Queenie McKenzie ( 1915 – 1998)

Queenie (or Mingmarriya) was born on the banks of the Ord River in the Kimberleys to an indigenous mother and white father at a time when children with mixed parentage were often removed by the Government and sent to an institution. In an effort to keep her safe her mother rubbed charcoal into her skin enabling Queenie to remain on the cattle station where she worked as a cook and gained a love and understanding of country. She is quoted as saying “Every rock, every hill, every water, I know that place backwards and forwards, up and down, inside out. It’s my country and I got names for every place”.

She displayed this feel for the land in her contemporary Indigenous art which remains among Australia’s most collectible with many artworks being autobiographical, and others depicting the violent colonial past.

McKenzie’s importance has been recognized by the government of Western Australia, which declared her as a “State Living Treasure” the year of her death.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Michelle Payne  (1985 – )

William Shakespeare wrote In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, “ Though she be but little she is fierce”. He could have been writing about Michelle Payne.

The youngest of 10 children, Michelle followed in the footsteps of seven of her siblings by becoming a jockey, a male dominated industry.

Growing up on a farm in Central Victoria, Michelle is the youngest daughter of the ten children of Paddy and Mary Payne. Tragically, Michelle’s mother Mary died in a motor vehicle accident when Michelle was only six months old, leaving Paddy to raise the children as a single father. A career in the saddle always beckoned for Michelle and she rode in her first competitive race at the age of 15 on a horse trained by her father.

Michelle suffered several major injuries in her racing career though these never impeded her desire to ride. As a young girl cleaning out her father’s stables her dream was to win the Melbourne Cup.

In November 2015, Payne was the first woman to ride the winner of the Melbourne Cup in its 155 year history when she steered 100-1 shot Prince Of Penzance to victory ( coincidentally wearing the colours of the suffragette movement: purple, green and white.)

The training strategy used in the lead-up to the race included a consistent horse-jockey relationship. Payne said, “It’s not all about strength, there is so much more involved, getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient.”

In her speech after her Cup win Payne famously said that “ ……… they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world”. She later said that she hoped her win “helps female jockeys”.

She took out her training license in 2016 and has trained over 30 winners, has ridden 770 career winners and continues to work alongside her brother Stevie.

In October 2016, she was awarded the Don Award at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame awards. The Don Award is “awarded to a sportsperson who, ……, is considered to have most inspired the nation”.

In May 2017, Payne received international recognition when awarded the Longine Ladies Award in America. The award paid tribute to “distinguished women whose careers have shown a positive influence and exceptional commitment to the equine cause”.

In 2021 Payne was awarded the  Medal of the Order of Australia in the 2021 Australia Day Honours.

The movie, Ride Like A Girl released in 2019, portrays the realisation of Michelle’s dream. ( Note : the film was ripped by critics but had audiences cheering and clapping in their seats.)

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.


This time next week, on the 25th of April, Australians and New Zealanders will commemorate ANZAC Day.

The Ode of Remembrance has been recited to commemorate wartime service and sacrifice since 1921. The Ode is the 4th stanza of the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon.

In 1919, Binyon’s poem was selected to accompany the unveiling of the London Cenotaph and was adopted as a memorial tradition by many Commonwealth nations. The poem was read at the laying of the Inauguration Stone at the Australian War Memorial in 1929.

Ode of Remembrance

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.


We will remember them
Lest we forget

At this time it is important to remember all the woman who have served or who are serving in the Defence Forces in the many varied roles. We remember our nurses, doctors, and VADs, as well as the women who worked on the land ensuring the nation remained fed. Of equal importance are all the mothers, wives, sisters and sweethearts, who “kept the home fires burning……”.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Nora Heysen (1911 – 2003)               – War Artist

A little more poetic licence……..

Nora Heysen, daughter of the landscape artist, Hans Heysen, was born in Adelaide in 1911. She studied at the school of Fine Arts in Adelaide and, in 1934, travelled to London where she studied for two years at the Central School of Art. 

Upon returning to Australia, she became the first woman to win the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture in 1938. This win did create some controversy with painter Max Meldrum stating ” If I were a woman, I would certainly prefer raising a healthy family to a career in art. …. A great artist has to tread a lonely road. He needs all the manly qualities — courage, strength and endurance… I believe that such a life is unnatural and impossible for a woman.”

However, this win did help in Heysen’s appointment as Australia’s first official female war artist where her initial task was to paint studio portraits of the commanding officers of the women’s auxiliary services. In 1944 she travelled to New Guinea to record the work Australian nurses  became frustrated by her inability to travel to the front because of the danger and the lack of facilities for women.

Upon her return to Australia she focused on capturing the activities of the nurses in Qld who served in the RAAF on evacuation flights. All up she completed nearly 170 paintings during this period, though in later years after her divorce she led a rather solitary life.

To this day Nora’s portraits are hanging in Galleries across the country as well as the Australian War Memorial.


