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Kathleen (Kay) Kinane (1912–1998)

by Kylie Andrews

This article was published online in 2023

Kay Kinane, by Susan Watkins, 1938

Kay Kinane, by Susan Watkins, 1938

State Library of Western Australia, 53209506

Kathleen Kinane (1912–1998), teacher and educational broadcaster, was born on 11 July 1912 at Cottesloe, Perth, third of six children of Victorian-born William Kinane, civil servant, and his South Australian-born wife Mary, née Long. The Kinanes were active members of Perth’s Catholic community and encouraged their children to embrace a variety of social and cultural endeavours. As a young woman, Kay made enthusiastic forays into debating, theatre and performance, writing, and a range of sporting activities. In 1930, after finishing her schooling at Loreto Convent, Claremont, she commenced an arts degree at the University of Western Australia.

Believing that a career as an educator would suit her energetic, creative nature, Kinane decided to undertake teacher training. She spent the next ten years in the classroom, forming an interactive approach to learning that would later underpin her broadcasting method; all the while she continued her university studies in education, fine arts, English, French, German, and Italian (although she refused to complete what she saw as a flawed philosophy curriculum, and never finished her degree). President of the university’s dramatic society, by the late 1930s she had begun producing and performing in radio plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), and during World War II she engaged in repertory work entertaining troops.

In the first of a series of ground-breaking roles for a woman, Kinane was recruited by the ABC as schools broadcast officer for Western Australia in December 1943. The following year she became the State’s supervisor of schools broadcasting, and in 1947 she was promoted to federal script editor (education) and moved to Sydney. For much of the next twenty-five years she was the most senior female producer and program officer at the ABC. She implemented a highly successful dramatic approach to educational content and produced hundreds of radio programs, for adults as well as children. Early highlights included the popular radio series The Days of Good Queen Bess (1948) and the twelve-part environmental history The World We Live In (1955). Between the 1940s and 1970s her ABC contributions covered a wide field; in addition to producing and supervising, she contributed to advisory bodies, including the Kindergarten of the Air advisory committee. A tall, physically confident woman with a mellifluous voice, Kinane’s vocation frequently extended into her personal life. On one 1953 holiday, she drove across the Nullarbor with her mother, stopping along the way to record uniquely Australian sounds for the ABC’s fledgling sound archive.

Kinane was also a principal advisor on television policy and practice in the medium’s formative years at the ABC. After consolidating her radio expertise by training with the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1949, she studied television with public networks in the United States of America in 1955. Thanks to her knowledge of the industry and her technical proficiency, she became a conduit between the ABC and the global broadcasting community, sharing that knowledge with ABC staff around the nation. In 1956, for example, she was one of the founding supervisors of the organisation’s new television training school. Temporarily departing from her educational duties that year, she became the producer of the new television show Woman’s World. She used the opportunity to disrupt gendered programming conventions and produced socially progressive content for Australian women. From early in her career she had challenged stereotypes, from insisting that women be radio narrators in the early 1940s, to recruiting women into her division in senior roles and highlighting their capabilities to reticent ABC department heads. She managed to become a leader in a privileged environment where male voices, male perspectives, and male authority predominated.

It was in her capacity as an educational broadcaster that Kinane made her greatest contribution to Australian broadcasting. Producing content for six-year-olds to sixty-year-olds, first for radio and then television, she created, shaped, and supervised hundreds of projects that embodied the public broadcaster’s remit to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ (Andrews 2022, 5). She believed the ABC could contribute to improving educational standards for students with limited resources, particularly in remote regions. Her programs also reflected her determined advocacy for marginalised peoples, particularly migrants and Indigenous Australians. Early in her career she was guided by her mentor Rudi Bronner; their team consolidated the ABC’s national educational broadcasting policy throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s. In 1963 she was promoted to assistant director of the ABC’s education department, where she played a major role in formulating a national training program that brought teachers and producers together as an aid to teaching. In 1968 she was promoted to federal supervisor of young people’s programs.

From the early 1960s Kinane travelled around the world to consult on the establishment of national broadcasting systems. She worked as an advisor for the Colombo Plan and over the next decade interspersed her local work with special assignments for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the European Broadcasting Union. Working with national broadcasters around the globe, from South-East Asia and the Caribbean to Africa and the Middle East, she advised on ways to develop and implement educational broadcasting practices and policies. She formulated women’s education initiatives and supported the efforts of emerging broadcasters and film-makers, particularly in developing nations. In this period, she also joined the ABC’s senior officers’ association, where she battled to improve staff conditions.

During the mid-1970s the media landscape was shifting away from educational broadcasting, and Kinane decided to retire. She continued to find ways to be of service, undertaking community work and volunteering to teach local school students. Her mettle was still evident in her eighties, when she and her sister battled a house fire until the firefighters arrived. She died on 27 January 1998 at Avalon and was cremated; she had never married.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Andrews, Kylie. ‘Don't Tell Them I Can Type: Negotiating Women's Work in Production in the Post-war ABC.’ Media International Australia 161, no. 1 (2016): 28–37
  • Andrews, Kylie. Trailblazing Women of Australian Public Broadcasting, 1945–1975. London: Anthem Press, 2022
  • Broadcaster. ‘Kay Kinane.’ 9 October 1947. SP1462/2, KINNANE Kay. National Archives of Australia
  • Gledhill, Beverley. ‘ABC Producer Led Birth of TV.’ Australian, 17 February 1998, 17
  • Kinane, Kay. Interview by Emma Rossi, 4 August 1995. Emma Rossi Private Archive
  • M. C. ‘Kay Kinane: The Pioneer Spirit.’ ABC Weekly, 6 February 1954, 20
  • National Archives of Australia. C100, 1152511
  • National Archives of Australia. C100, 1248784
  • National Archives of Australia. SP1762/1, items 1058766, 1058772, 1058780, 1058790, 1058796
  • Swannell, Joseph. ‘A.B.C.’s New Woman School Broadcasts Producer Is Qualified Teacher, Script Writer, Actress and Artist.’ ABC Weekly, 6 December 1947, 19

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Kylie Andrews, 'Kinane, Kathleen (Kay) (1912–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kinane-kathleen-kay-32659/text40554, published online 2023, accessed online 22 February 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Kay Kinane, by Susan Watkins, 1938

Kay Kinane, by Susan Watkins, 1938

State Library of Western Australia, 53209506

Life Summary [details]

Birth

11 July, 1912
Cottesloe Beach, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Death

27 January, 1998 (aged 85)
Avalon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

stroke

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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