conclusion, radio entertainment could reduce the distance separating rural and urban Australians by permitting individual listeners experiences that were constructed, on some level, as collective. Certainly city and country dwellers alike listened to – and loved or loathed – the Lawson family. If any radio serial could help to bridge the urban-rural divide, The Lawsons, known to so many, might be the logical candidate.

Figure 7.1 JC Williamson’s production of ‘The Lawsons’, stage set, 1950s.

Photograph courtesy of the JC Williamson collection of photographs, National Library of Australia. nla.pic.-vn3260811. Hal Williamson, photographer.

Of course, several scholars have taken pains to expose the falsity of the dichotomous urban-rural divide, the imagined, irreconcilable polar opposition that rejects or glosses over the connections and similarities between country and city to emphasise an unbridgeable gulf between the two instead (see, for example, Williams 1985; Davison 2003 pp. 41–42; Turner 1993 p. 32). There have been some efforts to tease out the real nature of differences between city and bush, although these are often presented as studies of rural sustainability that measure the ‘quality’ of rural residents’ lives against (sometimes only implied) urban referents (see, for example, Pritchard and McManus 2000a). Such studies are of enormous importance in a nation where the mainstream media reports that country areas perform less well than their city counterparts across a variety of lifestyle indicators, including access to education and health services.6 Unfortunately, this work necessarily stresses differences rather than similarities between city and bush.7 Despite the widespread recognition that a polar opposition of country and city is at once inaccurate and unhelpful, there has been little sustained analysis of cultural artefacts for the clues that they might offer regarding the potential and actual porousness of any partition that exists between city and country.8 In this chapter, then, I will examine the ways in which The Lawsons spanned urban-rural gaps that were both real and imagined. The peculiar properties of radio and the structure of the radio industry in Australia, the ABC’s unique agenda for this serial, the climate of war in which it was originally conceived and presented, as well as Meredith’s own ability to create characters of lasting appeal, all combined in The Lawsons to present an opportunity for bringing country and city into closer commerce.

There was a great deal of excitement in the 1920s about the potential impact of radio upon (white) rural Australians (Johnson 1988 pp. 11–16). The bulk of it centred on the idea that radio would overcome the distance separating a (sometimes idyllic, sometimes harsh, but always isolated) rural Australia from an urban counterpart imagined in more sophisticated terms.9 In 1923 the leader of the Country Party and Acting Prime Minister, Dr Earle Page, detailed these hopes for radio at considerable length:

[t]he man who lives outback and produces our primary wealth could receive... weather forecasts... [and] could get valuable information about the city and overseas markets... as promptly as if he were living in the heart of the city itself. Every morning he would get the same world’s news as the city man, and again in the evening, during his spare moments, that lack of contact with his fellowmen would be overcome by wireless. He could listen to the operas, concerts, orchestras, and the popular addresses in the city as they actually take place...10

Thus would radio stave off ‘rural idiocy’11 and discontent, educating the residents of the bush and providing welcome relief for what was understood to be the dull monotony of their lives.

Such dreams for radio were barely realised, at least in the 1920s when they were most often touted. Until the late 1930s, most rural Australians could not access radio nearly as readily as urban dwellers.12 There were many reasons for this, including the urban locations and limited coverage of the first radio stations, an initial lack of recording and relaying technology which curtailed traffic between early country and city stations, small budgets which would have limited such traffic even if the technology had been available, and the slower rate at which rural Australians purchased wireless sets. People living in isolated areas needed more expensive, high-powered sets than urban dwellers to get adequate reception (although this expense was offset to some extent by the reduced listening licence fees for which many rural Australians, in acknowledgment of their poorer broadcasting services, were eligible). Electrification was also an obstacle: for many years after most metropolitan dwellers could ‘plug in’ their radios, many rural Australians still had only the messy and cumbersome option of battery sets.

Towards the end of 1939, closer parity had been achieved (see, for example, Mingay et al. 1940 p. 28). Relaying and recording practices, and loosely affiliated networks between stations, were well established, so that country people now had fairly equal access to the radioed weather forecasts, market reports, news updates, educational talks and entertainment programs that Acting Prime Minister Page had so eagerly anticipated seventeen years previously. Perhaps his excitement remained a little ill-founded for all that. In 1944 the sociologist Jean I. Craig wrote that ‘[t]he wireless is certainly not making its full potential contribution to rural life; as an educational medium in farm, household, medical or intellectual spheres, its influence seems to be very slight’ (Craig 1944 p. 195). The following year, the Rural Reconstruction Commission – a body set up to investigate, among other things, rural standards of living – likewise felt that radio’s impact upon country Australians was limited. Market, news and weather reports were proving of use to farmers, but radio talks on technical matters and discursive sessions ‘of an agricultural nature’ seemed to be of little value.13 The difficulty of communicating complex information over the transient oral medium was becoming evident. However, radio’s efficiency in disseminating nuggets of popular entertainment was also clear. In her report, Craig, obviously a devotee of ‘high’ cultural forms, lamented that the medium had become merely ‘a source of enjoyment of the inferior rather than the fine products of our culture’ (p. 195).

In light of the good intentions paving the road to broadcasting in rural Australia, it is surprising to note that it was Marx and Engels’ ‘rural idiot’ who was one of the earliest and most successful features of such ‘inferior’ radio products. When The Lawsons was created, representations of country dwellers were already established on the airwaves in the persons of Dad, Dave, Mum and Mabel in Dad and Dave from Snake Gully, the famous comic serial that ran under the direction of the George Edwards Players from 1937 to 1953. At the dizzy height of Dad and Dave’s popularity, an estimated 75 per cent of Australian radio owners tuned in to it in the evenings (Leonard 1989 p. 19). Prior to (indeed, during the early years of) its success, large Australian broadcasters had demonstrated a distinctly global orientation. Despite its duty under the Australian Broadcasting Commission Act of 1932 to foster local talent, the ABC imported many artists and programs from the United Kingdom.14 The Commission’s announcers adopted a British reserve and formality (Johnson 1988 pp. 118–122). For the sake of overseas marketability, many commercial stations followed suit, fostering neutral or trans-Atlantic accents in their announcers rather than adopting the Australian vernacular (Combe 1992 p. 187). Australian serials were increasingly set in a similarly neutral ‘everyplace’ rather than in specifically local settings (Combe 1992 p. 202). American serials, far cheaper to put to air than local productions, were also imported and aired in enormous quantities by commercial stations during the 1930s (Jones 1992 p. 46; Potts 1989 pp. 66–67). Some of Dad and Dave’s success is surely attributable to the familiarity of its characters – whose association with Steele Rudd’s popular book On Our Selection (1899) was never openly acknowledged by the serial’s creators – and of its accents and distinctly Australian setting in a radio serial environment dominated by foreign products.

