Freeman & Beer’s Amazing Australian Women

Pamela Freeman and Sophie Beer,  Amazing Australian Women: Twelve Women Who Shaped History (Lothian 2018)

When I ran into the lovely Pamela Freeman in an Annandale cafe the other day, just down the road from where I used to live, she insisted on interrupting her lunch to dash off, and returned to present me with a copy of Amazing Australian Women, which she inscribed to my almost-one-year-old granddaughter.

The granddaughter won’t be ready for this book for another couple of years, but I couldn’t just leave it to wait for her. Besides, I’ve been a fan of Pamela’s writing for young readers (and old) for years.

The book is what it says on the lid: twelve spreads, each featuring an amazing Australian woman. It’s a terrific list, presented with a keen eye for the memorable detail, and decorated by Sophie Beer with wit and charm.

I’m willing to bet that none of my readers, asked to draw up a list of twelve Australian women who have changed history, would come up with exactly the twelve women in this book. I’ll bet the lists wouldn’t be identical even if I tightened the brief and asked you to include women who represent ‘warriors, artists, business owners, scientists, singers, politicians, actors, athletes, adventurers activists and innovators’ (to quote the back cover), and then tightened it again to say your list must include at least one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman, at least one other person from a non-European background, and at least one person with a disability.

The two absences that surprised me were Cathy Freeman and Mary McKillop. At least four of the inclusions are new names to me. Of the ones I knew about, none felt Wikipediated. Did you know for instance that Mary Reibey, when she was thirteen, dressed in boy’s clothes to ride the horse she was then accused of stealing? And did you know who discovered the cause of the Northern and Southern Lights? 

If you want to know who made it onto Pamela’s list, whether for your own enlightenment and entertainment, or to quarrel with her decisions, you probably don’t have to wait for the author to give you a copy. Once you’ve checked it out, you might well consider buying it as a gift for a young girl (or boy, because what boy doesn’t want to know about amazing women?)

Amazing Australian Women is the nineteenth book I’ve read for the 2018 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

4 responses to “Freeman & Beer’s Amazing Australian Women

  1. This is the kind of book that teacher-librarians love. Every other year I used to get the Y5&6 students to do a bio of somebody, and it was always a struggle to find (a) interesting Australians who were not Ned Kelly or Simpson and his Donkey and (b) not sporting heroes but people who had actually done something useful and (c) women who had achieved something notable. So I’m sure the book will do well, especially if it becomes a title with Australian Standing Orders, widely used by schools as a way of accessing new titles.


    • Yes, I’m sure that’s right, Lisa. And this one has the added value of being beautiful, and playful, and alive to history.


      • Australian picture books are just the best:)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Lisa. Since writing this post I’ve been looking for presents and seen that there’s a whole slew of books that are Lists of Exemplary Women. I haven’t surveyed them all closely, of course, but my impression is that this one stands out from the crowd by focusing on what’s interesting rather than what’s merely edifying (Mary Reibey crossdressing is just the first example)


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