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Jean Isobel (Jeana) Bradley (1906–1991)

by Bill Dunstone

This article was published:

Jean (‘Jeana’) Isabel Dorrington Bradley (1906-1991), university lecturer and theatre producer, was born on 29 December 1906 at Wiluna, Western Australia, elder daughter of Victorian-born parents Thomas Tweedie, grazier and butcher, and his wife Isabel Alice, née Hagger. Thomas and Isabel had opened a butcher shop at Wiluna before purchasing nearby Millbillillie station in 1906. Jean passed her first five years among Aboriginal friends at Millbillillie with ‘no feeling of difference’ (Bradley 1981). Although she occasionally attended school at Wiluna, she acquired her early education mainly from the books and British and Australian journals and magazines collected by her parents, who were determined ‘not to rusticate’ in remote Western Australia (Bradley 1986). Aged ten, she moved with her family to Melbourne, where she began her formal education at a ‘sort of preparatory school for station children’ (Bradley 1981). Her father, a theatre enthusiast, introduced her to pantomimes, melodramas, and ‘Christy minstrel’ shows.

The family shifted to Perth and Tweedie completed the Leaving certificate at Methodist Ladies’ College, Claremont, in 1922. She attended voice and elocution lessons with Lionel Logue to remedy what her mother called her ‘squeaky voice’ (Bradley 1986). Too young to attend the University of Western Australia, she held a monitorship at Claremont Central School in 1923, and the arrangement continued in 1924, her first year of studying English and philosophy at the university (BA, 1927), where she studied literature under Walter Murdoch. After completing (1927) a certificate course at the Teachers’ Training College, Claremont, she taught at Perth College. In 1930 she enrolled for an MA (1939) in English literature at the University of Melbourne.

From 1934 Tweedie taught English and history at Katanning (Kobeelya) Church of England Girls’ School. In 1938 she was appointed to teach history, economics, and biology at St Hilda’s Church of England School for Girls, Mosman Park, Perth. While president of St Hilda’s Dramatic Society, she produced Macbeth, Five Birds in a Cage, and The Rehearsal in 1942. Her theatrical work impressed Professor Allan Edwards, and in 1947 she was appointed as a temporary lecturer in English at the University of Western Australia. Her appointment was to be renewed every three years until December 1970, and she was to be promoted to senior lecturer in 1967. On 21 August 1953 at St George’s College chapel, Crawley, she married, with Church of England rites, David Bradley, a twenty-eight year-old colleague in the English department. It was at this time that she chose to be known as Jeana. She and David had no children and later divorced.

Bradley led the development of drama studies in the department of English with her student productions of Greek, Medieval, Elizabethan, and Jacobean plays, and modern British, American, and European works. She devoted three periods of academic leave in the 1950s and 1960s to the study of theatre practice in Britain and Europe. Awarded a British Council grant in 1952, she attended a British Drama League course in London; observed Nugent Monck’s Shakespearean productions in the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich; and visited the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, Greece. She applied the skills she acquired overseas to her teaching and producing in Perth. Included among her contributions to theatre in Western Australia were some forty-five productions for the university’s dramatic societies and the on-campus Bankside and Octagon companies between 1947 and 1981, together with guest productions for the Perth Repertory Club, the National Theatre Company at the Playhouse, the West Australian Opera Company, and Patch Theatre. Her production of Oedipus the King at the university’s Sunken Garden caught the attention of Sir Laurence Olivier during his 1948 visit to Australia. Her Hamlet opened the New Fortune Theatre in 1964, and her outdoor summer productions were features of the Festival of Perth (1953-69).

Bradley believed that the physical space of a theatre was of paramount importance in choosing and staging a play (Bradley 1986). Her visually attractive, historically informed productions attracted loyal audiences in the wider community and influenced the teaching of theatre and drama at secondary schools. In December 1968 she became part-time artistic director responsible to the university theatre management committee, a post she held until her retirement in December 1971, following a final one-year appointment to the English department. She served as a founding member (appointed 1968) of the Australian Council for the Arts. In 1989 the University of Western Australia named the Bradley Studio adjoining the Octagon Theatre in her honour. She died on 30 December 1991 at South Perth and was cremated.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Australian. ‘Theatrical Pioneer Brought Classics West.’ 6 January 1992, 10
  • Bradley, Jean Isobel Dorrington. Interview by Christine Shervington, 18 August 1981. Transcript. University of Western Australia Archives
  • Bradley, Jeana. Interview by Barbara Blackman, January to February 1986. Sound recording. National Library of Australia. Bib ID 2326972
  • Jones, Maurice. ‘Jeana Bradley.’ In Companion to Theatre in Australia, edited by Philip Parsons with Victoria Chance, 1995-96. Sydney: Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press, ca. 1995
  • University of Western Australia Archives. 116, file P93 and 510, file M10100204.

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Citation details

Bill Dunstone, 'Bradley, Jean Isobel (Jeana) (1906–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2014, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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