In another sense, though, the world inhabited by Dad and Dave was anything but familiar to its listeners. This is particularly true of its earlier years: on 30 June 1937, just after the serial began, there were still only 41 licences held per 100 rural dwellings in Australia, compared with 78 per 100 metropolitan dwellings (Mingay et al. 1938 p. 100). Few listeners could relate to the distinctly rural elements of Dad and Dave’s experiences. Nor were they intended to do so. Although Dad and Dave’s popularity was such that some country listeners probably enjoyed the characters’ antics, the serial was calculated to exaggerate a gulf between its city and country audiences. Its bucolic jokes and pastoral jibes relied for their humour on a privileged (read: urban) listener possessed of a sophistication that the serial’s rural characters lacked. Listeners were encouraged to laugh affectionately at Dad and Dave, never with them.

Perhaps Dad and Dave’s popularity was helped along by a widespread shift away from a global outlook in the radio broadcasting industry that began during World War Two. Throughout the war, the British Ministry of Information goaded the BBC into bombarding Australia with recorded ‘talks and feature programmes’ relating to the (European) war effort (Inglis 1983 p. 80). Australia’s own Department of Information would have none of it. In a climate where Australian allegiances were swinging towards the United States, the department insisted that the ABC counter what it considered ‘the propaganda of BBC relays putting the European war first’ (p. 96). Wartime also saw the American radio serial recordings which had flooded the local commercial market becoming increasingly unavailable and prevented the ABC’s usual European musical celebrities from coming to Australia to perform. As if by default, the profile of local content was raised as it was used more extensively to fill the programming gaps.

At the same time, the war brought about a fresh appreciation of the importance of rural industries – and populations – to the nation. Japanese bombs falling on Australian soil brought home the difficulties of defending the largely empty interior and north of the continent. To political activist Bob Santamaria,

[i]ncreased population which, for other countries, is a desirable thing is, for Australia, a most pressing and imperative necessity... We cannot defend Australia with 7,000,000 people... Yet it is impossible to plan for an increasing population unless we plan also for a stable and permanent agriculture.15

Furthermore, all Australians were affected by the shortage of many traditionally imported foodstuffs at the same time that they understood how manpower and equipment shortages rendered food production increasingly difficult. The Rural Reconstruction Commission was instituted in 1943 to follow some telling lines of enquiry into

A) the organisation of the Australian rural economy for the purposes of the defence of the Commonwealth and the effectual prosecution of the war, including the efficiency of methods of production, distribution and marketing of primary products and the conservation, maintenance and development of the natural resources of Australia; and

B) the re-organization and rehabilitation of the Australian rural economy during the post-war period.16

What was the message in all this? Simply that every Australian’s best interests were urgently, inextricably, linked to the interests of the rural sector. In supplying an alternative characterisation of rural Australia and its inhabitants to that supplied by Dad and Dave, The Lawsons would prove very much a product of its time.

In constructing her alternative vision of life on the land – early hailed by one listener as ‘[a] welcome change from... the “Dad and Dave” standard’17 – Gwen Meredith paid close attention to the instructions of her superiors at the ABC. In June 1943, when Frank Clewlow, the Commission’s Director of Drama, offered Meredith the opportunity to write the then-unnamed serial, he told her that it was to be a regular segment of a new hour-long rural information session.18 During this session, wrote Clewlow, ‘there will be a talk by an agricultural expert, probably answers to questions, stock and produce prices, &c’.19 Musical items and ‘this serial’ would also be included ‘in order to keep the entertainment value’.20 However, the serial was to provide more than entertainment. Clewlow went on to explain that:

it would be necessary for whoever writes it to keep in touch with the Department of Agriculture in order that current happenings affecting the land could be introduced. For instance, should there be an outbreak of swine fever it would perhaps be necessary to discuss methods of prevention and so publicise the Department’s instructions.21

In keeping with early dreams about radio educating the bushman, the serial was conceived from the outset as a tool that would help to ‘professionalise’ Australian farming practices as a necessary part of the war and post-war rebuilding efforts. In late 1945, John Douglass, the ABC’s Director of Rural Broadcasts, could offhandedly and apparently unblushingly describe The Lawsons as an ‘agricultural propaganda serial’.22 Eventually, too, the serial would come to be understood as a tool for raising urban Australia’s awareness of rural Australian interests, lifestyles and concerns. When the rural session underwent a change of format to become The Country Hour on 3 December 1945, The ABC Weekly hailed the move with the headline ‘A.B.C.’s New Rural Hour will Bridge Gap between the Country and the City’.23

Over the course of writing The Lawsons, Meredith followed Clewlow’s directive to work closely with both the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and the ABC’s Rural Department. Additionally, she conducted her own independent research into a variety of farming subjects and spent time with farming families all over Australia to ensure the accuracy not only of her agricultural instructions to farmers but also of her representations of life in the country (Lane 1994 p. 233). John Douglass appears to have taken very seriously his role as coach in the finer technical and seasonal details of Australian farming, writing frequently to Meredith with suggestions. They were sometimes brief and simple, as with ‘[t]here will be more bush fire stuff shortly and I’d like you to keep it rolling because it looks as though we will be burnt out before the summer ends.’24 Often, he encouraged Meredith to deal with the more obscure: ‘I feel the following material will be topical in the near future... During winter young sheep pick up a heavy infestation of Black Scour worms when conditions are moist... The first symptoms are loss of condition’.25 In all this, though, he advocated a cunning diplomacy. ‘Give the country man full honours for being mechanically minded as our rice and wheat industry is as efficiently mechanized as any in the world. Don’t forget Don Shand’s WASPS [Women’s Agricultural Security Production Service]’, he urged in one missive.26

Information and instructions were sometimes rather too clumsily evident in Meredith’s dramatic treacle. In one particularly stilted piece of dialogue, Sue Lawson relates how in Europe

they’re so fed up with substitutes that wool’s become an absolute obsession with the designers and it’ll be years before synthetics will appeal to them and that’ll be our chance to hop in... Well, so long as everyone wakes up and takes advantage of what they’re told before it gets too late.27

