Strong women have always had a powerful impact on history, and yet it’s only in recent years that we’re seeing the proper credit and recognition they rightly deserve for their contributions. Not only that, but through a concerted effort to increase the gender imbalance in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering & maths), we are seeing an even greater number of modern-day female pioneers.
It comes as no surprise that Australia has had its fair share of inspiring women. With our innovative drive and our ‘get it done’ attitude, Australian women are a special kind of hero.
To celebrate #InternationalWomensDay on 8th March, we take a look at six inspiring Australian women you should know about.
Born in Hobart in 1870, Marie Louise Hamilton Mack grew up to be the first female war correspondent during one of the most dangerous and bloody wars in history. In 1896, only in her mid-twenties, she published her first novel, The World is Round, and later on, published a book of poems and became a columnist for The Bulletin in 1898.
She had dreamed of joining her Sydney friend, ‘Banjo’ Paterson, as a war correspondent when the Boer War broke out in 1899. From 1904 to 1910 Mack lived in Florence, writing for and then editing the English-language Italian Gazette, before returning to London and resuming her career as a novelist. When World War I broke out in 1914 she bravely reported from the front line for the Daily Mail and Evening News in England.
Returning home, she toured Australia giving extravagant accounts of her war experiences. She also wrote for the early Australian Women’s Weekly.
Louise Mack will forever be remembered for her courage; it takes incredible bravery to embrace the front lines of a war over and over again.
This unaccredited Australian nurse was instrumental in global health care, specifically for introducing unconventional treatments for poliomyelitis (commonly called ‘polio’), an infectious disease affecting muscle movement, resulting in the inability to walk.
Breaking boundaries, Kenny challenged former treatment which focused on immobilisation and instead promoted muscle movement and exercise. It is her successful findings in the treatment of polio which were the basis of muscle rehabilitation or, as we know it today, physical therapy (also physiotherapy).
Gladys Elphick was an Kaurna/Ngadjuri woman remembered for her crucial role in indigenous women’s rights, as well as women’s rights in Australia and abroad. Warmly known as ‘Auntie Glad’, she was the founding president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia in 1965 (which later became known as the Aboriginal Council of South Australia).
She lobbied for women’s rights, set up a women’s shelter in Adelaide and spearheaded the formation of recreational clubs, as well as empowering indigenous women to learn the English language in order to express themselves better in the community at large.
Twenty-five years ago, Rachel Downie became an educator to help young people flourish. After losing one of her students to suicide, Rachel decided she needed to find a way to support young people to say something when things aren’t right. She discovered students often felt too frightened to come forward with possible life-saving information, because of peer expectations. This led Rachel to developing and self-funding Stymie – another word for stop – to allow students to anonymously report harm without fear.
Rachel developed Stymie with extensive consultation and help from students and educators. Since 2014 she has presented Stymie to more than 300,000 students nationally.
Implemented nationally and internationally, students are using Stymie to report family violence, bullying, cyber-bullying, depression, illegal activity, harassment, self-harm, and harm to their communities. In 2018, Stymie schools received more than 40,000 notifications from concerned students, empowering them to use their empathy and conscience to report harm, and further a culture of care in their schools.
While teaching at the University of Western Australia, Melanie Perkins saw firsthand how difficult it was to navigate graphic design software. That’s why she created Canva, an online design tool that allows anyone to create graphics seamlessly.
Without any experience in professional marketing, business, or tech, Perkins dived into the world of investors, fuelled only by her belief in Canva. The business is now valued at over $2.5 billion and Melanie is one of the youngest female CEOs to be leading a $1b+ tech startup.
Born in 1985, Candice is the middle child of a large, eccentric family from Sydney’s western suburbs composed of half-, adopted and pseudo siblings. The daughter of an enthusiastic foster-carer, Candice spent her childhood listening around corners to tales of violence, madness and evil from the cops and childcare authorities who frequented her home.
Hades, Candice Fox’s first novel, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut in 2014 from the Australian Crime Writers Association. The sequel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel in 2015, making Candice only the second author to win these accolades back-to-back. She is also the author of the bestselling Fall, Crimson Lake and Redemption Point, all shortlisted for Ned Kelly and Davitt Awards.