1900-1962 | VIC | Reporter and editor
Viennese-born Isaacson combined a refined European sensibility with a down-to-earth practicality that made her unique in journalism in Victoria. Within two years of arriving in Melbourne in 1926 with her Australian husband and two children, she was writing social notes for The Age. Soon after, she was editing The Leader’s women’s pages and encouraging country women to share their personal stories and household hints. War-time staff shortages saw her heading The Age’s foreign desk. Always active in Melbourne’s Jewish community, she lobbied for a Jewish homeland in Australia and edited The Australian Jewish Review. After the war, her focus shifted from the international to the local when she bought and edited a suburban newspaper before becoming editorial director of Peter Isaacson Publications.
Charismatic, talented and versatile Caroline Isaacson made a successful career in several branches of journalism in an era when there were few opportunities open to women. Always known by her childhood pet name of Lynka (even enlisting in the Australian Army under that name), she progressed from women’s page editor to foreign news editor, through Army public relations, to editorial director of a chain of suburban newspapers, even briefly combining the roles of proprietor, editor and reporter of her own suburban newspaper.
Born Caroline Jacobsen in Vienna on 14 September 1900, the daughter of a director of the Royal Holland Shipping Line and a French mother, she was educated by a governess before completing her secondary schooling at Highbury Park, London. At age 18, highly intelligent, speaking seven languages and author of freelance articles, she enrolled at King’s College London to begin a medical course. The following year her life changed dramatically when she married 37-year-old Australian-born Lieutenant Arnold Isaacson on 30 March 1919 at Dalston Synagogue, Islington. Isaacson, who had served with the AIF at the landing at Gallipoli, in Egypt and France, had been a commercial traveller in Victoria before the war.
When the couple and their two young children settled in Melbourne in 1926, Arnold set up business as a manufacturers’ agent. After her husband’s business failed in 1928, Lynka approached Geoffrey Syme, the managing editor of The Age, for work on the women’s pages. It was a position that suited her confident manner, her stylish appearance and her contacts in Melbourne society. Before long she was editor of the women’s pages for The Leader, the rural weekly associated with The Age, writing under the pseudonym of ‘Viola’. Although far from a typical housewife, she embraced the domestic interests of her readers, encouraging them to contribute household hints and stories of their lives. She travelled through country areas to address meetings; brought out several editions of The Leader Spare Corner Book, a collection of household hints and recipes; and organised picnics in Melbourne for her community of followers.
In the early part of World War II, when male journalists began to join the forces, Lynka moved to the demanding role of foreign news editor of The Age at a time when overseas news dominated newspapers. She was active in re-settling Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and teaching them English. A prominent supporter of the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonisation which lobbied for a Jewish homeland in the Kimberley and later in south-west Tasmania, she became intimately involved with Critchley Parker, an enthusiast for a Tasmanian site. In 1942, 31-year-old Critchley Parker died of starvation and exposure while searching in the rugged south-west on a lone expedition from Port Davey. His fate was unknown and his body not found for several months. Letters and a notebook addressed to Lynka were found with his body.
Deeply depressed by this tragedy, Lynka resigned from The Age and joined the AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) enlisting as a private on 18 August 1942. Promoted rapidly, by the beginning of 1943 she was a Captain in the Directorate of Public Relations under Brigadier Errol Knox. She escorted journalists to military installations and was assigned as press relations officer to Generals Blamey and Savage.
Discharged from the Army in October 1943, Lynka became fashion writer for Vogue and a feature writer on The Argus. In 1945 she was appointed women’s page editor for The Argus, where Knox was managing editor. After a few years, however, she found the ‘trivia of the women’s pages’ less than stimulating, in an era when women’s page journalism mirrored the most conservative and conformist aspects of post-war society. In 1948 she resigned to become, for a brief period, the owner-editor-reporter of Dandenong Ranges News, and honorary editor of Australian Jewish Outlook.
In 1953 she became editorial director of her son Peter Isaacson’s chain of suburban newspapers, bringing a professional touch to the papers and establishing valuable connections with local councillors, council officers and local members of Parliament.
After her husband’s death in 1960 she visited Europe. Invited by the Melbourne Herald to write a series of articles on Israel, she reported the 1961 trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution, who was found guilty and sentenced to death. She also interviewed several well-known figures including Golda Meir then Foreign Minister in the Israeli Government.
Lynka died suddenly in Genoa on 23 February 1962. Her son wrote in the Southern Cross that she would be “long remembered not only as a journalist but as a woman of gracious charm, warmth and unfailing human generosity”. As a journalist “she wove words into skeins of reportage and description which delighted many thousands of readers who remember her articles in The Age, The Argus and [the Southern Cross]”.
Patricia Clarke, a former journalist now writer, historian and editor, is the author of 12 books and numerous articles on Australian women writers and journalists and on media history.
Caroline Isaacson boarding a Douglas C-47 aircraft with Henry Steele in 1943. AWM.
Caroline Isaacson, facing camera, with members of a party of Australian female photographers and journalists at dinner in early 1943. Caroline Isaacson, right, boarding a Douglas C-47 aircraft with Henry steele in 1943.
‘The charismatic Caroline Isaacson’, Howard A. Freeman, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, XVIII, 4, 2007, pp. 506-17
‘Isaacson, Caroline (Lynka) (1900-1962)’, Sally A. White, ADB, 14, MUP, 1996.