A PIONEERING television presenter and journalist who once ended up in bed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono says a new generation of her female colleagues are “on the rise” in the industry and males may one day struggle to get a look-in.
Fremantle resident Sandra Harris-Ramini was one of the first women to appear on the precursor to ABCTV, ABW-2 when it lit up the few televisions sets available in Perth back in 1959.
She’d already been working on the local ABC radio station where she specialised in classical music, and says when a ring-in from the eastern states decided the change wasn’t her cup of tea, she got the call-up.
“I think they just saw it as part of the ABC; ‘oh, you’re working on radio today, you’ll be working during the television shift tomorrow’,” Ms Harris-Ramini said.
“I would come after the news had been read, and I would come up and say ‘hello’ and ‘good evening’ and ‘tonight we’re going to see all highbrow stuff like I Married Joan or I Love Lucy’.”
Ms Harris-Ramini said she “started to get a bit full of myself” and asked if she could read the news, but was rebuffed by the program director who said that would be impossible because she was a woman.
But other than this setback, and in later years discovering that she’d been paid less than her male colleagues, Ms Harris-Ramini says she never felt that her gender inhibited her career.
“We didn’t think like that,” she says, attributing part of that sentiment to the revolutionary 1960s arriving in London at around the same time she did after quitting the ABC to pursue a career in journalism.
“It was a very exciting time, you could actually feel the freedom in the air after the ‘50s, which could be quite repressive.”
After a couple of weeks churning out quick promotional broadcasts for the Central Office of Information as a freelancer, she got a tip that the BBC was thinking about starting a new “global” news program.
“It was to be the very first radio program that had correspondents in major capitals, and going after the news live, which was really difficult.”
Using a little Aussie chutzpah, she waltzed her way into program director Brian Bliss’ office, and by luck he had a major conductor to interview and no available journalists.
The interview aired that evening, so she rocked up the next day to see if he had any more work available.
“He said ‘well, there’s another young man who’s making a big noise in what they call pop. They think he’s going to be maybe as important as the Beatles’.”
Turns out it was a very young Mick Jagger, and it launched Ms Harris-Ramini into a career which saw her interview global celebrities like Laurence Olivier, Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, a “selfish” Burt Reynolds and Cyprus president Archbishop Makarios III – the latter perhaps not a household name, but it was Ms Harris-Ramini’s first overseas posting and no other journalist had scored an interview with him during a critical time in the country’s independence.
One of her most memorable interviews was in bed with the famous Beatle and his wife during their “bed-in” peace protests. Ms Harris-Ramini says it was being an Aussie girl that made slipping between the sheets possible, but unfortunately by that stage Lennon become a heavy drug user, which marred the interview.
Ms Harris-Ramini later moved into writing and is currently working on her next autobiographical book, which will be called Act 3.
She says she’s noticed the change in the ranks of journalists and newsreaders in recent years.
“If you just turn on your television, who do you see reading the news? A woman.
“Who do you see doing the sport? A woman.
“Who do you see doing the financial stuff? A woman.
“Who do yo see maybe standing in the corner in the rain, doing the dirty lavatory story down in Northbridge? A man.”
Ms Harris-Ramini shared the story of her “crazy” life during the Glyde-In Community Centre’s current term program, which run until April 6.
Upcoming talks include the Origins of the Universe and the Tools of Modern Astronomy by astrophysicist Steven Tingay, and Safeguarding Seed: A Modern Day Noah’s Arc by WA Seed Centre’s Andrew Crawford.
There’s also arts, crafts, tours, technology and more on the menu: head to http://www.glydein.org.au to find out more.
by STEVE GRANT and BRUNO HARRAY