Australia’s literary cranky ladies

So, I couldn’t resist one last blog post before the end of the month! This was actually the very first idea I had for blogging about Cranky Ladies of History, but with all the things that have been going on, I didn’t get a chance to write it. Until now.

During the month, I wrote about several of Australia’s children’s authors of history, for the CBCA Tasmania blog, but today I want to talk about some female writers of Australian’s rich literary tradition who have left a legacy that can’t be ignored.

miles_franklinBorn in 1879, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin is probably one of Australia’s best known writers, thanks not only to her work, but also to the Miles Franklin Literary Award (first awarded over fifty years ago) and the more recent Stella Prize, established in 2013. Nationalist and feminist both, Franklin published more than a dozen books (some under the pseudonym Brett of Bin Bin), and although none achieved the same level of success as her first, My Brilliant Career, she did receive some critical acclaim for other works. A Franklin travelled extensively during her life, settling for some time in the USA and the UK, and also volunteering for war work during World War I. Her working life included stints as a housemaid, nurse, cook, secretary and journalist. One of the things I like best about Franklin is that she actively supported Australian literature throughout her life, and mentored both young writers and new literary publications. It seems she really lived life on her own terms, never marrying and taking opportunities where she could, and I think it’s completely fitting that we recognise her contribution, and remember her work, with two major literary awards.

Katharine_Susannah_Prichard_portraitKatharine Susannah Pritchard has also left a lasting legacy in Australia, in the form of the KSP Writers’ Centre in Perth, which I had a bit to do with when I lived there, and her story always intrigued me. Born in Fiji in 1883, and living in Launceston, Tasmania, Melbourne and the UK before settling in Western Australia,  Pritchard became known as a writer but also as one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Australia! She supported unemployed workers and left-wing women’s groups, visited the Soviet Union and argued with other Communist writers over the correct application of socialist realist doctrine in Australian fiction. Though she encountered hardship and trauma during her life, she wrote prolifically and broadly, and fearlessly and emotionally promoted the cause of peace and social justice.

Patricia-Wrightson-006I’m really not sure how I missed including Patricia Wrightson in my earlier post on Australian children’s writers, but I did, so I’m including her here. Born in 1921 as Patricia Furlonger, Wrightson is arguably one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of her work is that she incorporated Aboriginal folklore into her writing, and demonstrated respect for these traditional stories while doing so. Wrightson was the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1986, the highest international career recognition available to children’s writers and illustrators, was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977 and won the Australian Dromkeen Medal in 1984, as well as winning the CBCA Book of the Year Award four times. The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards has a category named in honour of her.

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.


Cranky Ladies of History bits and bobs

Cranky Ladies logoWell, the crowdfunding ride is nearly over! Just 24 hours left until the Pozible campaign ends, and I’m still blown away by the support we have received, not only in the pledges that saw us reach our goal at just halfway through and smash our first stretch goal, but in the social media signal boosting and the mainstream media as well. It’s been amazing, and Tansy and I are truly grateful for every bit of it. It’s not too late to pledge, and nab exclusive rewards (and a very special surprise we’ve cooked up as well!).

Over the month, I’ve been collecting little tidbits of Cranky Ladies related stuff, and so I’m just going to pop a bunch of them in the one post to see out the campaign.

Suffragettes plaqueVia Alex Pierce, this plaque honouring suffragette Emily Wilding Davison was erected illegally by MP Benn in House of Commons a few years ago.

Female military leaders (The Mary Sue)

15 Adorable Kids Pose As Iconic Figures In Women’s History

This whole month, the poem “Phenomenal Woman”, as narrated by the wonderful Maya Angelou, has been on my mind. So I wanted to link it here.

And in the same way, this song has for some reason resonated with me. Neither the poem nor the song are necessarily about Cranky Ladies of History, but the theme is surely there! (and yes, it’s a fairly ridiculous video clip, which I had not seen until I found it to link here! Ignore that, and enjoy the song 🙂 )

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 9.31.09 PMA great set of biographies of women from history, collated by A Mighty Girl.

Devotion: stories of Australia’s wartime nurses is a wonderful read, put out last year by the Australian War Memorial. Incredible stories, presented in a beautiful book full of photographs and other primary source material.

Kenny_Elizabeth_SisterElizabeth Kenny (1880-1952): Australian, entrepreneur, not-quite-qualified nurse, pioneer of effective treatment for symptoms of polio and cerebral palsy (and effectively modern rehabilitation methods), hospital founder, war nurse, designer of an effective transportation stretcher and true cranky lady of her time! (I read about her in one of my school’s library books, Elizabeth Kenny by Jenny Craig, CIS Cardigan Street Publishers, 1995)

And to finish up, don’t forget to take a look at our Cranky Ladies of History blog tour – we have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have contributed, and it’s been marvellous reading about all those fantastic cranky ladies! Thank you to everyone who has taken part!


Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Lise Meitner

I’m cranky on behalf of Lise Meitner, a brilliant physicist.

Guest post by Deidre Tronson

meitnerWas Lise Meitner cranky?

Although she and her nephew, Otto Robert Frisch,  had done the theoretical physics calculations and first proposed that a uranium nucleus had split into smaller pieces (later named nuclear fission),  she did not win the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for that discovery. The only recipient was  her long-time colleague Otto Hahn, who had performed the chemistry experiments  to prove that fission had actually occurred.

I would have been cranky. Very cranky. Continue reading “Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Lise Meitner”

I see them here, I see them there, I see Cranky Ladies EVERYWHERE!

Since we started this project, I’ve noticed more brilliant cranky ladies of history than I even have before! It seems like everything I read or watch references another awesome lady, and it’s fabulous. I recently flicked through a copy of The National Library of Australia Magazine, and was impressed to see the page space devoted to cranky ladies there! You can read the magazine free online, but here is a summary of the 19th century ladies examined in its pages:

Rose de FreycinetRose de Freycinet: in 1817, Rose cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothes and famously stowed away on the French naval ship Uranie to accompany her husband, Captain Louis de Freycinet, around the world.

Mary GilmoreMary Gilmore: born in 1865, teacher, poet, journalist and activist Mary Gilmore approached life with a keen sense of social justice. She was the first woman member and executive member of the Australian Workers’ Union, and certainly did not conform to the usual standards of the time, moving for a time to a utopian community in Paraguay, where she married. A contemporary and close friend of Henry Lawson, Mary continued to work after the birth of her son, and wrote for many publications. Her popularity was huge and she fought throughout her life for a better standard of living for all.

Nettie HuxleyNettie Huxley: born in 1825, Nettie wrote two children’s books late in the century, but her life was more adventurous than most fictional characters! Descendant of a Caribbean pirate, and possessed of a pioneering spirit, Nettie travelled extensively, including spending over a decade in Australia. With a colourful family history (even in recent generations), Nettie’s life must have been exciting from the very beginning, and I want to know more about her!

Have you found Cranky Ladies of History in unexpected places?

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Ellen Davitt

A Cranky Lady of Crime History:  Ellen Davitt

Guest post by Lucy Sussex

“Was this Ellen Davitt contentious?” said the Archivist to me.

An interesting question.  I was in the reading room of the National Archives, deep in nineteenth-century Education files from the colony of Victoria. The woman I was looking for had a chequered history, but in the 1850s she had been the most powerful female in the colony’s secular education system. I was trying to find out why a (male) historian had described her as having “overbearing self-esteem”.

“Yes, she was contentious,” I decided to say.

“Then try the Special Case files!”—in which I would find that Ellen Davitt fully qualified as cranky, and for excellent reasons.

Force and FraudEllen Davitt (1812-1879) wrote Force and Fraud (1865) the first Australian murder mystery novel, at a time when the crime genre was in the process of formation.  For this distinction, the Davitt award of Sisters in Crime, for Australian women’s crimewriting, is named after her. Force and Fraud will be reprinted as an e-book this year. But in a long career, in which as a widow she was obliged to be self-supporting, Ellen Davitt was a teacher, exhibited artist, public speaker, something at the time which was daring for women, journalist and novelist. She was also feisty and tough, particularly with overbearing males. Had she not had a healthy self-esteem, she would have been crushed.

Her entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography only cites Ellen as an educationalist, with no mention of her other interesting work, only rediscovered in the 1990s.  She was born in England, the daughter of Martha and Edward Heseltine, a (dodgy) bank manager, the eldest of five daughters. Her sister Rose married famous novelist Anthony Trollope. Ellen married Irishman Arthur Davitt, who worked in education, and the pair emigrated to Australia in the 1850s, to run the ModelSchool in Melbourne.  It was a difficult job; and changing politics and an economic recession saw the Davitts’ positions terminated. Arthur died in 1860, of tuberculosis. Ellen vigorously sought compensation, indeed sought to address the Victorian Parliament—an extraordinary move for the time, which was refused.

Her journalism, public speaking and fiction writing were all a means of supporting herself, as a widow, without family in Australia. Force and Fraud was serialised in the Australian Journal. It was a mystery of real ability, without a central detective, rather a group of people banding together to find justice, a common device of the time.  The narrative was a sophisticated whodunnit, as well as being a close observation of colonial society. Other notable works include the short story “The Highlander’s Revenge”, a powerful story of Aboriginal massacres in the Gippsland region, probably based on an eyewitness account.