It is, of course, impossible to gauge with accuracy how audiences reacted to homilies like this one from Sue. As Michelle Arrow has demonstrated, there was a ‘vast, diverse body of response’ to the serial (Arrow 1998 p. 38), but there is no way of knowing whether the letters received by Meredith and the ABC were representative of general public feeling about the program. One gentleman, incensed at the blatant support for Department of Agriculture policies he heard in the serial, wrote soon after its premiere that ‘the play should prove popular with the Rural Reconstruction Board. There are no critical or any other kind of farmers on it.’28 Another listener took exception to Meredith’s obvious support of reafforestation in an episode dealing with soil erosion.29 Still others wrote in to point out mistakes or inconsistencies: discussions of footrot during times of drought, for instance, or characters who spent more days shearing and cooking for shearers than the number of sheep on the Lawson farm could possibly warrant.30 Conversely, a man from Wagstaff Point asked Meredith for the name of a cure for eel worm that John Lawson had mentioned in passing during one episode and commented that ‘many good ideas for farming and gardening’ were communicated through the Lawson family.31 More interesting for the researcher seeking evidence of the serial’s success in bridging the urban-rural divide are the archived responses of city listeners to the serial’s agricultural element. One Margaret Ryan considered The Lawsons ‘the only story of its kind on the air very interesting to us city dwellers, in that we learnt quite a lot of the way country folk lived’32, and a ‘grateful listener’ in Balwyn, Victoria, informed Meredith that ‘[t]he points you have brought out about farming, soil erosion and the tackling of the various problems have been most instructive.’33 In this way, and in a reversal of the anticipated city-to-country flow of radio traffic, the Lawson family brought the country to the city.

As an integral element of its ‘agricultural propaganda’, The Lawsons carried an important, if subtle, subtext: far from being backward, rural Australians could be receptive to urban ideas and influences. The Lawsons did not just bring specialised farming knowledge to urban Australians; it also brought scientific agricultural concepts (often developed in urban halls of learning) to the bush and, furthermore, depicted a rural populace willing and able to adopt them. The serial’s informative aims, which were in many instances aligned with (distinctly metropolitan) environmentally reconstructive and regenerative concerns, led the Lawson family to discourse on the value and beauty of trees on their property and to diversify their crops to enrich their soils.34 (The latter was admittedly a financially motivated as well as environmentally responsible course: apparently the Department of Agriculture’s stance on soil rehabilitation did not go so far as to promote unprofitable use of the land). In their efforts to gain a measure of nurturing ascendancy over an Australian environment that had long and consistently been represented as untameable, even by its admirers, the program’s better and more respected farmers were shown negotiating a path towards a progressive intellectualism that popular representations of rural Australians – such as those of the influential Bulletin school – rarely encompassed.35

A perusal of The Lawsons’ earlier episodes reveals that the character Max Ralston stands at the serial’s most progressive extreme. Educated in cities in both Australia and Britain, Max is the all-powerful hero of the serial. He saves the day in countless situations, from lending the Lawsons his tractor so they can plough a fire break, just in time36, to being the only person from Tanimbla district with a blood type matching Mrs Lawson’s (handy when she is desperately ill and will die if she does not receive a transfusion).37 Ralston is simultaneously representative of the most positive aspects of existing literature’s ‘typical’ Australians and of the ‘other’ that such literature rejects. He is a good neighbour and ‘mate’ to the Lawsons and to others in the district; he is hardworking; he treats all comers as equals. He is at the same time an intellectual, an avid agricultural theorist. He is always the first around Tanimbla to adopt the latest and most advanced farming practices.38 His metropolitan education and orientation give him an enviable control over his land that in turn grants him wealth and, with it, status. His authority in the community is such that, to varying degrees, The Lawsons’ typical farmers – men like John Lawson, Mr Sorenson and Mr Thomas – take Ralston’s agricultural philosophy and techniques as models.39 Becoming a ‘progressive’ farmer is thus contingent on one’s embrace of (or submission to) what are, dimly but unmistakeably, urbanising influences. John Lawson listens in to weather forecasts and reports on his radio; as the serial develops, he begins to follow news of the latest crop varieties and rotation theories; he has mechanised his farm, as far as his finances permit it, before the serial opens.40 A mixing of honest, hardworking earthiness – long familiar attributes of farmers in Australian literature and ones to which audiences would no doubt respond appreciatively – with a practical intellectualism (for he sometimes resists the most expensive or radical developments41) grants him and the bulk of The Lawsons’ farmers a refreshing professionalism. As a result, despite the vagaries of the Australian environment and the occasional financial hardship that can subsequently descend upon them with little warning,42 these farmers are able in the main to make their land productive and to earn modest but comfortable livings. Lest her message be lost upon the rural element of her audience, Meredith provided a foil for Ralston and his followers in the less-than-successful Mr Wilkins. His resistance to the influence of science and his irresponsible land use (he exploits his farm for short-term gains, doing enormous damage to his soil) leads to miserable failures on his part, prompting Ralston to call him ‘the worst farmer in the district’.43 Wilkins underscores Meredith’s point: only progressive farmers open to outside, urban, influences can be successful.

If Meredith at once presented and facilitated an idealised, two-way traffic between country and city when she met the ABC’s requirement for ‘agricultural propaganda’, she also constructed The Lawsons’ characters and their experiences ‘realistically’, in a manner calculated to appeal to both urban and rural dwellers. In this she was ably assisted by the editors of The ABC Weekly. In October 1945, Raymond Moyser, Assistant Editor of the magazine, told Meredith that ‘many people take such an interest in the doings of the Lawsons that to them they are real people’.44 He went on to advise against running a story about Meredith’s role in writing the serial as it would highlight the fact that the Lawson family was ‘non-existant (sic)... [and] might dampen the ardour of some of the more enthusiastic listeners’.45 The photos that were occasionally run by the Weekly depicting the actors playing the Lawson family, complete with costumes and props, may have helped to maintain the serial’s ring of truth in the ears of some fans.46 Perhaps this was at the forefront of the editors’ minds when, in the lead up to 41-year-old Max Ralston’s marriage to 20-year-old Sue(!), the Weekly also published a series of ‘interviews’ with Sue, Max, John and Ellen in which the characters were ‘asked’ about the couple’s determination to wed despite John Lawson’s objections.47 It is possible that the cartoon strip introduced to animate The Lawsons’ storylines for readers was shelved by the Weekly simply because it was not in keeping with the ‘reality’ that the serial projected.48

