Janet Mitchell

Janet Charlotte Mitchell (1896-1957), journalist, was born in Melbourne on 3 November 1896, fourth daughter of Eliza (born Morrison) and (Sir) Edward Mitchell, barrister and sportsman. She experienced ill health as a child and was educated by governesses. She was a favourite grandchild of Dr Alexander Morrison, principal of Scotch College, Melbourne. The family travelled to England and Europe in 1906 and 1911 and were again in England 1916. Janet was ambitious for a musical career; she obtained the licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music in 1917 but realising her limitations as a performer, she enrolled at the University of London, graduating BA in 1922. She returned to her family in Melbourne.

While in London she had been attracted to feminist causes. Distressed by the loss of friends in the war and enthusiastic in her support of the League of Nations, in Australia she lectured for the League of Nations Union and joined the Australian Institute of International Affairs. She extended this work while employed by the Young Women's Christian Association as education secretary. In 1925 she accepted appointment to the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales in a newly created position of thrift services director. She was sent for training to the United States where she investigated American banking practices and advertising. En route she attended the Pacific Relations Conference in Honolulu for the Australian Institute of International Relations.

Advice to women clients was her particular responsibility at the Bank. The aim was to inculcate the idea of wise household budgeting; in her publicity, radio talks and lectures she advised on elementary nutrition, time payment schemes and financial management. Underlying her work was the Bank's recognition of the powerful role of women in consumption. 'The right use of money' was Janet's concept of thrift; her 'Definite Object Saving' scheme was directed to spending money on home improvements, education and recreation. The Bank's closure in 1931 left her with the feeling of having personally betrayed clients. She had also joined the National Council of Women as convenor of its economics committee.

She resigned from the Bank, accepted an invitation to attend the second Institute of Pacific Relations Conference at Hangchow in October 1931, and from there travelled to Harbin to report for the Melbourne Herald on the breakdown of law and order in Manchuria, which climaxed while she was there in Japanese occupation, under the guise of freeing Manchuria from marauding Chinese warlords. She left after nine months, travelled to Tokyo to observe the Japanese reception of the Lytton report, and home to Melbourne. She began a novel based on her Manchurian experiences, accepted an invitation to be acting principal at Women's College, Sydney, for the latter part of 1933, then left for London to see her novel Tempest in Paradise (1934) through the press. She did freelance journalism and resumed her association with the League of Nations, organising its appeal for White Russians living in Manchuria. She was warden of Ashburne Hall of Residence for Women Students in the University of Manchester from 1936-40 when she resigned in ill-health to return to Melbourne.

Her autobiographical Spoils of Opportunity (1938) reveals disillusionment with the League of Nations: its failure was inevitable, she wrote, as men and women were 'still mainly activated by motives of national self interest'. She had found the Japanese 'a nation of idealists, magnificently endowed with courage, fortitude and energy', but driven by fear; their silk and rice farmers had been ruined in the depression; economic distress in rural Japan lay behind Japanese expansionism. In the 1930s Janet Mitchell was exceptional in her understanding of Japan's internal problems. From 1941-55 she was employed in the Youth Education Department of the ABC, editing scripts and from 1943 as assistant supervisor of youth programs. She brought to it that wider appreciation of the world beyond Australia which had characterised her varied and adventurous career. A convert to Catholicism, she died in Melbourne on 6 September 1957.

Heather Radi