By Ian Stephenson, Bulletin 9/2022 November 2022
The ninth site nominated for a Blue Plaque is 52 Toxteth Rd, Glebe where Dorothy Drain who was once one of Australia’s best-known journalists lived. Dorothy Simpson McGregor Drain (1909–1996) was born on 16 August 1909 at Mount Morgan, Queensland.
In 1932 she began a cadetship with the Daily Mail. Following its merger with the Courier she moved to the Telegraph, where she ran the children’s pages and compiled the social news. In 1936 she went to Sydney to take up a position on the women’s pages of the Sun.
In 1937 Drain was recruited to (Sir) Frank Packer’s (Australian) Consolidated Press Ltd and was assigned to the women’s section of the Daily Telegraph. The following year she moved to the Australian Women’s Weekly, which was the most popular women’s magazine in Australia. By 1939 its editorial team was wholly female. She became ‘a resourceful, versatile and sensitive reporter’ and secured a rare interview with Frank Sinatra by appealing to his intellect and asking him serious questions.
Drain reported on several overseas conflicts for the Weekly. In 1946 she spent three months in Japan covering the Australians serving with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force at Kure, and the start of the war crimes trials in Tokyo. Four years later she reported from Singapore and Malaya on
Australian involvement in the Malayan Emergency and later covered the Korean war. In each location she faced the difficulty of there being no facilities for women, which she tackled by not eating salty food or drinking more than half a cup of tea. By the time she covered the Vietnam War in 1965, the presence of women in military zones was more accepted.
Through her opinion column It Seems to Me, and her ironic light verse inspired by current events, Drain became one of Australia’s best-known journalists. She was appointed news editor in 1958, assistant editor in 1970 and editor in 1972.
Drain was only ‘mildly sympathetic’ towards the women’s liberation movement and was criticised by feminists for failing to ensure that the Weekly kept pace with social change. As an independent working woman, she ‘already felt liberated,’ and only in retirement did she realise just how ‘dull and constricted’ were the lives of many women. In 1974 she was appointed to the board of Australian Consolidated Press.
She never married. In retirement she enjoyed fishing and going on motoring trips with her father, who lived with her at Glebe from the mid-1980s. After his death in 1990, she moved to Melbourne. She died on 31 May 1996 at Doncaster and was cremated.
This article is derived from Jeannine Baker’s entry on Dorothy Drain in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Dorothy Drain’s oral history recordings are held by the National Library of Australia and are available online.