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18 Historical Aussie Women Who Gave Zero Fucks

Making history and changing the nation without a fuck to give.

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1. Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910)

commons.wikimedia.org

Let me tell you about Catherine Helen Spence. This badass was a poet, journalist, and novelist. She had two guys propose to her and was like, "nah, I don't need you hey".* She dedicated her life to supporting and improving the lives of women, children and minorities. She campaigned against the institutionalisation of children and raised THREE families of orphans herself. And on top of all that she somehow found time to become Australia's first female political candidate.

*May or may not be an actual quote.

2. Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872)

State Library of NSW

Louisa Atkinson is famous for her botanical work and art, but she was also a conservationist, journalist and author. Because being a legend in one field just wasn't enough, apparently. Atkinson explored the land and identified many new plant species, and was way ahead of her time in campaigning for conservation. She also became the first woman in Australia to have a long-running article series in a major newspaper, and the first woman born in Australia to publish a novel. To top it all off, she decided that getting around in the Australian bush in big skirts was bloody ridiculous, and caused a bit of a scandal by wearing trousers instead. She rightly DGAF.

3. Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905)

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Fanny Cochrane Smith was multi-talented AF: legendary for her cooking, her quick wit, and her passion for Indigenous culture, she had fans come from all over the place to see her perform traditional songs and dance. She's now most famous for making recordings of Indigenous Tasmanian song and speech on wax cylinders. She made sure her language and culture would never be forgotten. Oh, and she also still managed to find time to have 11 kids, coz she was a total freaking boss.

4. Rose Scott (1847-1925)

en.wikipedia.org

Scott held a salon - the kind of party where all the coolest, brightest sparks hang out - at her home once a week, through which she schmoozed and gained very important connections that helped her achieve some of her goals. You know, like obtaining decent working hours for women in retail, improving the conditions of female prisoners, raising the age of consent to 16, and winning women in NSW the right to vote. No biggie.

5. Bella Guerin (1858-1923)

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Who was Bella Guerin? Only the first woman to ever graduate from university in Australia! She got a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne in 1883, and a Masters in 1885. She put her education to good use, becoming a teacher and activist, advocating for women's education, participation in public life, and the right to vote. She described herself as a "democratic grub" and "incorrigible militant", which is frankly iconic. Her graduation portrait captivated poet Henry Halloran so much he wrote a poem about her and they later married, even though he was more than twice her age. Guerin flipped things around for her second marriage, hooking up with a guy in his 20s when she was in her 50s. What a queen.

6. Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931)

commons.wikimedia.org

More like damn, Nellie Melba. This dame left an abusive marriage and defied her father's disapproval to pursue a mega-successful singing career, becoming famous in Europe and America as well as at home. She performed for royalty, had a scandalous affair with a hot duke, created a music school in Melbourne, raised £100,000 for charity during the First World War, and became the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time magazine. She also has a goddamn dessert named after her, and if that's not #goals I don't know what is.

7. Edith Cowan (1861-1932)

commons.wikimedia.org

Cowan was so badass she's the face of the goddamn $50 note. Not only was she the first woman elected to an Australian parliament - in Western Australia in 1921 - she did so by defeating the guy who'd introduced the legislation that allowed her to run! Throughout her life, she advocated for the rights of women and disadvantaged children. She played a huge part in successful campaigns for women's suffrage, an overhaul of the justice system for children, and the building of the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Perth.

8. Louise Mack (1870-1935)

State Library of NSW

Not content with being a journalist, novelist, AND poet, this trailblazer took it to the next level. Mack was in Belgium when World War I broke out in 1914, and seized the opportunity to become the first female war correspondent for the Evening News and Daily Mail in London. She published a memoir about her experiences in 1915 and returned to Australia in 1916, where she delivered lectures and continued to work for the rest of her life.

9. Miles Franklin (1879-1954)

commons.wikimedia.org

What were you doing at 19? Probably not writing one of the most important Australian novels of all time, which Franklin did with My Brilliant Career. Of course, she didn't stop there, continuing to write throughout her life, while also travelling the world and working as a governess, teacher, and nurse. She was a passionate supporter of Australian literature, leaving a bequest in her will to establish what is now Australia's most prestigious literary award (that'd be the Miles Franklin Award).

10. Florence Mary Taylor (1879-1969)

State Library of NSW / Via Flickr: statelibraryofnsw / Creative Commons

How's this for some firsts: Taylor was the first woman in Australia to become a qualified architect, train as an engineer AND fly a heavier-than-air craft. Plus she was the first female member in the Institution of Structural Engineers in the UK. With her husband, she established and worked as writer, editor, and publisher on several building industry trade journals, running them on her own after his death in 1928. She was outspoken and not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, earning a reputation as the "Grand Old Lady of Publishing". She knew how to leave her mark: some of her town planning ideas (such as a harbour tunnel crossing and eastern distributor freeway) literally changed the face of Sydney.

