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She told Patricia Johnson it was "a higgledy-piggledy progression, partly from a
need to keep myself amused and involved, partly from a need to earn a living"
THE FACE hasn't changed, noi has the Dresden delicacy of the small frame. The gentle-voiced brogue is still very much in evidence but Clare Dunne, these days, is quite a bit different from the pretty Weather Girl she was some 14 year ago on a Sydney television channel, from the redheaded love interest in the film, "They're a Weird Mob."
The setting is a radio broadcasting station in Sydney, a Saturday afternoon, and Clare Dunne is in the middle of her
latest enterprise - organising the Ethnic Radio programs which broadcast in Sydney and Melbourne in seven languages
The Greek program is currently under way ("I can write Theodorakis in Greek, and I can say hello and three swear words"), then comes the Lebanese and,
later on, at about 8 pm, when most people are just settling into a Saturday night's
entertainment. Clare Dunne will still be at
work co-ordinating the Spanish-language program for recording.
To people who might not have heard her name for some time it might all seem rather unlikely, then, the progression from weather girl to broadcasting executive. But to Clare Dunne watchers, the progression has been a pretty logical one. Doing her weather girl job. modelling, acting, brought her to the nation's attention, but
Clare Dunne - her career has been from weather girl to broadcasting executive.
these are only small and long-ago facets in her fairly fascinating 16-year-long career.
Clare herself smiles wryly at the fact that though she was an actress for no more than 15 months, she is still described as that, is still filed away in people's minds
under "Clare Dunne: Actress/Model."
"What on earth do you have to do after nine years to have people drop that totally?" she asks with a shrug. But. pigeonholes in Australia die hard and. when they concern a beautiful woman, they sometimes take a particularly agonising length of time to bite the dust.
Her job with Ethnic Radio ("sometimes I'm called director of programs, sometimes co-ordinator, but I always flinch away lrom titles, they're unnecessary, it's what
you do that counts") is one that probably not too many young people in Australia would be qualified to fill.
"Working in both Sydney and Melbour- ne, I deal with 14 different groups every week, and each one has its own different ideas and problems and personality," she
With a working week of never less than
60 hours, sometimes as much as 75 hours
not counting the commuting between Sydney and Melbourne, it's small wonder
that Clare suffered what she called "a dose
of the exhaustions" a couple of weeks ago. To try and get over it, she spent one whole
CLARE DUNNE'S success story ...
FROM PREVIOUS PAGE
Sunday sleeping and made herself accept the fact that some things just had to go.
"Now, I've just had to let all the paper-work go by the board, and as for my household chores - well, they just don't get done. About all I have time to do at home any more is pack and unpack suitcases." She may look as though she should be wrapped in a homespun shawl, pretty and pale, sitting dreaming in front of a log fire, but that romantic image is definitely one that doesn't fit.
Ethnic Radio is just the latest variation in the career of a woman who "never had any training to do anything." At 19, she came with her family from Ireland, armed only with an education in Gaelic, a pretty face and her own intelligence and determination. Soon, though, she was gracing fashion pages where writers gushed
about adorable little culotte suits, and she
was wondering - as is still her wont,
whatever she's involved in - what came
"Whatever education I have has been
by experience of life, and I'm the first to realise that there are still great large gaps in it," she said. "I've had to learn things on the spot and sometimes I've got myself landed in jobs and I've thought - oh my God, what on earth am I going to do now? But I tell myself I can do it, and I usualh can. It's all been a kind of higgledy piggledy progression, partly from a need to keep myself amused and involved, partly from a need to earn a living. And I suppose
there is a search in it somewhere.
"Work should reflect where you are in your life, so as you change or grow or mature, your needs as far as work goes express themselves in different ways. The kind of things I was doing six or seven years ago wouldn't satisfy me any more. I enjoyed being the weather girl at the time I did it, but I sure as hell would hate to do it
Had to cover expenses
"One of the things I've always been aware of is doing things that challenge your level of ability - always remembering, of course, that an entirely
free choice can never be made, because you have to earn a living. I've always supported myself, even when I was married, and I've freelanced most of my life, so whatever 1 did had to at least cover expenses."
With her marriage finished some six years ago, Clare now lives alone in what
she describes as "a little tumbledown
cottage that isn't even numbered." It is rn Dural, on the rural outskirts of Sydney.
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CLARE DUNNE'S success story .. .
FROM PAGE 64
»Driving home, you have to toot the goats off the road. And there are cows who live next door, as well as people. No, I can't have an animal - I'd pity any poor animal waiting on me to feed it. Sometimes, I come back on the last plane from Melbourne clutching a packet of muesli and a half-loaf of bread so at least I'll have tomorrow's breakfast."
