Flat White

She’s tackled everything, but can Ita tame the ABC?

27 February 2019

10:47 AM

27 February 2019

10:47 AM

In the halcyon days of magazines in Sydney in the seventies, one name was spoken with admiration tinged with –admit it – envy.

The name was Ita Buttrose. She had not quite then reached the heights of media glamour with the Australian Women’s Weekly but she was the brains and charisma behind a new star in the Australian media heavens, a magazine called Cleo.

Cleo was going to knock the socks off all its competitors and leave serious, worthy mags like Women’s Day – where your correspondent employed at the time – floundering in its wake.

It had launched with a full colour, two page spread of a recumbent Jack Thompson wearing only a rose covering his most important assets and while the other women’s magazines of the time concentrated on covering serious stories to enlighten and inform about Australian events and personalities, Cleo was all about a new breed of female, sexy, fun and fearless.

The word went around the traps very fast – Cleo was hiring, you interested?

You bet, silently affirmed every junior journalist working for Fairfax or Mr Murdoch (but we didn’t say it out loud.) Instead, we photocopied stories we’d had published, polished our CVs and our shoes, and lived in hope for that phone call. “Miss Buttrose would like you to come in for an interview.”

I did get an interview, mainly on the strength of work I’d done in a previous life on the Courier-Mail. Cleo, it was made clear, was not interested in lamingtons and lemon chicken, my mole, an earlier defector within fortress Packer, informed me.


“And for God’s sake, just don’t call her Eta.”

Miss Buttrose lived up to her reputation for elegance. In a time when a male journalist could assert that all the women on his paper were either ‘hardboiled harridans or scruffy scribblers’ Ita had charm and glamour by the bucket load.

Interviewed in her office, we both diplomatically skirted around the fact that her interviewee, er, um, worked for the opposition.

“I could write under another name,” I suggested helpfully. “A nom de plume.”

Miss Buttrose adjusted her gold and amethyst link bracelet and smiled enigmatically.

“Make it a good one.”

My first story in Cleo – vasectomy in Australia – ran under the name of Claire Copeland, the most blonde and Anglo name its creator could imagine.

A few months later I picked up an overseas assignment. Claire Copeland was consigned to oblivion. Cleo went from strength to strength, delighting advertisers and newsagents.

Ita Buttrose became a legend. Hopefully, she will be announced as the new chair of the ABC.

She’ll be great in the job. As always.

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