Joan’s Logiewinning career
JOAN Disher was the most popular television presenter in the early years of Adelaide television. Later, and remarried, she would become an academic anthropologist and educator in the US.
Joan was born to John and Ida Matthew. Her brother died of gastroenteritis when she was just a year old, and when she was nine her father died, aged 36, of the effects of having been gassed in World War I. Her older sister died of meningitis the following year, 1936.
Joan said despite her early acquaintance with death, she naturally loved life.
She was at Unley High when war broke out, and began university in 1942 studying arts. In 1943 she met dental student Ian Disher at a University Ball held at the Adelaide Railway Station. They married the following year.
Ian served in Bougainville, and after he was demobbed, he practised as a rural dentist. Just a month after the birth of their third child, Jamie, in 1957, he was killed in a car crash.
Joan began work at Myers before being inducted into the television industry, as compere of a shopping show on Channel 9, shortly after it began broadcasting. By 1961 she was compere and announcer, and became the first woman to win a Logie in SA as the most popular female personality.
In 1965 she moved over to Channel 2, where she was an executive producer and presenter of SAM, a weekly current affairs program similar to This Day Tonight.
She met many leading personalities of the era, and most treasured her interview with Sir John Gielgud.
In 1966 she became a research officer for the ABC’s national Four Corners program.
In the meantime her SAM interview with the US anthropologist Professor John Greenway, of Colorado University, had led to her being courted by him. They married in Sydney in 1966 with two taxi drivers as witnesses.
In Colorado, with her youngest daughter Jamie, Joan was able to resume her academic studies. She took a BA and then a Masters in Anthropology at the University of Colorado, completing her doctorate in 1970. Her subject was Social Aspects of Culture Change, and her field work was conducted at Groote Eylandt, off the north coast of Australia.
She eventually spoke English, French, Pitjantjatjara and the Wanindilyaugwa language of Groote Eylandt.
In that time she had also acted as a consultant to the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bill Wentworth.
She was marked as an extraordinary woman on Groote Eylandt after sleeping soundly on a remote island beach and waking in the morning to find her 23 Aboriginal companions, who had wisely chosen to sleep further inland, looking on in awe. In the night, a 5m saltwa- ter crocodile had walked up to her and rested part of its body next to her head before heading back into the water.
Years later in California, she performed the powerful fertility song and dance of the Groote Eylandt women for a student who had not been able to become pregnant.
Four other women in the faculty also became pregnant, none of them planned.
“Apparently I hadn’t focused my performance quite enough,” she said.
In 1971 she was appointed an assistant professor at the California Polytechnic State University, and held many other academic positions, becoming a full professor in 1981 and a professor emeritus in 1988.
In 1975 she was named Outstanding Educator of America.
John Greenway died in 1991 and Joan married Eliot Full in 1998. Full was a retired television station owner who had developed cable television in Iowa, so she was completing a circle of sorts. Joan died of heart failure just a few days short of her 90th birthday.
Despite her early acquaintance with death, she naturally loved life