Even without the journal’s devices, however, Meredith’s episodes still carried conviction for many listeners nationwide. One resident of North Ipswich wrote of the Lawson family that ‘[w]e feel they are all friends. I wonder if you realise just how much a batch of friends like that can mean to lonely folk both in country and town.’49 Another listener referred to it as a ‘very human serial’50 and still another as a ‘story... of everyday life’.51 Katherine McColl, of Canterbury, informed Meredith that ‘“The Lawsons” is a nuisance. It puts me to great inconvenience always having to listen in for fear I miss something. Having to worry like this about Sue!’52 To A.H., the serial was ‘a story of the real Australians, of the inland, true to life... Your characters are real people. Their reactions to the war news, the doings on farm and station, reflect life as it is lived’.53 Appeals to an ‘Australianness’ that united listeners across urban/rural boundaries must, as A.H.’s letter indicates, have been boosted in the early episodes by The Lawsons’ wartime context. Many Australians could have related to the Lawson family’s anxiety during the early episodes, when John receives a telegram reporting that Wally is missing;54 and they could have understood the joy of Chris’ early discharge from the forces and homecoming, despite the other characters’ often-voiced concerns about the (rather vaguely drawn) wound he has sustained.55

Figure 7.2 JC Williamson’s production of ‘The Lawsons’, with Mary Bartholomew, Pamela Bygrave (seated), Jean Blue, Peter Morris, George Simpson-Lyttle, Dorothea Dunstan (seated on arm of chair), Billee Lockwood (seated), Ed Devereaux, and Edmund Allison, 1950s.

Photograph courtesy of the JC Williamson collection of photographs, National Library of Australia. nla.pic-vn3260831. Hal Williamson, photographer.

The real key to Meredith’s sustained success with The Lawsons, though, lay not in her dealings, skilful or otherwise, with contemporary issues of universal interest. The serial’s preoccupation with agriculture precluded that.56 Instead, it lay in her ability to create rural characters who in many ways fitted the bush stereotypes informing a large part of familiar national literature, but who also complicated them. This is not to say that the ‘everyperson’ façade Meredith lent the Lawson family and their country acquaintances challenged the serial’s listeners: an ‘everyperson’ is, after all, inoffensively neutral. In The Lawsons, though, this very neutrality made the characters putty in the hands of the listener-as-collaborator. They could be simultaneously representative of and appealing to both the rural dweller frustrated by the associations of backwardness that Dad and Dave’s vision of rural life brought to the country, and the city dweller interested in Australian stories less dominated by Russell Ward’s man from the bush (Ward 1978). As I have already argued in the context of the ‘agricultural propaganda’ element of the serial, several of The Lawsons’ main male characters (particularly Max Ralston) at once upheld and transcended bush-steeped national types. Many others, though they also fitted tropes that listeners could recognise readily, could be seen as people informed but not wholly shaped by or bound to their sense of rural place.

From the start, Meredith used the backdrop of war to allow female characters prominent roles in the serial. Because Wally and Ted Lawson are away on active service in the early episodes, Jean and Sue Lawson are constantly occupied with often very physical farm work. As Max Ralston tells John Lawson,

Women have proved in the last few years that they’re equal to most jobs, I’ve found. Before the war you wouldn’t have conceived Jean and Sue doing what they have done on the farm here. I never expected to see a girl drive a bulldozer, but I’ve seen ’em now.57

Sue, in particular, is a celebration of the indomitable female. Her success in pea-picking for the WASPS earns her a badge of honour at an awards ceremony where she is applauded as ‘one of the best men around the place’.58 While a storyline dealing heavily in pea-picking on rather a grand scale could hardly be accommodated by anything other than a rural setting, many of the adventures that showcase Sue’s resourcefulness and spirit could as easily be situated in Sydney or Melbourne as in the district of Tanimbla. When at a loss for a dress to wear to a dance, she whips one up out of a recently acquired bedspread.59 (Scarlett O’Hara, eat your heart out). Because her parents have expressly forbidden her attendance, she must leave for the dance in secret; when her return transport fails, she walks for miles in driving rain.60 Her keen sense of fun, independence, pragmatism and physicality make Sue reminiscent of what John Rickard has identified as the ‘colonial girl’, a mainstay of Australian literature who resides in both city and bush (Rickard 1979 p. 20).

Despite the ease with which Sue could be reconciled with an established, if transcendent, figure in both urban and rural Australian literary tropes, she and the other female characters were also the ones to complicate most The Lawsons’ vision of rural Australia. Their prominent inclusion in the serial lends the Lawson men trappings of respectability. As family men, they are not the big-drinking gamblers, or even the independent and fancy-free rovers, who featured in the influential Bulletin writers’ imaginations.61 Of course, associated with pervasive respectability is a more negative aspect of complex, ‘progressive’ society: social stratification. Dad and Dave made a mockery of this, reliant as it was on a privileged listener who could scoff at any and all genteel aspirations of one backward character or another.62 In Tanimbla district, social division is a genuine phenomenon. Although the Lawsons’ interactions with their ‘paid help’, the cook Hilda, are generally casual and easy, Michelle Arrow has noted that her very presence in the serial suggests social boundaries that I would argue sit uncomfortably alongside the most prominently egalitarian Australian bush traditions (Arrow 1998 p. 42). Instead, Hilda’s presence recalls the class tensions of the bush squatter legend, although this never embraced the finer distinctions of class found around Tanimbla. Class stratification might have struck a chord in urban listeners who were necessarily used to a very visible, but less intimate, geographic separation of the classes across suburbia. In actual fact, evidence of such recognition is rare. Reactions to class distinctions made in the serial were very mixed, from the woman who questioned the realism of Meredith’s depictions of snobbery ‘in a country as democratic as Australia’63, to the listener who considered the familiarity of the mistress-servant relationship inaccurate (‘I am certain you would not find one family in every hundred who would encourage’ it64) and the ‘professional man’ from the country who delighted in an episode about a ball attended by the rural elite, congratulating Meredith on her ‘delicate touch that revealed this feature which is a definite fact in rural life but not necessarily blatantly obtrusive’65. Arrow has analysed in some detail not only the responses to The Lawsons’ portrayal of class-based social divisions but also the motives behind it, showing that this was an instance of Meredith’s own comfortably wealthy background and Liberal politics deeply informing her writing (Arrow 1998 pp. 42–43). Regardless of motive and audience response, however, the ultimate result of Meredith’s depictions of social stratification in Tanimbla district was the portrayal of a rural life less simple than that permitted in rural idylls such as Dad and Dave. It is the elitism as complication of rural life which is, on an admittedly very basic level, another key to the drawing together of rural and urban Australia that was made possible in The Lawsons. By offering rural life a complexity often denied it, Meredith again made it reminiscent – although by no means absolutely or clearly reflective – of urbanity.