If there is a search in her choice of jobs - if she is trying to discover something through her work - it could be expressing itself in the need to work in something where she is, as she puts it, "contacting people and relating to them on the nitty-gritty level. I feel the same way about human relationships as I feel about food, and the only way I can describe it is as an honest-to-God quality. For instance, I like food with a bit of guts in it, like nutty brown bread, not white bread, like home-made soup with things in it, not out of tins. And with people, I have to relate to them on this true, natural level, too." She
"Perhaps that's the real reason I hate titles so much. So many people like titles because they're something to hide behind, and when you get into anything like the image area, the, media, television, society circles, it is often very hard to find the real person. But when people haven't got anything to hide behind, they come forward as themselves, good, bad, or indifferent - they operate from more human wellsprings."
Programs for jails
This need for "nitty-gritty level contact" led her, last year, to propose a scheme to the Arts Council for taking an anthology of Irish writing - prose and poetry - into the New South Wales jails. With $1000, she devised and organised two programs, one for women's prisons, one for men's prisons, Irish life as seen by both a man and woman. She wheedled some top actors and actresses, who also happen to be friends,
into performing for practically peanuts,
and the programs were an unqualified
"Most of the stuff was carefully chosen from the most down-to-earth authors and poets and it was wonderful to see the
people identifying with the writings. For
instance', we included an Edna O'Brien piece about a first seduction, and you could see in the women's eyes how they were identifying, how they were going back into their own pasts."
She has been visiting and talking in jails or the past three years since journalist ^nne Deveson, a close friend, asked her to aik about television at Parramatta Jail, to
group called the Resurgents who write
"Keeping your own ethnic beginnings alive make you richer as a person ..."
plays and poetry and perform their own works. After Clare came back from a
five-month visit to Ireland she gave a further series of talks on Ireland and now, even if she isn't speaking, she still visits friends she has made inside the jails.
The schedule of the past few months, though, has ruled even this out for the time being. "It's terrible, I haven't been out with a friend for two months," she said. "Now when I want to see them I have to ask them
if they'll drop by the studio and we snatch a quick cup of coffee together."
The question of just why she feels drawn to work with and for people who are less privileged than most, draws a puzzled look from Clare Dunne. "I don't really know what it is," she said, "but maybe it's got something to do with coming from a very ordinary background. And the Irish as a race have had a long history of poverty, too, and it does tend to keep you very close
to bread-and-butter issues.
"All I really know is that there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that you are doing something that is really benefiting people. For instance, in the jails, when people come to you with tears in their eyes to say thank you, well that's the biggest reward and the best sort of appreciation there is. And with Ethnic Radio, we know from the enormous response we're getting that we're doing something that's very
much needed. I think I understand ethnic groups, and part of the reason I do is those five months I spent back in Ireland.
"That was a very valuable experience for me, it put me in contact with all sorts of things within myself that I'd lost sight of ovef the years. I know, personally, what it is that makes ethnic groups want to retain what they already have, what they spring from, even at the same time they are assimilating themselves into a new life and a new country. Keeping your own ethnic beginnings alive inside yourself makes you that much richer as a person."
What it all does boil down to. in fact, though Clare Dunn would probably be the last to verbalise it. is a very real compassion and love of people, no matter who or what they are. Even the subjects on which she has written and produced TV and radio documentaries over the past few years bear this out - a study of old age that is also a plea for more creative outlets for the old; a look at Freud, the man, as revealed through his private letters; a documentary on Queenie Paul, the
vivacious veteran vaudevillian now in her
When Clare's work with Ethnic Radio comes to an end she plans to finish a couple more documentaries she has hanging fire at the moment.
(The Ethnic Radio programs have been conducted on an experimental basis, and they will finish at the end of August in Sydney, mid-September in Melbourne, until further notice.)
Now it is coming« up to ten to eight, the Spaniards and the South Americans are in the studio, there is much clatter of tongues, of typewriters, a baby crying, questions here, questions there.
There is supposed to be an hour's meal break between seven and eight, but tonight Jt just hasn't happened. Clare says she will go up to the shopping centre and buy some Chinese takeaway food. Anybody else want any? The recording engineer asks for chicken and almonds. Clare gets her car keys and goes off"
In the old days, in the days of her glamor girlhood when she was expected to smile and look pretty and not do much else, there would have been a dozen studio minions to get Clare Dunne whatever it
was her heart desired. Now there aren't.
Whatever Clare Dunne does, she does herself, working harder, longer hours than the most dedicated businessman. But, to her, work is involvement, and involvement is life, and she wouldn't change a thing
"At one stage," she said. "I thought it was important to be in the public eye. I'm not sorry I was, because it opened up the way to other things. But now, I no longer
have that inner need to be there."