Conditions for writers in the Australian colonies were poor in the 1800s, it being particularly hard to earn a living. It seems Ellen Davitt contributed anonymously to the press for some time, then returned to teaching. She had the ill-luck to be sent to a rural school outside Bendigo, where she faced a headmaster with a bias against female teachers, and a low salary, which did not take into account her previous experience. It destroyed her health but not her spirits—hence a gold mine of letters to and from the Education department, in which she sought compensation. She was refused again, and in 1879 died of cancer and exhaustion.

Was she contentious? Oh yes!  But with excellent reason, as she fought against the male authorities who sought to contain and control her.  She and Mary Fortune (an even more cranky lady, a bigamist who consorted with criminals, and had a jailbird son) are the mothers of the Australian crime genre. That both of them have been marginalised, in Fortune’s case nearly lost to history, shows the importance of revisiting the lives of women, which are so often braver and less conventional than the official male historians allow.

History is written by the winners. Herstory is stranger and wilder than we can possibly imagine.

Long live the Cranky Ladies!

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Guest post: Marianne de Pierres on Jeanne d’Orléans


Peacemaker Tour Banner

We’re killing two birds with one stone with this post, as it not only celebrates the launch of Marianne’s fantastic new Angry Robot novel Peacemaker (you can see where Peacemaker started, in Marianne’s short story in Australis Imaginarium!) but it’s about one of history’s most famous cranky ladies! Enjoy!

joanJeanne d’Orléans

Maybe it’s my French ancestry that flagged Jeanne d’Orléans in my tweenage consciousness, but her story has always intrigued me. On reflection, I believe that it was her apparent fearlessness and single-mindedness that was so interesting. I find, more and more, I tend to write about characters that are committed to a purpose. I’m attracted to female fictional characters who fit the same mould: Sarah Lund, Grace Hanadarko, and Olivia Dunham.

Our lives are full of distractions, and intent is so easily diluted by demands on our time and energy. It has become important to me to know that there are people who can negotiate through the web of mediocrity to pursue their purpose in a pure and uncompromising manner. Women in my era (I’m fifty plus), were raised to be compromising and conciliatory caregivers. While admirable qualities, they can also affect our ability to remain faithful to our beliefs. We were a generation of placaters and second-guessers.

Wiki says this about Jeanne:

The extent of her actual military leadership is a subject of historical debate. Traditional historians, such as Édouard Perroy, conclude that she was a standard bearer whose primary effect was on morale.[33] This type of analysis usually relies on the condemnation trial testimony, where she stated that she preferred her standard to her sword. Recent scholarship that focuses on the nullification trial testimony asserts that the army’s commanders esteemed her as a skilled tactician and a successful strategist. Stephen W. Richey’s opinion is one example: “She proceeded to lead the army in an astounding series of victories that reversed the tide of the war.”[29] In either case, historians agree that the army enjoyed remarkable success during her brief career.[34]

Naturally, I chose to accept the latter interpretation because there is no reason why it should not be the case. In the end though, Jean fell victim to politics. Her executioner is quoted as saying “he feared damnation” for burning her alive.

So he should have.

GR author pic_webMarianne de Pierres is the author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis, the award-winning Sentients of Orion science fiction series and the upcoming Peacemaker SF Western series. The Parrish Plessis series has been translated into eight languages and adapted into a roleplaying game. She’s also the author of a teen dark fantasy series.

Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and three galahs. Marianne writes award-winning crime under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt. Visit her websites at and and

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

The final countdown! Seven days to go…

Cranky Ladies logoThis is it! The final week of the Cranky Ladies of History Pozible campaign is underway! We are at  $9900 with an amazing 180 supporters on board the Cranky Ladies train, and Tansy and I are just delighted with the result so far. We have smashed our first stretch goal of more art by the brilliant Kathleen Jennings, and we’re aiming high — if we can hit $12,500, we can add another 25,000 words to our book! That’s more stories and more great authors to enjoy, which would help make the book even more awesome.

But what’s in it for you? Why back a crowdfunding campaign that is already funded? There are lots of good reasons (including the fact it makes us do a little dance!) and I wrote about some of them here — exclusive campaign rewards! Publisher dancing! All good things 🙂

In case you missed it on the weekend, we got some more mainstream media notice with Linda Morris from the Sydney Morning Herald writing a great article about the cranky ladies, which was published on Sunday. We’re so pleased to see that our Cranky Ladies are receiving such attention, and with the previous ABC News Online article and radio appearances and everything, have to say it’s pretty cool. Stay tuned for a few more interviews/articles to come!

