The best books on Australian women in history

The Books I Picked & Why

A Spanner in the Works

By Loretta Smith

A Spanner in the Works

Why this book?

I really enjoyed reading this tale about Australia’s first female-owned and all-female garage in Melbourne in the 1920s. I was given the book twice, once as a gift and once as I presented with the author, so knew that I just HAD to read it. I was astounded to find that the subject of my book (with Les Parsons) The Red Devil - pioneer aviator Harry Butler – had a garage (Butler and Nicholson) which had sponsored Alice Anderson’s (garage owner’s) adventurous trip from Melbourne to Alice Springs after his death.


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The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller: A True Story of Murder, Adventure, Danger, Romance, and Derring-Do

By Carol Baxter

The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller: A True Story of Murder, Adventure, Danger, Romance, and Derring-Do

Why this book?

I was amazed to read about the adventures of Mrs ‘Chubbie’ Miller, whom I had never heard about previously. She was an Australian woman aviator who competed in the US National Women’s Air Race (the so-called ‘Powder Puff Derby’) and other Women’s Air Derbys with Amelia Earhart and others. Why had I not heard of her before? Because she was embroiled in a scandalous love triangle that saw the end of one life?


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Miss Muriel Matters

By Robert Wainwright

Miss Muriel Matters

Why this book?

The entertaining story of actress and elocutionist come UK suffragist from my hometown of Adelaide, where women were first granted suffrage in 1894. Muriel Matters was a fierce ‘lady’ who chained herself to the UK House of Commons ‘Ladies’ Gallery’ and really made a name for herself as an expat, whilst helping other women along the way.


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Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

By Cassandra Pybus

Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Why this book?

I have been intrigued by the story of Truganini since living in Tasmania. There are many myths about Truganini, including that she was the last Aboriginal Tasmanian. This is her full story, based on eyewitness accounts researched by a writer whose ancestors had a connection to her subject. It depicts a devastating time for Aboriginal Tasmanians, including the Nuenonne clan of Bruny Island which Truganini was from. Truganini was a survivor who experienced profound upheavals and many personal tragedies. She was part of the team of guides for missionary George Augustus Robinson’s trip around Tasmania and with other Aboriginal survivors was exiled to a Christian settlement on Flinders Island for a time. This was part of a broken agreement with surviving Tasmanian Aboriginal people removed from their homelands. Returning to Oyster Cove and dying in 1876, Truganini was not put to rest until 1976 when her ashes were scattered in D’Entrecasteaux Channel. An important Australian story.


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A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal

By Babette Smith

A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal

Why this book?

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the various fates of a shipload full of convict women who at the time were barely more than chattels of men. Susannah Watson was one of many women who stole in England to feed her starving children and found herself transported for 14 years (which in reality became a lifetime). These survivor women were inspiring and resilient in a pioneering time.


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