11. Fanny Durack (1889-1956)

commons.wikimedia.org

Durack was the greatest female swimmer in the world in her day. Let me repeat: the greatest in the WORLD. When women's swimming was introduced to the Olympics in 1912, Durack and her friend and fellow swimmer Mina Wylie rallied to be able to attend, fundraising in order to pay for their own trips. Durack then became the first Australian women to win an Olympic gold medal. And how did she top that? Oh, only by going on to hold every single world record in women's swimming in the late 1910s.

12. Louise Lovely (1895-1980)

Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies / Via utas.edu.au

Long before Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett and the Hemsworths, Louise Lovely was Australia's first Hollywood superstar. She started out as a child actor and found huge success in Oz (even without the help of Home and Away) before heading over to Hollywood in 1914 and hitting the A list. She returned to Australia in 1924 with dreams of turning Tasmania into the southern hemisphere's Hollywood. She was ambitious, alright - and while she may not have achieved that particular dream, she did produce a popular film - Jewelled Nights - which enabled her to hire and promote up-and-coming Australian actors.

13. Olive Cotton (1911-2003)

State Library of NSW / Via Flickr: statelibraryofnsw / Creative Commons

Imagine taking a bunch of cups from Woolies and turning them into art so iconic it becomes a commemorative stamp. That's what Cotton did with her Tea Cup Ballet image. While that's her most famous shot, she had a prolific career and was considered one of the best photographers of her time. When clients came to her studio expecting to be photographed by a man, Cotton was like, "oh yeah, I'm just the assistant, ya dick head" (except more polite, probably). She married her childhood bestie and fellow photographer Max Dupain, divorced him a few years later, and went off to live in a tent in the bush with her second husband Ross McInerney. Basically, she did what she goddamn wanted.

14. Nancy-Bird Walton (1915-2009)

State Library of NSW / Via Flickr: statelibraryofnsw / Creative Commons

Bird took her name pretty freaking seriously, turning her lifelong dream of flying into a reality when, at the age of 18, she became one of the first pupils at Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's pilot's school. A year later, she became the youngest Australian women to gain a pilot's license and one of the first female commercial pilots. She bought her own plane and took off with her bestie on a "barnstorming" tour - showing off her mad skills and taking people on joyrides at country fairs around the country. Btut she wasn't only known for her cool tricks: she later operated a flying medical service in the outback, won air races, taught women flying skills in WWII, and founded the Australian Women Pilots' Association. Whew!

15. Faith Bandler (1918-2015)

abc.net.au

This is what a goddamn hero looks like. Bandler worked in the Australian Women's Land Army during World War II, and wasn't shy about pointing out how fucked up it was that she was receiving less pay than her white co-workers, going on to campaign for equal pay for Indigenous Australians. In 1956 she became a full-time activist, and led the campaign for the removal of constitutional discrimination against Indigenous Australians, which resulted in a little thing you might have heard of called the 1967 referendum. Bandler's badassery and hard work helped gain a massive 91% YES vote for the proposed constitutional amendments, which enabled Indigenous Australians to be included in the census for the first time. She didn't stop there, later campaigning for the rights of South Sea Islander Australians and publishing four books, including one about her father's experiences being blackbirded (kidnapped for slave labour).

16. Margaret Williams-Weir (-2015)

University of Melbourne / Via pursuit.unimelb.edu.au

Margaret Williams-Weir was the definition of a trailblazer. She was the first Indigenous Australian to graduate from university and the first to work for a union (the Australian Teachers Federation). She was a leader in Aboriginal education, becoming a teacher and researcher and contributing to government policies. She travelled the world, and even joined the Canadian navy, saying she was drawn to it because it recognised equal pay and equal opportunity for women. Talk about iconic.

17. Daphne Ceeney (1934-2016)

commons.wikimedia.org

When the inaugural Paralympic Games took place in Rome in 1960, Daphne Ceeney was the only woman on the Australian team to participate. In her first medal haul of many, she won two gold medals, three silver medals, and a bronze medal. Not content with being a champion in just one sport, she excelled at swimming, athletics, archery, table tennis, fencing AND lawn bowls. Now that's badass!

18. Carmen Rupe (1936-2011)

Pride NZ / Public Domain / Via en.wikipedia.org

Rupe was a transgender woman from New Zealand who became an icon in both her home country and Australia. She moved to King's Cross in Sydney in the 1950s and became Australia's first Māori drag performer. She was outspoken and fearless, spending years of her life fighting discrimination against sex workers, LGBT people, and people with HIV/AIDS. She even ran for mayor of Wellington in 1977, and after her death the Carmen Rupe Memorial Trust was established in Australia to continue raising awareness for the causes she championed. What a legacy.

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