1933: Melrose Prize for Portraiture
1938: Archibald Prize for her portrait of Adine Michele Elink Schuurman
1993: Australia Council Award for Achievement in the Arts
1998: Order of Australia (AM) for services to art.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Ann Moffatt (1939 – )

Ann was born in England without an entitled childhood, having worked part time from an early age to assist with household finances. An accident which fractured her skull crushed her dreams of studying for a maths degree, and she filled in the days by reading books about computers. With her aptitude for maths and ability to learn on-the-job, Ann became one of the UK’s first female computer programmers, and was soon recognised as a leading authority on software development and the emerging field of database management.

Her first pregnancy prompted the company for which she was working to pioneer teleworking. That is, retaining women in the IT industry by allowing them to work from home whilst caring for their children, ultimately proving more productive than in-house.

In 1974 she came to Australia as a “sponsored expert” after being headhunted to work on the biggest computer implementation in the country (IBM), later moving onto positions as Director of the Institute of Information Technology and National Development Manager for the Australian Stock Exchange.

Moffatt’s professional experience includes as a programmer, analyst, designer, project manager, company and manager, and she has served on several company Boards, as well as establishing and managing her own ICT service.

Over the years Ann has received many accolades. She is a Fellow of both the Australian Computer Society and the British Computer Society. She was a Board Member of the NSW TAFE Commission from 1998 to 2000 and a Board member of the IT&T ITAB from 1999 to 2000. She was also a member of the Wide Bay Institute of TAFE Council & the Hervey Bay TAFE College Council from 2001 to 2005. From 1998-2010, she was a Director of the Australian Computer Society Foundation, which advances IT through Education and Research.

In 2002, Ann was inducted into the Australian ICT Hall of Fame as the first female inductee. In 2005 USQ awarded Ann an Honorary Doctorate, which was conferred in May 2006. In 2011, Ann was inducted into the Pearcey Hall of Fame, which is the highest Australian professional award for a lifetime achievement in the ICT industries.

In May 2014 Microsoft listed Ann as one of 10 Australian Innovators, and in 2015, Ann established the Silicon Coast Extracurricular Code School (SCXCS) to teach students in Regional and Rural Australia how to program. In March 2016 Ann was named as one of Advance Queensland’s Community Digital Champions.

She remains active in the organisation she co-founded in 1990, FFIT, or Females in IT and Telecommunications, which now grown to more than 4,000 members.

During retirement she also found time to write a book, an inspirational read about her life and career challenges, and about working alongside the men who both adored her and abhorred her. It is a beaut read.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Diane Lemaire (1923 – 2012) -Aeronautical Engineer

Diane Lemaire has the distinction of being the first woman to graduate with an Engineering Degree from the University of Melbourne utilising her education to become a leading Aeronautical Engineer.

During World War 2 Lemaire was employed in the production of armoured fighting vehicles, followed by a role at Aeronautical Research Laboratories.

She left Australia in the early 1950’s to work in the Royal Aircraft Establishment in the United Kingdom.

In 1962 Lemaire was awarded the Amelia Earhart Fellowship and during that period also completed her Masters in Science from Cornell University, USA. She retired in 1986.

To this day Diane Lemaire is remembered with a scholarship in her name being awarded to a Female PHD student studying Engineering and Information Technology at Melbourne University.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Elizabeth Kenny (1880 – 1952)

In 1915, Kenny volunteered to serve as a nurse in the First World War and went to Europe. She was not officially a qualified nurse, but nurses were badly needed and she was assigned to work on “Dark Ships”, slow-moving transports that ran with all lights off between Australia and England. They carried out war goods and soldiers and wounded soldiers and trade goods on the return voyage. Kenny served on these dangerous missions throughout the war, making 16 round trips (plus one round the world). In 1917 she earned the title “Sister”, which in the Australian Army Nursing Corps is the equivalent of a First Lieutenant. Kenny used that title for the rest of her life. She was criticized by some for doing so, but Kenny was officially promoted to the rank during her wartime service.

Kenny is quoted as saying she developed her method of rehabilitating polio victims while caring for ill soldiers on these troopships.

Her approach to treating poliomyelitis was controversial at the time. The conventional practise involved the placing of affected limbs in plaster casts. Instead Kenny applied hot compresses, followed by passive movement of the areas to reduce what she called “spasm”. Her principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physiotherapy in such cases and were later adopted all around the world.

In recognition of her work, in February 1950 President Harry Truman signed a Congressional bill giving Kenny the right to enter and leave the US as she wished without a visa, an honour which had only been granted once before.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Judith Wright   (1915 – 2000)

(Apologies for the need for another dash of poetic licence).

Judith was raised on a country property though went to boarding school following her mother’s death. She attended Sydney University studying Philosophy, English, Psychology and History at Sydney University returning to her father’s station at the beginning of World War 2 to help because of labour shortages.

Wright’s first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published in 1946 and as with following publications focuses on “the Australian environment….. dealing with the relationship between settlers, Indigenous Australians and the bush, among other themes.” It is said that her love of nature and the Outback helped change the traditions of Australian writing. 

Whilst working at the University of Queensland as a research officer Wright
began working on the literary magazine Meanjin, the first edition of which was published in late 1947. In 1966 she published The Nature of Love, her first collection of short stories, set mainly in Queensland.