To see Hilda, as well as her niece Emmie, in only these terms is of course to do them great injustice. In a neat turning of the tables on Dad and Dave, Emmie, the working-class urban girl who has been exposed to city temptations, provides much-needed comic relief in The Lawsons. When she comes to stay in Tanimbla district she constantly snubs the farming family with a distinctly urban snobbery all her own, for Emmie finds country life dreadfully dull and feels compelled to say so at almost every opportunity.66 Loyal Hilda’s commonsense earthiness acts as the perfect foil for her flighty, flirtatious niece. As The Lawsons drew to a close, several listener letters reflected a deep fondness for these two characters, who were invariably drawn with great sympathy by Meredith. Wrote Mrs J. Lenthall, ‘I hope we know something of dear little Emmie before it ends’67, while Miss Mollie George informed Meredith that she was ‘sorry...to know that “The Lawsons” is finishing...We loved the whole family, also Hilda, Joe and Emmy [sic]’68. Small wonder, then, that Miss R. Read of Wagstaffe would write to say how pleased she was to find several characters ‘still with us in “Blue Hills”...especially Hilda. She is such a true staunch friend.’69

It is a famous snippet of Blue Hills folklore that when the actor who played Hilda, Nellie Lamport, died, Meredith knew she could not ‘kill off’ the character without distressing many of her listeners. Instead, Hilda was sent to Tasmania for a very, very long visit. (One is tempted to see in this another sort of elitism, shared by a number of mainlanders, on Meredith’s part. After all, many Australians might consider ‘going to Tasmania’ an appropriate euphemism for dying). Meredith was not so squeamish where other characters were concerned: The Lawsons scripts often seem to plunge from one tragedy to the next at breakneck speed. Listeners could only be expected to accept or overlook a very limited amount of agricultural instruction in each episode. If the Lawson family never did anything more than contemplate the purchase of hay balers, and the merits of one wheat variety over another, their listening base must surely have tuned out, bored. A dramatic serial perforce relies at least partly upon Big Events for its propulsion. The Lawsons had these in spades. A great number of listeners, as I have shown, supported the claims the serial might make for the realism of its characters (although this of course by no means indicates consensus on even this point among the program’s total audience). However, the (melo)dramatic nature of the things that happened to those characters seems ultimately to have led many listeners to dismiss the serial as a serious attempt at a realistic depiction of rural lifestyles. At one point, the objections of a rural doctor to the serial’s gruesome accidents were brought to John Douglass’ attention. ‘He greatly deplored the episode...in which a small child is left either in a wool press or about to be placed in one, and the 10 ton pressure emphasised’, staff at the Victorian office of the ABC informed Douglass.70 Another listener wrote peevishly that The Lawsons was ‘the most detestable serial I have ever listened to, it is just a series of exasperations’.71 Listing the plethora of troubles that had beset the family in recent weeks, s/he continued with a plea to ‘finish the thing off without any more mishaps’.72 A Miss Agnes Scott suggested as early as 1946 that ‘it would be well to drop the story before it expires from sheer feebleness’73; N.D. from Clayton, Victoria, wrote to ‘The Manager’ at the ABC of his/her frustration with the fact that in the serial ‘[e]very natural occurrence is turned into a tragedy for one or other of the characters, and one gets the impression that life on the land in Australia is tragic and to be avoided at all costs’74. Even a fan felt moved to send Meredith a letter stating that, while she and her family had enjoyed The Lawsons, ‘deep down we knew it to be tripe’.75 It is telling, though, that even many of the letters professing the deepest dislike of The Lawsons indicated some knowledge of its characters and plots. For all that an unnamed reporter in the Argus could write that ‘“The Lawsons”, from the ABC, is loved and hated in equal quantities’76, Combe’s 1992 thesis is borne out on some level: Australians on both sides of the urban-rural divide were bound together simply by their acquaintance with the program.

According to Richard Lane, Gwen Meredith made the switch from The Lawsons to Blue Hills in 1949 because she ‘felt she had written all she could about the Lawsons and their friends; she wanted to broaden her horizons, introduce new characters, develop new themes’ (Lane 1994 p. 235). Arrow has noted that Blue Hills was ‘less explicitly rural’ than The Lawsons; its tales, set in the country but not necessarily written about people country-born and -bred, lost something of the intimacy of the earlier serial’s vision of rural Australians (Arrow 1998 p. 39). The Lawsons was, at any rate, a product of its time. Even relatively early in the serial’s career, there was agitation in the ABC Publications division for a reduction in the more readily evident ‘items of agricultural education’ that had been the subject of listener complaints, as it was felt ‘that a more powerful use could be made of the Lawsons by continuing it without any suggestion of direct propaganda, relying on the power of its attraction both before and after the session to benefit other Country Hour broadcasts (sic).’77 Don Aitkin (1988 p. 56) has outlined the influences on post-war Australia which diminished the celebration of agricultural production that war had rendered so expedient.78 The mood that had helped The Lawsons come alive for listeners in both country and city was shifting. Furthermore, the oral medium that had allowed it to reach across the nation was unfortunately a transient one. Without a history of ‘classic’ books behind it, The Lawsons was destined to fade into an obscurity that did not overtake the more robust Dad and Dave.

