Ita tells her tales

INFLUENTIAL WOMAN: Ita Buttrose (centre) at Crowley in Ballina on Tuesday with residents Gloria Donaldson (left) and Joan Leach for a Seniors Week event.
INFLUENTIAL WOMAN: Ita Buttrose (centre) at Crowley in Ballina on Tuesday with residents Gloria Donaldson (left) and Joan Leach for a Seniors Week event. DOUG EATON

SHE'S one of Australia's most influential women, but Ita Buttrose told a gathering in Ballina on Tuesday that a humble tea towel helped kick-start her successful media career.

Ita was at Ballina's Crowley aged-care facility in her role as president-elect for Alzheimer's Australia, talking to residents for a Seniors Week event.

But the residents were keen to hear Ita talk about the days when she was well and truly in the limelight as founding editor of Cleo magazine, then editor of the Women's Weekly - though 70-year-old Ita said she doesn't feel as though she has ever been out of the limelight.

She told the gathering about her first job in media as a copy girl where one of her duties was to make coffee for the 40 or so staff.

Long after those days, she learned that management considered her to be a copy person to keep an eye on.

And, she said, it was all because, as a 15-year-old, she brought her own tea towel to work to wipe up the coffee cups.

"It shows the importance of making a good first impression," Ita said.

Ita nowadays has a television slot on Channel 9's Today show and is the ambassador for Alzheimer's Australia. Her father had a form of dementia.

She said a drama on ABC television last year about her role as the founding editor of Cleo magazine, Paper Giants, "introduced me to a new generation of younger women."

Getting the magazine off the ground in the early 1970s, Ita said, was a challenge.

It targeted the "progressive woman in changing middle-class Australia", with stories on sex and the famous centrefold, with Aussie actor Jack Thompson baring all.

But she said the reality of the time was that women were oppressed, even as the times were a'changing.

Ita said modern women "don't understand what it was like to be a woman in Australia in the 1970s".

She said the freedoms and earning capacity women have today is a vast improvement on those days.

"But women are not represented enough in boardrooms and not represented enough as CEOs," she said.

Ita has an uncle living in Ballina, but this was the first time she had been to what she said he always describes as "God's country".

"And I can see why," she said.

She also was excited to learn that Cold Chisel will be playing at this year's Bluesfest at Byron Bay.

The iconic Australian rock band penned a song about the iconic Australian woman, simply called Ita.

"They're my favourite band, and my favourite song," she said.

She only met Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes for the first time two years ago in a taxi during a trip to the US for the "G'day America" promotion.

In her role as an ambassador for Alzheimer's Australia, Ita said she wants to give a voice to those affected by the disease.

She said the disease was an "epidemic" in Australia.

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