Dorothy Drain: Stories of Service

Running time
7 min 25 sec
Place made
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Journalist Dorothy Drain was born in Mount Morgan, Queensland, in 1909. A pioneer in her field who wrote from the heart, she helped pave the way for Australian female war correspondents. Dorothy travelled overseas and saw first-hand the devastation of war. She reported from Japan, Malaya, Korea and Vietnam. She was appointed editor of The Australian Women's Weekly magazine. Dorothy retired in 1975 with a proud legacy of informing Australians for almost four decades. Her story is one of empathy and perseverance.

Student inquiry activities

  1. Dorothy's first job was in the public service but she didn't enjoy it. Dorothy followed her passion for writing and became a journalist. According to 1933 Census data, what percentage of journalists in Australia were women?
  2. In the video, Dr Jeannine Baker describes Dorothy as a 'very compassionate person. She was very interested in humanity'. How did Dorothy show these qualities in her work as a war correspondent and journalist? Read the chapter 'A point of view: Dorothy Drain' in our book Curiosity: Stories of those who report during wartime to support your answer.
  3. Dorothy worked in a period with no internet, email or fax machines. Yet she had to report from other countries during many global conflicts. How do you think Dorothy sent the articles she wrote for her Australian readers?
  4. Create a vocabulary alphabet about the Dorothy Drain video. To do this, write a word or short phrase that begins with each letter of the alphabet as you re-watch the video. For example, A = apology, B = barriers, C = correspondent etc. When you are done, share your list with someone else and check you know the meaning of each word. Look up any new words in a dictionary.
  5. Imagine you are an Australian journalist working in another country. Your job is to interview Australian defence personnel and report on the conflict where they are serving. There are no toilets for you to use, the water is unsafe to drink and no one seems to trust you. Write a paragraph (first-person narrative) about how that would make you feel and think. Could you do that job?


[Music plays]

Opening credits: The title 'Stories of Service: Vietnam War' appears, in front of some aged paper. A collage of images shows an indigenous soldier, a woman wearing glasses, a pilot in an aeroplane cockpit and a map of Vietnam. In the centre is the Australian coat of arms and an old typewriter. Included is a photo of helicopters that have landed in a field and a commander's diary dated 1968.

[Music plays]

The presenter Ray Martin speaks in front of some trees and a body of water in soft daylight. A caption reads 'Ray Martin AM'.

'It's different now of course, but there was a time when only men reported from the front lines of war. A shy, young woman from Mount Morgan in Queensland followed in the footsteps of the pioneering women who had reported on the Second World War. Dorothy Drain was one of the first Australian female war correspondents, reporting from several conflicts, including wars in both Korea and Vietnam. She also became a legendary editor of the Australian Women's Weekly. So, how did Dorothy break down the barriers, and how did she make reporting in war so different?'

[Music plays]

A man's hand sketches a woman's face using a lead pencil. He adds more details with a darker pencil and watercolours. Dorothy Drain's face becomes clearer.

A photo labelled 'Dorothy Drain' in white cursive text. The bottom of the photograph is stamped, Dorothy's signature is partly seen above the words 'Press permit'.

[Music plays]

Text on screen reads: 'War correspondents were not directly enlisted. They were civilians who agreed to work in conflict zones. Dorothy Drain was not on television. She was a reporter in print media who interviewed troops. Dorothy sent stories home to Australia for people to read.'

An old photo shows a group of female students and a teacher wearing an academic gown and mortarboard cap. Another old photo shows a school-aged Dorothy with her sisters all wearing ties and school blazers. Dorothy is seen smiling with short hair and round glasses.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy's fabulous writing career nearly didn't happen. While at school, she was misdiagnosed as having a severe eye condition. And a doctor instructed her not to read for two years.'

Dr Jeannine Baker sits in front of a dining table and curtained window. A caption reads 'Dr Jeannine Baker Historian'.

Dr Baker speaks: 'Dorothy was always destined to be a journalist, really. She had what was referred to in those days as ink in her veins.'

Dr Baker is shown looking at photos of Dorothy and a copy of her book, Australian Women War Reporters Boer War to Vietnam.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dr Jeannine Baker has researched Dorothy and written about her in her book.'

Dr Baker speaks: 'When she was at high school, she contributed regularly to the school newspaper. She won a statewide essay competition.'

Kenneth Hayne sits at a table with Ray Martin who turns pages of a scrapbook. A caption reads 'Kenneth Hayne Nephew of Dorothy Drain'.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy's nephew, Kenneth Hayne, is the proud keeper of her scrapbooks.'

Ray turns the pages of an old scrapbook, showing clippings from The Australian Women's Weekly. Two articles are titled 'Construction Squadron's fine work in Japan' and 'Tokio Japs curiously submissive to conquerors'. Ray is sitting next to Kenneth who speaks.

Kenneth Hayne speaks: 'It must have been overwhelming to see what she saw. We always used to call her Doss. And what I remember is a very bright, intelligent, able, strong, very witty, very funny woman. She had always read widely and she, I think, always aspired to write clearly, simply, directly.'

Dr Baker speaks: 'The 1933 census shows that only about 10% of journalists were women.'

Dorothy Drain's press permit document. Several news clippings, each titled '"It Seems to me" by Dorothy Drain'. Front cover of The Australian Women's Weekly magazine from December 1965. A small photo of Dorothy and an article by her titled 'In Vietnam: marigolds - and shrapnel scars'.