The serial offers a larger meaning, though, than a tale of meteoric rise and irrevocable decline can suggest. The characters’ ‘human’ appeal to listeners everywhere; listeners’ collaborative ‘readings’ of the serial; the research Meredith undertook in rural Australia; and the technical agricultural advice incorporated into the episodes: all of these made visible in The Lawsons a connective web woven from both sides of the urban-rural divide. There is plenty of evidence on our television screens to suggest that Australia’s fascination with things rural persists. Meredith’s serial remains a small but encouraging example of a popular culture form that capitalised on this interest even as it transcended the notion of the irreconcilable divide. It offers a model for the respectful treatment of both city and country that emphasises sameness, as much as difference, between the two. At a more fundamental level, The Lawsons demonstrates how experiences shared – in reality and in imagination – can bring together ‘Sydney and the Bush’.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This chapter draws extensively upon my Honours thesis, ‘Dad, Dave and the Lawson Family: radio representations of rural Australians, 1937–1953’. Melbourne: Monash University; 2000. Many thanks to Graeme Davison, my Honours supervisor, for his help and support. Thanks also to Carly Millar, Jessica Lee-Ack and Kate Murphy, doctoral candidates at Monash University, each of whom read drafts of this work and offered suggestions for its improvement.

PRIMARY SOURCES

ABC Weekly.

Annual Report of the Postmaster-General, No. 24: 1933–1934.

Argus.

Australian Broadcasting Commission Act (Cth) 1932.

Brooke, George. The Lawsons. Comic Strip. 1947.

Bulletin.

Country Hour, The. 1945–.

Edwards, George et al. Dad and Dave from Snake Gully. 1937–1953.

Herald Sun.

Howell, Edward et al. The Everybodys. 1932–1953. (aka Fred and Maggie Everybody, The Fred and Maggie New Series, Fred and Maggie Go Abroad).

Meredith, Gwen. Blue Hills. 1949–1976.

Meredith, Gwen. The Lawsons. 1944–1949.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office; SP613/1, General Correspondence including Administration, Policy, and Artists’ Contract Files, 1933-1963; 8/3/3, Programmes, The Lawsons and Blue Hills [ABC General Correspondence File], 1945-1956.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office; SP1071/2, Scripts, Serials, 1936–1969; LAWSONS, The Lawsons. A story of the Home Front Family.

National Archives of Australia: Department of the Treasury; A571/150, Correspondence Files, 1901–1976; 1944/541, First, Second and Third Reports of the Rural Reconstruction Commission, 1944–1947.

National Archives of Australia: Rural Reconstruction Commission; A6182, Transcripts of Evidence, 1943–1944; 79, Rural Reconstruction Commission – Transcripts of Evidence, 1943–1943.

National Archives of Australia: Rural Reconstruction Commission; A6188, Printed Reports, 1944–1947; 6, Rural Reconstruction Commission. Farming Efficiency and Costs and Factors Relating Thereto. The Commission’s Sixth Report dated 11th April, 1945, 1945–1945.

National Library of Australia: Meredith Papers; MS 6789.

Radio in Australia and New Zealand.

Rudd, Steele (Arthur Hoey Davis). On Our Selection. Sydney: Bulletin Newspaper Co., 1899.

Rural Session, The. 1944–1945.

ENDNOTES

1     The subtitle was dropped at the end of World War Two.

2     Originally, the evening session aired at 6.45 pm. From 3 September 1946, the repeat could be heard at 6.15 pm.

3     ‘The Lawsons’: Research Rating. National Archives of Australia: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office; SP613/1, General Correspondence including Administration, Policy, and Artists’ Contract Files, 1933–1963; 8/3/3, Programmes, The Lawsons and Blue Hills [ABC General Correspondence File], 1945–1956.

4     Richard Sneddon to ‘Director of Rural Broadcasts’, 2 June 1947. NAA: SP613/1; 8/3/3.

5     The Everybodys was a successful comedy series that ran from the 1930s to 1950s, undergoing changes of both name and broadcast station along the way.

6     See, for example, Stafford 2005, Jones 2005, Rood 2002.

7     For example, although Bill Pritchard and Phil McManus argue that ‘[c]laims in the popular media of a “great divide” between urban and rural-regional Australia in terms of incomes, service provision, lifestyles and outlooks reflect a convenient simplification of complex processes’ (Pritchard and McManus 2000b p. 3), they immediately ‘acknowledge...the depth of problems facing rural and regional Australia’ (p. 3) and it is with understanding these problems, specific to rural-regional Australia, that the bulk of their edited collection is preoccupied.

8     Judith L Kapferer makes a notable exception in her examination of Australians’ desire to demarcate rural ‘difference’. She draws some attention to the ways in which this ‘difference’ is manifested in popular culture and the mass media while demonstrating the actually very urban orientation of rural Australians (Kapferer 1992).

9     As one unnamed journalist rather lyrically put the one-way nature of this traffic:
“When night closes down... the farmer will pick up his receivers or adjust his ‘loud speaker’ and the whole family will listen to the mystic voices coming from far-off Sydney or one of the other state capital cities. It is in this way that radio will link up the cities with the ‘great outback’” (Radio in Australia and New Zealand, 16 May 1923 p. 92).

10    Speech by Acting Prime Minister Dr Earle Page at the opening of the Wireless and Electrical Exhibition; Sydney: December 1923. Reproduced in Radio, Sydney: 12 December 1923. Cited in Modern Australia in Documents: Volume 1, 19011939 (Crowley 1973 pp. 379–380).
In the general excitement over the new medium, little thought seems to have been spared for the dangers that the rush to embrace new technologies, with what Graeme Davison has called their ‘centralising influence[s]’, might pose small communities and their local foci (Davison 2003 p. 51); for more on the effects of improved transport and communications over the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Waterhouse 2000.

11    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in The Communist Manifesto (1848) were perhaps the most famous among many who have translated the traditional pastoral image of rural simplicity into a less idyllic and less wholesome vision of ‘the idiocy of rural life’. Cited in Raymond Williams 1985 (p. 303).

12    The disparity was still very marked in 1934, when one in eight metropolitan dwellers (those living in the state capitals) held listener licences, compared to just one in eighteen rural Australians. (Annual Report of the Postmaster-General, No. 24: 1933–1934; ZE Appendices). These figures should, however, be treated with caution. It is impossible to establish just how many Australians living in both the country and the city gained wireless reception by constructing their own ‘crystal sets’ and bypassing the listener licences that the law required radio owners to purchase.

13    NAA: Rural Reconstruction Commission; A6188, Printed Reports, 1944–1947; 6, Rural Reconstruction Commission. Farming Efficiency and Costs and Factors Relating Thereto. The Commission’s Sixth Report dated 11th April, 1945, 1945–1945; p. 68.