Her distress at the devastation of that landscape by white Australians, led her to help form the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She fought to conserve the Great Barrier Reef, when its ecology was threatened by oil drilling, and campaigned against sand mining on Fraser Island. Along with her deep awareness of environmental issues, Judith became an ardent supporter of the Aboriginal land rights movement.

In the mid 1970’s, Judith and politician Nugget Coombs helped form the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, an organisation dedicated to helping spread the word about the need for land rights and a treaty among white Australians. She was still a social activist at 85 years of age, attending a march in Canberra for reconciliation between non-indigenous Australians and the Aboriginals.

1976 – Christopher Brennan Award
1991 – Queens Gold Medal for Poetry
 1994 – Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
 1998 – Australian National Living Treasure Award
2009 –  announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for her role as an “Influential Artist”.

Magpies by Judith Wright

Along the road the magpies walk
with hands in pockets, left and right.
They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk.
In their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen 
who seem most nonchalant and wise
until their meal is served – and then
what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard 
throws back his head in such a song
of grace and praise – no man nor bird. 
Their greed is brief; their joy is long.
For each is born with such a throat 
as thanks his God with every note.

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Indigenous Book Club -Known as Blackfulla Bookclub

A little poetic licence with this one, okay………

Individually, Teela Reid and Merinda (Min) Dutton are successful and passionate women in their chosen careers. Together, these driven young women are powerful change makers. Let’s meet them both :

Teela grew up in Gilgandra, NSW, a proud Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman. It was after training as a school teacher that Teela was selected as Australia’s Female Indigenous Youth Delegate to the United Nations Permanent Forum in New York which inspired her journey to become a lawyer. At UNSW Law, Teela was named on the UNSW Law Deans women of excellence list, and was the first Aboriginal person to be elected on the UNSW Law Society as Vice-President (Social Justice) where she was the founding director of the UNSW Law First Peoples Moot. She was also the inaugural recipient of the NSW Indigenous Barristers Trust Award and the Law Spirit Award.

An activist and storyteller Teela won the 2020 Daisy Utemorrah award for her powerful work of junior fiction, Our Matriarchs Matter. She currently works as a criminal defence lawyer based in Sydney and is a strong advocate for abolishing systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

Merinda , known as Min, is a proud Gumbaynggirr and Barkindji woman from Grafton, NSW. Her father is a Stolen Generation survivor which ignited her interest in social justice  leading to her Bachelor of Jurisprudence/Bachelor of Laws double degree. In 2019 she was awarded the National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year. Merinda is a senior lawyer at Legal Aid NSW, driving improvements to justice outcomes for Australia’s First Nations peoples with a particular interest in Indigenous women in custody and rural and remote communities.

Both these women are avid readers and with the advent of COVID they got together in a Zoom Bookclub. Together they then co-founded the Blackfulla Bookclub  ( instagram handle: @blackfulla_bookclub ) which started with 1,000 followers, and which has since grown to 40,000.

Min has stated that the bookclub “celebrates Aboriginal stories and Aboriginal voices…….in the way that Aboriginal people tell stories … we tell them in different ways that don’t necessarily comply with the white man’s rules about what is right and who is a good writer.” Teela follows up with ” it is a platform that remembers our ancestors are the original storytellers and that First Nations languages matter.” There is a Blackfulla  Bookclub Facebook page as well.

The Blackfulla Bookclub also promotes the writing of the indigenous peoples all around the world.

You go, girls!

Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.

Catherine Hamlin  ( 1924 – 2020)   – Obstetrician-Gynaecologist

One of six children Catherine graduated from the University of Sydney with a medical degree in 1946. This led to her position as resident in obstetrics at Crown Street Women’s Hospital, where she met and married Dr Reginald Hamlin, Crown Street’s medical superintendent.

Responding to an advertisement by the Ethiopian government in a medical journal to establish a midwifery school, the Hamlins arrived in Addis Ababa in 1959 where they were overwhelmed by the number of women suffering from obstetric fistula.

Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a tear develops in the birth canal as a result of childbirth often resulting in major leakages. Complications may include depression, infertility and social isolation.

In the first year, fistula repairs were carried out on 32 women. By the third year 300 women had been healed. Having perfected the surgical procedure a dedicated Fistula hospital at Addis Ababa was established and later a further five Fistula hospitals in regional areas. Over the years 40,000 plus women have been attended too.

To help the women for whom surgery does not provide a solution the Hamlin’s Team built a village on 60 acres of land donated by the Ethiopian government through a Foundation built on donations.

Reg Hamlin remained a key figure on the hospital board until his death in 1993. Catherine lived in her cottage on the grounds of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital and remained very active in the day-to-day work of the hospital and patient care up until her death in 2020.

Despite the passing of Catherine and Reg the The Hamlin Fistula International Foundation continues to raise funds for:

  • The treatment of females with this condition
  • Prevention by way of educating midwives who are then sent to regional hospitals
  • Education and awareness amongst Ethiopian women and their continued care.

You can read more here : https://hamlin.org.au/about-us/


Celebrating the women from our past to the present who have helped shape Australia.