Edna Ryan – A Political Life

Australian Workers Film Guide


Interspersed with occasional still images, this is essentially a visual oral history in the form of an extended interview with Edna Ryan, a political activist and unionist who devoted herself to the cause of women’s working conditions and rights in Australia.

Topics covered include: a threadbare childhood in working class inner Sydney, her early exposure to political activism from World War One anti-conscription rallies, the 1917 General Strike, news of the Russian Revolution, watching her mother struggle to raise a large family on ‘women’s wages’, being the first girl in the family to go to high school, working for the newly formed Australian Communist Party as a young woman and her later disillusionment, hardship and unemployment through the Depression, being a socialist during World War Two and becoming active in the Australian Labor Party and local government in the post war years where she continued the fight for women’s rights – in particular equal pay for women.

Ryan also talks about how women were discriminated against in employment, pay and status; and this discrimination was pervasive across workplaces, the ALP, unions and even in Communist Russia. In 1972 she worked on the Whitlam election campaign and in 1974 she was an industrial advocate at the National Wage Case highlighting the plight of solo female breadwinners in Australia. The interview concludes with a summary of her work in retirement as a writer and historian.

Special Notes/Achievements

Produced with the assistance of the Women’s Program of the Australian Film Commission, under the Women’s Archival Series.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 65 mins

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