I might sound a bit like a broken record, but I really can’t thank enough everyone who has pledged and signal-boosted the campaign over the past three weeks. You’re amazing. And thank you as well to the very excellent people who have taken part in our Cranky Ladies Blog Tour — it’s been such a fantastic response, and it’s still going! Check out the posts so far, and keep an eye out for more to come.

Cranky Ladies, storming the world!

New reviews!

We’ve been fairly focused on Cranky Ladies for the past few weeks, but of course there is always more going on behind the scenes!

Firstly, we’re almost halfway through the first round of reading for Insert Title Here, and hopefully will have responded to all authors within the next fortnight.

Secondly, new reviews! We love seeing these appear around the ridges, so please let us know by email or Twitter if you write a review of a FableCroft book!

BoneChimeCoverDraftBlack Static #39 has a great round up of recent Australian short fiction anthologies and collections, and Joanne Anderton’s The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories is part of that. The reviewer calls Jo an author “who deftly blurs the lines between horror, fantasy and science fiction”, and looks at each story. Of particular interest, the two original stories have thoughtful comments, and the reviewer calls “Mah Song” rich in detail and says of “Fencelines”, a slowly burgeoning mood of unreality settling over the text as the narrative unfolds. Nice!

Cranky Ladies of History guest post: Tarenorerer

Tarenorerer. Tasmania. Born 1800. Died 1831.

Guest post by Bess Lyre

Tarenorerer, called Walyer by the sealers who purchased her with flour and dogs, was born a Tomeginee / Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue woman of the north-east Tasmanian coast.

Painting of Walyer by Julie Dowling

“Sealers took Aboriginal women for labour and as sexual commodities. During her time with the sealers, Walyer learnt English and how to use firearms.

She escaped in 1828 and joined the Lairmairrener group of Emu Bay. In 1830, colonial authorities reported that Walyer was leading violent attacks against settlers and other Aboriginal groups.

She and her group used muskets in these assaults, which was previously unprecedented in Aboriginal attacks.” – Julie Dowling

“In her teens she was abducted by Aborigines of the Port Sorell region and sold to White sealers on the Bass Strait Islands.” (

Tarenorerer 1
Mutton birders, Chappell Island, 1893

Tarenorerer’s home was not colonised until after her escape and return to her own country; the port of Burnie was founded in 1827. By the time of her death a mere four years later, from influenza, at the young age of 31, Taranorerer had become infamous.

“Walyer’s attacks on Aboriginal people brought her to the attention of GA Robinson, the chief protector of Aborigines. In a letter to Colonel George Arthur, Robinson wrote,

“From several aborigines, I received information respecting an amazon named Tarerenore, alias, “Walyer”, who was at the head of an aboriginal banditti.

This woman speaks English, and issues her orders in a most determined manner. Several cattle belonging to the company have been speared, and several petty thefts have been committed, which I have traced to this woman. The Amazon is at war with several nations of aborigines, and many aborigines have been slain by her party.

The Amazon is an athletic woman, middle aged, and is a native of the East Coast. She has collected together the disaffected of several nations, and roams over a vastylent of country committing dire outrages.”” –

Tarenorerer 2
Burnie, 1881

Vicki maikutena Matson-Green writes:

“Tarenorerer fought with bravery and tenacity in ‘a war for which there are no [visible] memorials’. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community honours her memory and acknowledges her as a true warrior of the cause which has continued to today. Her memorial is the example she set for the future generations of her people who have survived, adjusted, and grown stronger in the example set by their forebears.” – (

I have been to Burnie quite a few times and never met anyone who has heard of Tarenorerer. The history of the pulp mill industry is celebrated; there is a town smothered in penguin-themed statuary. Some sort of recognition of Australia’s true first war seems important to me, not to mention some variation of a treaty with Tasmania’s original owners.

When World War One was over, and our side had won, our former enemies were treated with respect – German sovereignty was permitted by the Treaty of Versailles, even though they had to pay reparations for starting the war, and under the Treaty of Lausanne, Turkey had new sovereign borders drawn up, even if they were smaller than the borders of the old Ottoman Empire.

And even though some 8700 Australians had been slaughtered by Ottoman Turks during the Gallipoli Campaign, we recognised them as a worthy foe; we recognised that when all was said and done, about a quarter of a million Turks had been killed, and when we go on our Anzac Day pilgrimages to Turkey, not only do we attend the dawn service at the Lone Pine Memorial, we doff our caps in the direction of the Turkish cemeteries and war memorials spread along the shoreline.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pay similar respects to Tarenorerer and her fellow fallen warriors?

