Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters by Mandy Sayer

22 November 2022

Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters, by Mandy Sayer, book cover

The McDonagh Sisters, Isabel, Phyllis, and Paulette, were Australian film producers active almost one hundred years ago. Based in Sydney, the trio made six films, including two documentaries, in an age of filmmaking that saw the transition from silent features to sound, or talkies.

The youngest, Paulette, was one of only five women film directors in the world. Phyllis produced, art directed, and conducted publicity. And the eldest, Isabel, under her stage name Marie Lorraine, acted superbly in all the female leads. Together, the sisters transformed Australian cinema’s preoccupations with the outback and the bush — and what they mocked as ‘haystack movies’ — into a thrilling, urban modernity.

Their work and lives are the subject of a new book, Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters: Australia’s First Female Filmmaking Team, published by UNSW Press, by Sydney based Australian writer and novelist Mandy Sayer.

The sister’s stories are a fascinating chapter in the history of both Australian film production, and Australia itself. Sayer’s book will help introduce their now often overlooked work to a new generation of people with an interest in Australian filmmaking and its past. For a glimpse of the McDonagh’s work, have a look at this trailer for their 1930 film The Cheaters.


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