1. Beryl Mills
The “Ideal Australian Girl,” Australia’s First Beauty Queen
Born on January 3, 1907, in Western Australia, Beryl grew up to become the first Miss Australia in 1926 at the age of 19. Good looks aside; Beryl also attended the University of Western Australia in a time where women going to university was not the norm! While there, she was a successful athlete; she won swimming and diving championships, and was also the captain of the hockey team.
Beryl then went on a promotional tour in America to present herself as the “ideal Australian girl”—educated, poised, and athletic.
Using her celebrity status, Beryl continued on her legacy by founding the Beryl Mills Advertising Service in 1928 at the age of 21.
Beryl could have easily coaxed through life on her good looks and her fame, but she chose to strive to become the best woman she could be, and that’s what makes her a great Australian woman.
2. Fanny Cochrane Smith
Australia’s Advocate For Aboriginal Language Preservation
Born on December 1834 in Flinders Island in Tasmania, Fanny Cochrane Smith was best known as an Aboriginal linguist. She devoted her life to preserving as much of Aboriginal heritage as she could. From 1899 to 1903, now in her late 60s, she used wax cylinders to record Tasmanian Aboriginal songs and speech, which to this day are the only original recordings in existence.
Fanny Cochrane Smith dedicated her final years to preserving her heritage, her culture, and her history—and there’s nothing more inspiring than that!
3. Louise Mack
Australian Poet, & The First Female War Correspondent
Another great Tasmanian, born on October 10, 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.
When World War I broke out in 1914 she bravely reported from the front line for the Daily Mail and Evening News in England.
Louise Mack will forever be remembered for her courage; it takes incredible bravery to embrace the frontlines of a war over and over again.
4. & 5. Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie
Australia’s First Female Olympic Swimmers
In the early 1900s, the idea of mixed bathing was a heated debate. The 1912 Stockholm Olympics was the first Olympics to hold women’s swimming events. Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie are best known as the first ever Australian female Olympian swimmers.
At first, they were told they could not compete at the Olympics, on the grounds that the selection committee didn’t have the funds to send female competitors to the Olympics. A public uproar ensued and eventually, Fanny and Mina were allowed to compete so long as they paid for their own travelling and living expenses.
That year they both ended up winning medals; Fanny got gold at age 23, and Mina was awarded silver at age 22.
6. Edith Cowan
Born August 2, 1861, in Geraldton, Australia, Edith Dircksey Cowan was one of the first females who made waves in Australian politics. At the age of 59, she was the first woman elected to the Australian parliament.
As one of the most famous Australians in history, she co-founded the Karrakatta Club, a women’s group that successfully campaigned for women to have the right to vote.
If she looks familiar it’s because you likely see her face every time you open your wallet; Edith’s face is on the $50 note.
7. Miles Franklin
Australian Author & Women’s Rights Advocate
Miles Franklin is one of the most notable Australian feminists. Born on October 14, 1879, in Talbingo, with the illustrious name Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. In her very early-twenties she published her first and most iconic novel, ‘My Brilliant Career’. All her life, she was an eager advocate for women’s rights, she continued to write think pieces that were popular among her peers of authors, artists, academics, and feminists.
Miles Franklin was a strong and passionate supporter of Australian literature, which is why in Australia it is one of the greatest honours to be awarded The Miles Franklin Award.
8. Jane Foss Barff
Academic and educationist Jane Foss Barff was part of the second group of women to ever enrol in the University of Sydney. In 1886 at the age of 22, Jane graduated with first-class honours and three years afterwards became the second woman in Sydney to finish a Master of Arts degree.
Jane Barff was a founding member of Sydney University’s Women’s Society and throughout her entire life was a strong vocal advocate for women’s education.
Jane Barff remains one of the most notable of Australian feminist heroes thanks to her relentless championing for women’s education.
9. Dame Nellie Melba
Australia’s Most Famous Opera Singer
Born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1861; Nellie is known as one of the most prominent opera singers to ever come from Australia. She not only garnered recognition in her home country, but in Europe as well, where she was considered one of the greatest artists of her time.
After all this fame and fortune, she used her influence and wealth to give back to the community. During wartime she held charities to help the rehabilitation of those displaced by the tragedies. And started a music school in Richmond which was later merged with the Melbourne Conservatorium.
At the age of 65, she was recognised for her achievements and became the first Australian to ever model on the cover of Time magazine. If that isn’t evidence of her success I don’t know what is!
10. Evonne Goolagong Cawley
1971 Australian Of The Year, Tennis Player Extraordinaire
With 14 Grand Slam titles under her belt, at the young age of 20, Evonne Goolagong was named Australian of the Year in 1971. Talk about a running start! She eventually went on to become the #1 female tennis player in the world; a title she held for years.
Throughout her career, she has been a Sports Ambassador to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, and was also a vocal advocate of the health and wellbeing of young indigenous Australians, founding the annual Goolagong National Development Camp which helps train Aboriginal children to play competitive tennis. Evonne was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1988.