Cranky Ladies logoThis post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support our Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Daughters of Time by The History Girls

The History Girls is a blog run by Mary Hoffman and a group of best-selling, award-winning writers of historical fiction. Some of the “Girls” write for young adults, some for fully fledged adults, some for younger readers. Among them, they cover every period from the Stone Age to World War II. Geographically, their novels will take you from Trondheim to Troy, and the Caribbean to the Wild West, via Venice, Victorian England and Ancient Rome. Individual, entertaining, sometimes provocative: on The History Girls blog they share their thoughts on writing, research, reviews, and all aspects of their work. They love what they do and they want to talk about it!

The History Girls kindly agreed to join with us in talking about Cranky Ladies during March, as not only are we crowdfunding our anthology, but they have just launched their own! I’ll let Mary tell you all about it…

Our first ever publication, Daughters of Time was published by Templar on 1st March 2014 and is a collection of stories written by some of our number about remarkable women, from Boudica to the protestors at Greenham common.

It’s intended for readers of 9+ years and so our contributors are thirteen of those History Girls who write for children (some of us do both of course). It took a while after Templar approached us to work out which women we wanted to cover and who would write about whom but by the beginning of the year we had an outline that has now morphed into a book that is at the printers!

Of course we could have done it all differently: there were so many subjects to choose from. So we have added a list of further women for readers to explore.

The anthology sprang from a post by Adèle Geras, a History Girl who was writing about the influence of the book Our Island Story on a whole generation of children. In the comments, another History Girl, Louisa Young, suggested that we should create a modern version of Our Island Story, with each of us writing one story and Adèle editing it.

An illustration from Our Island Story by H.E.Marshall

Adèle quickly rejected the editing suggestion but the idea of our producing an anthology one day got itself lodged in a few minds and Templar enterprisingly called our bluff. After that, the rest was details. Oh, and writing it of course, but it’s always like that with books (I currently have one announced in another publisher’s catalogue consisting of a title and cover and not yet much else).

In the end, I edited Daughters of Time and a dozen other History Girls contributed to it with me. Adèle’s story was about Eleanor of Aquitaine, a very remarkable woman indeed, who was Queen of first France and then England. But we see her here in a private capacity, comforting a sick girl.

Eleanor of Aquitaine

We begin with Boudica – or rather with her resourceful and brave daughter, written about by Katherine Roberts, move on to Aethelfled, a rather less well known ruler, who was daughter of Alfred the Great and inspired Sue Purkiss to write her story, Lady of the Mercians. But it’s not all about royal women.

We have Kath Langrish’s touching story of the unhappy maid to Dame Julian of Norwich, Dianne Hofmeyr writing about Elizabeth Stuart, who escaped being both victim and puppet of the Gunpowder Plot and Marie-Louise Jensen on playwright Aphra Behn.

Mary Wollstonecraft, by John Opie

Penny Dolan introduces us to Mary Wollstonecraft and Joan Lennon takes us back to the childhood of fossil-hunter Mary Anning. Catherine Johnson completes a trio of Marys with the one called Seacole, a heroine of the Crimean War. Celia Rees writes about Suffragette Emily Davison, Anne Rooney about daring aviator Amy Johnson and Leslie Wilson – from her own experience – about the women anti-nuclear protestors of Greenham Common.

So a pretty varied bunch of subjects. I chose Lady Jane Grey, to liberate her reputation from the passive victim as portrayed  by Paul Delaroche in the famous and inaccurate painting of 1833, now in the National Gallery in London.

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

I wanted to show how much she was still in charge of her own fate, however much the powerful men around her wanted her to be their political pawn. As a sixteen-year-old with a mind of her own and a will of steel.

In many of the stories, History Girls have introduced and created young women alongside the historical figures, to provide a way in for young readers, allowing them to see through the eyes of girls from the Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century, who found themselves part of events bigger than themselves.

We are launching Daughters of Time at the Oxford Literary Festival on Sunday 30th March at 2pm, when I will chair a panel consisting of Celia Rees, Penny Dolan and Leslie Wilson. And there will be several other contributors there to sign copies. We hope to see you there but, if you can’t make it, then we hope you will read the book.

Daughters of Time by The History Girls, Edited by Mary Hoffman Templar, £7.99 paperback,
ISBN: 9781848771697 March 2013.

For further details and review copies, please contact Laura Smythe on or 07881555530

A version of this post originally appeared on The History Girls blog.