Ray Martin speaks: 'But in her various daily newspaper roles, Dorothy was restricted to writing in the social pages. There was one publication, however, where women could write about serious matters: the Australian Women's Weekly. And Dorothy joined The Weekly in 1938.'

Ray Martin stands in front of trees with autumn leaves and late afternoon light.

Old photo of dead trees, building rubble and ruins. Photo of mushroom cloud after an atomic bomb explosion.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy saw first-hand the devastation of war. In 1946, just after the Second World War, she spent more than 3 months in Japan writing about Australians serving with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. She was extremely moved during a visit to Hiroshima, still a wasteland from the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans the previous year. Tens of thousands were killed when the nuclear explosion wiped out that city, and thousands more were dying from radiation sickness. Dorothy would later write of “the insane futility of war”. In 1950, Dorothy was sent to cover a military conflict involving Australians in Malaya. Then the war in Korea.'

Photo of Dorothy walking away from soldiers standing on large sand hills. A news clipping shows the article 'Dorothy Drain flies over Korean battlefield' by Dorothy Drain, including a photo of her dressed in aviation clothes.

Dr Baker speaks: 'She wrote home from Korea saying that she thought that war was a shame and it made her feel sick.'

Photo of Dorothy talking to a plane mechanic beside a large aircraft wheel, holding a portable typewriter. Footage of soldiers carrying a wounded person from a helicopter with the rotors turning.

Kenneth Hayne speaks: 'When she went to Vietnam in 1965 she saw what seemed to be a huge number of coffins waiting on the tarmac. And she said it seared her mind, but she would never write about it.'

News clippings from the Australian Women's Weekly showing Australian Army soldiers, including Ivan Brumfield and a shirtless soldier posting a letter. News clipping of the article 'Vietnam: Through a cargo door' by Dorothy.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy did write about the thoughts, feelings and activities of our soldiers in camp and behind the scenes.'

Typewriter keys are pressed and strike paper. [Sound of typewriter.] Footage of soldiers boarding helicopter, then helicopters passing overhead above trees. Footage of jungle with a yellow haze rising.

A female voice reads: '6:30 am first light. [Sound of typewriter.] We take off with a load of parachutes and assorted servicemen (Vietnamese, American, Australian). Below us, a tracery of muddy streams through jungle makes a paisley pattern of green and brown.'

Footage of soldiers in uniform reuniting with loved ones in a crowd. Family members hug one another. Soldiers walk down ramps, off a transport ship carrying bags.

Dr Baker speaks: 'Dorothy Drain undoubtedly wrote from a woman's perspective. She was a very compassionate person. She was very interested in humanity. She knew that the women reading the Women's Weekly were the mothers and the sisters, you know, and the daughters of the men who were serving in Korea and Japan and Vietnam. She always had them in her mind.'

Photo of Dorothy smiling and wearing a war correspondent uniform.

Kenneth Hayne speaks: 'She made no apology for being a woman in war zones. She, I think, always struggled against the fact that the forces she was visiting, the Americans particularly in Korea, didn't quite know what to do with a female correspondent.'

Footage of soldiers aboard an armoured vehicle and armed troops walking across paddocks. Helicopters line up on the tarmac as equipped soldiers prepare to board.

Dr Baker speaks: 'There were a lot of excuses that were used. The primary one was that there were no facilities for women, which means no women's toilets or no accommodations. There was a belief that women couldn't be trusted with sensitive military information; that they would stick out too much.'

News clippings of Dorothy's column 'It Seems to Me' in a scrapbook.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy's column “It Seems to Me” gave sharp insights into current events and was hugely popular for 16 years.'

A woman's voice reads: [Sound of typewriter.] 'Two infuriated gentlemen of my acquaintance have been haranguing anyone who will listen on the sins of the ABC concerning the Test broadcasts.'

Article titled 'Dorothy Drain Retires after 38 years with the Weekly'.

Ray Martin speaks: 'Dorothy became the Weekly's news editor, then assistant editor, before being appointed editor in 1972. She also became a board member of the company. She retired in 1975 with a proud legacy of informing Australians for almost 4 decades.'

Photo from an article captioned 'Dorothy Drain with Australian servicemen during a visit to a Vietnam village'. Photo of Dorothy Drain being greeted and presented with gifts by local people in New Guinea. Photo of Dorothy sitting on the bonnet of a jeep, wearing her war correspondent uniform.

Kenneth Hayne speaks: 'She believed, and I think with real cause, that a lot of women in Australia got their news through The Weekly. 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.'

Dr Baker speaks: 'She showed women that you could have a successful career in journalism and you could get to the top. She was the editor of the most successful women's magazine in Australia.'

Ray Martin stands in front of a lake lined with trees in setting daylight.

'Well, the little girl with the big glasses, who was once prevented from reading for two years, certainly made up for lost time. Dorothy Drain loved words and she passed on the joy of reading to countless Australians, through her own writing and through her magazine's reporters when she was in charge as the editor. As a war correspondent, she gave her readers valuable insights beyond the usual battle reports. Dorothy Drain truly was an inspiration to journalists, especially to women.'

[Music plays]

A black and white photo of Dorothy Drain. Then the white logo for the Department of Veterans' Affairs is shown on a black background.

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