14    For example, in reference to the development of the ABC’s orchestras, WJ Cleary stated that, because the Commission ‘did not go for second-rate men’, leading conductors were imported from overseas. (WJ Cleary, Evidence before the Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting; in W Gibson, Minutes and Report for the Joint Committee on Wireless Broadcasting; 1942). Excerpted and reproduced as ‘Developing the Musical Cultural Life’ in Stay Tuned: An Australian Broadcasting Reader (Moran 1992 pp. 60–61).

15    NAA: Rural Reconstruction Commission; A6182, Transcripts of Evidence, 1943–1944; 79, Rural Reconstruction Commission – Transcripts of Evidence, 1943–1943; p. 10827.

16    Extract from the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, No. 51, 4 March 1943. NAA: Department of the Treasury; A571/150, Correspondence Files, 1901–1976; 1944/541, First, Second and Third Reports of the Rural Reconstruction Commission, 1944–1947.

17    AH to Gwen Meredith, 26 November 1944. National Library of Australia: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 8.

18    FD Clewlow to Gwen Meredith, 3 June 1943. NLA: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 3.

19    FD Clewlow to Gwen Meredith, 3 June 1943. NLA: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 3.

20    FD Clewlow to Gwen Meredith, 3 June 1943. NLA: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 3.

21    FD Clewlow to Gwen Meredith, 3 June 1943. NLA: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 3.

22    John Douglass, Inter-Office Memo, ‘The Lawsons’, 28 November 1945. NAA: SP613/1; 8/3/3.

23    The ABC Weekly, 24 November 1945 p. 8.

24    John Douglass to Gwen Meredith, 5 November 1945. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 3, Folder 7.

25    John Douglass to Gwen Meredith, 24 May 1948. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 3, Folder 6.

26    John Douglass to Gwen Meredith, 24 May 1945. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 3, Folder 6.

27    Gwen Meredith, The Lawsons; Episode 303. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 27.

28    Henry D. Holland, ‘The Lawsons’, Letter to the Editor, The ABC Weekly, 11 March 1944 p. 9.

29    Mr C Harte to Gwen Meredith, 29 August 1948. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

30    Mrs G McQuiggin to ‘ABC Broadcasting’, 14 February 1947. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 11; and Letter to FD Clewlow, cited in Clewlow to Gwen Meredith, 19 September 1944. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 5.

31    Mrs M Harvey to Gwen Meredith, 29 August 1948. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

32    Margaret Ryan to Gwen Meredith, 17 March 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 11.

33    ‘A grateful listener’ to Gwen Meredith, n.d. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

34    Meredith, The Lawsons; Episodes 410, 473 and 474. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 28.

35    Most Australians are familiar with the egalitarian, casual, anti-intellectual bushman that Russell Ward argued was the ‘typical Australian’ realised in and by the Bulletin school and other literature (Ward 1978). Other scholars, including Douglass Pike and John Hirst, have lent a more nuanced understanding to the vision of Ward’s ‘typical’ Australian with their attention to the portrayal of the squatter and smallholder in the Australian tradition (Pike 1962; Hirst 1978). Graeme Davison exposed the ‘urban context’ in which the Bulletin school’s lasting bush myths were created (Davison 1978), while others have revealed just how many aspects of Australian literature – and how many Australians and their lifestyles – Ward’s ‘Australian legend’ ignored (see especially Rickard 1979; Lake 1986; Nile 2000; White 1981; Waterhouse 2000).

36    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 9. NAA: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office; SP1071/2, Scripts, Serials, 1936-1969; LAWSONS, The Lawsons. A story of the Home Front Family.

37    Meredith, The Lawsons; Episodes 92 and 93. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 26.

38    See, for example, Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 4, 8, 19 and 20. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS. See also Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 51 and 307. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Boxes 26 and 27.

39    Ralston praises their approaches to farming in Episode 307. Meredith, The Lawsons. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 27.

40    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 325, 473 and 474. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Boxes 27 and 28.

41    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 4. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

42    As early as the ninth episode, bushfires threaten the Lawson farm and burn out the Wilkins’. Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 9. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

43    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 307. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 27.

44    Raymond Moyser to Gwen Meredith, 25 October 1945. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 10.

45    Raymond Moyser to Gwen Meredith, 25 October 1945. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 10.

46    For example, ‘The Lawsons of Wongalee’, The ABC Weekly, 10 November 1945 pp. 8–9; ‘Sue Lawson Weds’, The ABC Weekly, 13 April 1946 pp. 3–5.

47    As Michelle Arrow has noted, these ‘interviews appeared [in The ABC Weekly] over several weeks from 17 November 1945 to 8 December 1945’ (Arrow 1998 p. 46).

48    The Lawsons comic strip was created by George Brooke in consultation with Meredith. As Arrow has pointed out, it was first seen in The ABC Weekly on 22 February 1947 pp. 6–7 (Arrow 1998 p. 46).

49    EG Fotheringham to Gwen Meredith, 29 February 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

50    M Regina Weston to Gwen Meredith, 25 February 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

51    Charles C Taylor to Gwen Meredith, 21 January 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 11.

52    Katherine McColl to Gwen Meredith, 28 June 1945. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

53    AH to Gwen Meredith, 26 November 1944. NLA: Meredith Papers; MS 6789; Box 8.

54    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 17 and 18. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

55    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 2 and 3. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

56    Of course, in Blue Hills, Meredith proved her talent for writing on topical social issues of national interest.

57    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 531. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 29.

58    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 243. NLA: Meredith Papers, 6789; Box 27.

59    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episode 11. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

60    Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 11 and 12. NAA: SP1071/2; LAWSONS.

61    Marilyn Lake has examined the strong tradition in Australian literature of ‘[f]amilies put[ting] the hobbles’ on men (Lake 1986). Although Dad and Dave from Snake Gully upheld this tradition at times (see, for example, Episode 904. ScreenSound Australia: Item 201627), it is not clearly evident in The Lawsons.

62    It is certainly difficult not to laugh derisively when Dave’s girlfriend Mabel drawls such commonplaces as ‘I s’pose we’re among Snake Gully’s first five ‘undred, aren’ we?’. (Dad and Dave from Snake Gully, Episode 791. ScreenSound Australia: Item 201368).

63    Mrs AE Ivan to Gwen Meredith, 27 July 1947. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

64    Mrs EJ Merriman to Gwen Meredith, 4 December 1944. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 9.

65    Harry W Whittle to Gwen Meredith, 22 October 1947. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

66    See, for example, Meredith, The Lawsons, Episodes 579 and 591. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 29.

