Pioneering Canberra political correspondent Gay Davidson - born Miringa Gay Yandle at Aranui, Christchurch, New Zealand, and a product of the Christchurch Press - has been inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame.
The hall, a promotion from the Melbourne Press Club, was yesterday expanded to include Australian Capital Territory journalists. Apart from Davidson (above), those added include World War One correspondent and historian Charles Bean (below, at a Bar-Let portable) and former Canberra Times editor Jack Waterford.
Davidson (1939-2004) was the daughter of immigrants to New Zealand: Dulverton, Somerset-born Geoffrey Allan Yandle (below) and his Cork, Ireland-born wife Abina (née Hegarty). Abina raised the baby Gay alone while Geoff served overseas with the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a pilot officer in World War Two.
Gay was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Name School, Christchurch Girls’ High School from 1951 and Canterbury University from 1957. She started her 46-year journalism career as a cadet with the Press in Christchurch in 1958 and two years later married fellow journalist Naylor Hillary (below).
In 1967 Hillary won a Commonwealth Scholarship to the Australian National University in Canberra, to work on a PhD with a study of guerrilla conflicts in Southeast Asia. Gay settled here with him, but the marriage ended and Gay joined The Canberra Times. She had contacts in the newspaper through former Christchurch colleagues Robert (below) and Jeannie Ferris, with whom Gay and Naylor at first lived.
Gay pioneered the "Gang Gang" page 3 column in The Canberra Times and graduated to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Press Gallery, becoming the first female head of bureau for any major Australian newspaper and the first woman president of the Press Gallery. She was later leader writer and senior columnist for The Canberra Times, a stringer for The Associated Press and a pioneering screenwriter on Telstra’s Viatel, a precursor to the Internet.
During Gay’s coverage of the infamous November 11, 1975, dismissal of the Labor Government by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, Gay was photographed beside sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, trapped in a media scrum as David Smith, Secretary to the Governor-General, read aloud the dismissal proclamation. The image found its way on to a souvenir tea towel.
She is better remembered today in what is known as Old Parliament House, or the Museum of Australian Democracy, with a display or her Adler Contessa semi-portable typewriter and tributes to her liberation of the lavatories. One objection raised to her being appointed a political correspondent had been the absence of a ladies' lavatory within easy distance of The Canberra Times office in the Press Gallery. Gay assisted a female teleprinter operator in the adjacent offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who had broken her leg, to use the men's lavatory by standing guard. Gay pressed a case for a shared toilet, saying there would be “no embarrassment” as most of the men in there would be “facing the wall”.The Parliament's Sergeant-at-Arms was informed, and the lavatory was re-designated and appointed as a uni-sex facility.
Gay’s second husband was Walkley Award and Journalist of the Year winner Ken Davidson (below), economics correspondent for The Australian from 1965-74 and economics editor of the Melbourne Age until 1993.
Gay Davidson’s elevation to the Australian Media Hall of Fame – she is only the 32nd woman inducted among 212 members, completely disproportionate given the rich history of female journalism in this country – caps a notable year in the history of female political journalism in both Australia and New Zealand.
Across the Tasman, 2018 marked a year when “Political reporting, like the country’s political management, underwent significant change.” One summary of the situation there said, “In much the same way that Jacinda Ardern has brought a different approach to political power in New Zealand, the changing of the media guard could see a different style of political reporting emerge. The political bureaux of all our main media organisations will be led by women for the first time ever. It was once true that women held few senior editorial or management positions in the media, but those days are long gone. Being ‘pale, male and stale’ is so 2017.”
In 1930s Australia, there were just two accredited female members of the Federal Press Gallery, Lynn Denholm from The Sydney Morning Herald and Norma Jones from the Melbourne Herald (above). In 1941 the Australian Journalists’ Association decided “the admission of women members to the Press Gallery is necessary in the general interests of the association”. By 1981 there were 25 female Gallery journalists among 180 Gallery members, and by 2015 that number had climbed to almost 100, or about one third of Gallery members.
NEXT: Stella May Henderson.