We are thrilled to welcome back inspiring children’s author, Jane Smith, to discuss the significance of her Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl series, particularly with regard to celebrating the achievements of amazing trail-blazing women in history, in lieu of International Women’s Day on March 8th. We were blessed to have learnt about humanitarian, Caroline Chisholm in Jane’s first title (revisit our campaign here). Today, we’ll learn a bit about Queensland’s first doctor, Dr Lilian Cooper (Book #2), and opera singer, Dame Nellie Melba (Book #3), and we can’t wait for the other inspirational women to get to know in the remaining books in the series! Thank you, Jane, and Happy International Women’s Day! 🙂
International Women’s Day is a time for reflecting on and celebrating the achievements of women. I feel as if that’s something I’ve been doing every day of the year since embarking on my children’s historical fiction series, ‘Carly Mills, Pioneer Girl’.
The Carly Mills books feature a contemporary girl who goes back to the past to have adventures with women who have changed the world.
One of the trickiest parts of planning this series was choosing the historical figures. There are so many! Initially I intended to feature Australian women, but that would have ruled out some wonderful contenders, so I opened it up to the world. I borrowed books from the library on remarkable women from history, I read biographies, I browsed through blog post after blog post on the ten or twenty or hundred most influential women in history. While none of this widening the field made my choice any easier, it did give me an enormous appreciation of those women who paved the way in life for me and other women.
I’m lucky. I’ve never been made to feel less important because of my gender; I’ve never lived in a family, school or society that made me feel as if being a woman should limit my options. I’m fully aware that not everyone – even in Australia – is in my fortunate position. But if it weren’t for the achievements of the women I’ve researched, we all – women AND men – would be far worse off.
Consider Dr Lilian Cooper, Queensland’s first female doctor and the subject of the second Carly Mills book, Emergency! What a character! She wanted a career in medicine but was educated in England in a time when women could not sit their final exams there. So after studying in London, she had to do her exams in Scotland. She passed, of course, and the following year she emigrated to Australia. Despite initial prejudice against her, Dr Cooper soldiered on and by the end of her career was a highly respected surgeon.
When I asked kids at a primary school recently who went to a female doctor, more than half put up their hands. What a change! And it wouldn’t have happened if not for the courage and perseverance of people like Dr Cooper. (Courage wasn’t all I found to like in her, by the way. As I said, she was a real character. She was known to be blunt – even rude – and yet was beloved for her kindness. A teetotaller who swore and scorned corsets and fashion; a founding member of what is now the RACQ; a woman who, at fifty-something, ignored Australian Army advice to stay home and knit during the First World War, and instead joined the Scottish Women’s Hospital to serve as a surgeon in Serbia.)
The latest (third) Carly Mills book, Superstar, features a very different woman: opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. Nellie Melba (born Helen Porter Mitchell) represented Australia’s first step away from ‘cultural cringe’. She was our first major artistic export – a woman whose talents charmed the world. But she never forgot her roots. She took her stage name from Melbourne, the city of her birth, and famously said, ‘If you wish to understand me at all, you must understand first and foremost that I am an Australian.’
Nellie Melba encouraged other aspiring singers – both by her own example and actively by tutoring them and promoting their careers – to follow their dreams too. She achieved success despite opposition from her father and husband, who considered a career on stage unsuitable for a lady. Again, courage and perseverance got her there. Nellie wasn’t perfect (who is?) but she made an enormous difference both to the lives of individual women and to the cultural landscape of our country. In a time when Australia seems to value the arts a little less every day, I find her story a fascinating study. And I haven’t even begun to talk about her charitable works!
The first Carly Mills book featured Caroline Chisholm (a humanitarian who was way ahead of her time), and books four and five, to be released later this year, will focus on Florence Nightingale and Amelia Earhart respectively. I can’t wait to take kids on a flight across the Atlantic with the intrepid Amelia! Now there was a woman who excelled at everything she put her hand to.
So many women, such a variety of talent, and so many strong and fascinating personalities. Through Carly Mills, I want to bring their stories to children of today – to bring those women to life, warts and all. They had so much life in them that it’s not such a hard task. I’m grateful to them all.
Amelia Earhart once said, ‘Some of us have great runways already built for us. If you have one, take off! But if you don’t have one, realize it is your responsibility to grab a shovel and build one for yourself and for those who will follow after you.’
This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate all those women who built the runways.
Article by Jane Smith.
Jane Smith is a Queensland librarian, author and freelance editor with a particular interest in history. Her books include the non-fiction ‘Australian Bushrangers’ series and the ‘Tommy Bell: Bushranger Boy’ historical fiction series for children, as well as two books for adults: the biography Captain Starlight: The Strange but True Story of a Bushranger, Impostor and Murderer and Ship of Death. Three of Jane’s children’s books have been listed for significant Australian literature awards. In her spare time, Jane enjoys reading, singing in a community choir, and having coffee and cake with friends at what they loosely call ‘Book Club’.
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SPECIAL! Join Jane Smith and four other *amazing* Australian women writers next week for a special International Women’s Day Event!