67    Mrs J Lenthall to Gwen Meredith, 12 February 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 11.

68    Miss Mollie George to Gwen Meredith, 19 February 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

69    Miss R Read to Gwen Meredith, 29 August 1949. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

70    Memo from unnamed (Australian Broadcasting Commission :Victorian office) to John Douglass, 13 October 1947; enclosed with letter from John Douglass to Gwen Meredith, 14 October 1947. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 4, Folder 7.

71    EG to Gwen Meredith, 5 December 1944. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

72    EG to Gwen Meredith, 5 December 1944. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 8.

73    Miss Agnes Scott to Gwen Meredith, 17 December 1946. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

74    ND to ‘The Manager’, ABC, 18 February 1947. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

75    Unknown to Gwen Meredith, n.d. NLA: Meredith Papers, MS 6789; Box 10.

76    ‘Those Serials’, Argus, 15 February 1947 p. 14.

77    Alan Moyle (The ABC Weekly), Memo to ‘Assistant General Manager at the ABC’, 4 April 1946. NAA: SP613/1; 8/3/3.

78    These included the post-wool boom ‘cost-price squeeze’ of the late 1960s and 1970s, an increase in immigrants who ‘flocked to the city but had no Arcadian view of the country’ and, importantly, greater access to technologies that ‘incorporate[d] the countryside into the national culture and political system’ (Aitkin 1988 p. 56).

REFERENCES

Aitkin, Don. ‘“Countrymindedness” – the spread of an idea’. In: Smith, FB; Goldberg, SL, editors. Australian Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1988. pp. 50–57.

Anderson, B. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London and New York: Verso; 1991.

Arrow, M. ‘“Good entertainment and good family life”: listener readings and responses to Gwen Meredith’s The Lawsons and Blue Hills’. Journal of Australian History 1998; 58: 38–47.

Combe, Diana R. ‘The radio serial industry in Australia: an historical study of the production of serials in Australia, and the influence of the industry in the development of commercial radio’ [Doctoral dissertation]. Sydney: Macquarie University; 1992.

Craig, Jean I. ‘Some aspects of life in selected areas of rural New South Wales’ [MA Dissertation]. Sydney: Sydney University; 1944.

Crowley, FK., editor. Modern Australia in Documents: Volume 1, 19011939. Melbourne: Wren; 1973.

Davison, Graeme. ‘Fatal attraction? The lure of technology and the decline of rural Australia, 1890–2000’. Tasmanian Historical Studies 2003; 9 (1): 40–55.

Davison, Graeme. ‘Sydney and the bush: an urban context for the Australian legend’. Historical Studies 1978 October; 18 (71): 191–209.

Hirst, JB. ‘The pioneer legend’. Historical Studies 1978 October; 18 (71): 316–337.

Inglis, K. This is the ABC: The Australian Broadcasting Commission, 19321983. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1983.

Johnson, L. The Unseen Voice: A Cultural Study of Early Australian Radio. London: Routledge; 1988.

Jones, Kate. ‘City–country health divide highlighted’. Herald Sun 13 May 2005: p. 15.

Jones, P. ‘The radio transcription companies’. In: Moran, A, editor. Stay Tuned: An Australian Broadcasting Reader. Sydney: Allen & Unwin; 1992. pp. 45–48.

Kapferer, Judith L. ‘Rural myths and urban ideologies’. In: Rutherford, A, editor. Populous Places: Australian Cities and Towns. Sydney: Dangaroo Press; 1992. pp. 254–271.

Lake, Marilyn. ‘The politics of respectability: identifying the masculinist context’. Historical Studies 1986 April; 22 (86): 432–440.

Lane, Richard. The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama, 1923-1960: A History Through Biography. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press; 1994.

Leonard, B. ‘A tribute to “Dad and Dave” on radio – 52 years on...’. The Australasian Sound Archive 1989 September: 17–22.

Meredith, Gwen. Wives Have Their Uses. Sydney: Mulga Publications; 1944.

Mingay, OF; Lippmann, L; Edwards, JR, editors. Year Book of Commercial Broadcasting in Australia. Vol. 5. Sydney: Australian Radio Publications; 1940.

Mingay, OF; Lippmann, L; Edwards, JR, editors. Broadcasting Business Year Book. Vol. 3. Sydney: Australian Radio Publications; 1938.

Moran, Albert, editor. Stay Tuned: An Australian Broadcasting Reader. Sydney: Allen & Unwin; 1992.

Nile, R, editor. The Australian Legend and Its Discontents. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2000.

Pike, D. ‘The smallholders’ place in the Australian tradition’. Tasmanian Historical Research Association: Papers and Proceedings 1962 December; 10 (2): 28–33.

Potts, John. Radio in Australia. Kensington, NSW: University of Sydney Press; 1989.

Pritchard, B; McManus, P., editors. Land of Discontent: The Dynamics of Change in Rural and Regional Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press; 2000a.

Pritchard, B; McManus, P. ‘Introduction’. In: Pritchard, B; McManus, P., editors. Land of Discontent: The Dynamics of Change in Rural and Regional Australia. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press; 2000b.

Rickard, J. ‘National character and the “typical Australian”: an alternative to Russell Ward’. Journal of Australian Studies 1979; 4 (4): 12–21.

Rood, David. ‘Missing out’. The Age 14 September 2002: A3 p. 4.

Stafford, Annabel. ‘“Imports” no cure for rural doctor shortage’. Australian Financial Review 14 May 2005: p. 8.

Turner, G. National Fictions: Literature, Film and the Construction of Australian Narrative. 2nd ed. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin; 1993.

Ward, R. The Australian Legend. Illus.ed. Melbourne: Oxford University Press; 1978 (c1958).

Waterhouse, Richard. ‘Representations of the bush, 1813–1913’. Australian Historical Studies 2000; 15: 201–221.

White, R. Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980. Sydney: George Allen & Unwin; 1981.

Williams, R. The Country and the City. London: Hogarth Press; 1985 (c1973).

Cite this article as: Blair, Megan. ‘Listening in to The Lawsons: Radio crosses the urban-rural divide’. Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia, edited by Davison, Graeme; Brodie, Marc. Melbourne: Monash University ePress; 2005. pp. 07.1–07.19.

Struggle Country: The Rural Ideal in Twentieth Century Australia

   by Graeme Davison and Marc Brodie