The best books on Australian women in history

Who am I?

Dr. Samantha Battams is an Associate Professor and has been a university lecturer, researcher, policy professional, community development worker, advocate, health service administrator, and management consultant. Samantha resides in Adelaide, South Australia, is widely travelled, and has lived and worked in Switzerland in global health. She has published academic articles and book chapters in the fields of public health and global health, social policy, and sociology. She has a passion for history and writing and has written a self-published family history and three non-fiction books.


I wrote...

The Secret Art of Poisoning: The True Crimes of Martha Needle, the Richmond Poisoner

By Samantha Battams,

Book cover of The Secret Art of Poisoning: The True Crimes of Martha Needle, the Richmond Poisoner

What is my book about?

How did a serial killer from the 19th century almost get away with murder? At the end of the 19th century, Martha Needle became known as ‘The Black Widow’ after secretly poisoning her husband and children. The Black Widow was a media sensation in her day, as infamous as Ned Kelly (even sharing the same lawyer). After poisoning her husband and two of her children, Needle became obsessed with the kind-hearted son of a Danish immigrant and began picking off his brothers one by one. Reported as far afield as the New York Times, Martha’s story was front-page news in Australia, edging out many stories of the day that remain in the public consciousness today. And yet very few remember Martha Needle’s name.

Stranger still a generation later Martha Needle’s nephew Alexander Lee seemed to follow in his aunt’s footsteps when he poisoned his wife and three of his children. What strange quirk of fate led these two relatives connected through family to commit virtually the same crime? 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Spanner in the Works

Samantha Battams Why did I love 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.

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

Samantha Battams Why did I love 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?

By Carol Baxter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The remarkable true story of a beguiling Melbourne housewife who in the 1920s seeks international fame, fortune, and adventure as an aviator and finds herself as the central figure in a sensational American murder trial.

'Mrs Keith Miller, internationally known aviatrix, was taken to the county jail here today and held for investigation by State Attorney's investigators. Jail attendants said they understood she was held in connection with the shooting of an airline pilot.'

Petite, glamorous, and beguiling, Jessie 'Chubbie' Miller was one remarkable woman ... flyer, thrill seeker, heartbreaker. No adventure was too wild for her, no danger too…


Book cover of Miss Muriel Matters

Samantha Battams Why did I love 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.

By Robert Wainwright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miss Muriel Matters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Australian actress who became one of London's most famous suffragists.


Discover the most inspiring woman you've never heard of ...

In 1909, a young Australian actress made headlines around the world when she took to the sky over London in an airship emblazoned with the slogan 'Votes for Women' and dropped leaflets over the city. Muriel Matters was dubbed 'that daring Australian girl', and the American media declared it to be the world's first aerial protest.

Just months earlier, Muriel had become the first woman to make a speech in the British House of Commons, after chaining herself to…


Book cover of Truganini: Journey Through the Apocalypse

Samantha Battams Why did I love 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.

By Cassandra Pybus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Truganini as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Winner of the 2021 National Biography Award and shortlisted for the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards*

Cassandra Pybus's ancestors told a story of an old Aboriginal woman who would wander across their farm on Bruny Island, in south-east Tasmania, in the 1850s and 1860s. As a child, Cassandra didn't know this woman was Truganini, and that Truganini was walking over the country of her clan, the Nuenonne.

For nearly seven decades, Truganini lived through a psychological and cultural shift more extreme than we can imagine. But her life was much more than a regrettable tragedy. Now Cassandra has examined the original…


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

Samantha Battams Why did I love 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.

By Babette Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Cargo of Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Intrigued to discover a convict ancestor in her family tree, Babette Smith decided to investigate her life and the lives of the 99 women who were transported with her on the ship Princess Royal in 1829.Piece by piece she reveals the story of her ancestor the indomitable Susannah Watson who, trapped in the crowded filthy slums of Nottingham, stole because she could not bear to see her children starving'. Separated forever from her husband and four children, she was transported to Australia for 14 years. She endured the convict system at its worst, yet emerged triumphant to die in her…


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The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

Book cover of The Romanov Heiress

Jennifer Laam Author Of The Romanov Heiress

New book alert!

Who am I?

A proud native of Stockton, CA, Jennifer Laam resides in California with a temperamental tabby cat named Jonesy. Her other works of historical fiction are The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, The Tsarina’s Legacy, and The Lost Season of Love and Snow. When not reading or writing, she enjoys planning cosplay for the next San Diego Comic-Con, experimenting with vegetarian recipes (to mixed results), cooing at Baby Yoda, or obsessing over House Targaryen. 

Jennifer's book list on the last Romanovs

What is my book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed. An alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter Of The Tsar.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, former Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships. But they can’t distance themselves from the world forever.

The Romanov Heiress

By Jennifer Laam,

What is this book about?

Four sisters in hiding. A grand duchess in disguise. Dark family secrets revealed...an alternate future for the Romanovs from Jennifer Laam, author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Lost Season of Love and Snow.

With her parents and brother missing and presumed dead, Grand Duchess Olga Romanova must keep her younger sisters safe. The Bolsheviks are determined to eliminate any remaining holdovers from the tsarist regime, hunting down the last Romanovs and putting them to death. Now living in England, the Romanov sisters remain hidden to protect their identities, even as isolation strains their relationships.

But they…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Australia, pilots, and criminals?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Australia, pilots, and criminals.

Australia Explore 300 books about Australia
Pilots Explore 44 books about pilots
Criminals Explore 72 books about criminals