The old adage that “well behaved women rarely make history” has never been truer than here in Eliza Reilly’s Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History. Gathering together a batch of bonafide badasses in bonnets from across Australian history, Sheilas is a witty and engaging introduction to some of the country’s most interesting – and occasionally infamous – women.
From Worimi bush ranger Mary Ann Bugg and aviatrix Lores Bonney, to World War II spy Nancy Wake and 1960s protestor Merle Thornton, the range of Sheila seen here is vast and exciting – even if, as Reilly admits, we’re barely scratching the surface of just how many brilliant women have helped shape Australia. Consider it a jumping off point, with Reilly’s fun and imaginative take on these short biographies a sure-fire way to have you hankering for more.
The set-up is inventive and almost scrap-book like, with biographies accompanied by dry humour in the margins, fun photo captions, and extra information about the time included in “Shelia’s Guides” throughout. These include a frighteningly extensive list of ways to get yourself admitted to an 1800s mental asylum (you’ll find it worryingly easy to get a referral), a guide to suffragette self-defence, and some colonial cocktail recipes that I definitely regret trying this past weekend.
Reilly’s sense of humour won’t be for everyone – personally I love a sarcastic joke, an eye roll, and a bubble bath filled with the tears of white misogynists. But, the combination of gentle education with a side of sweary sass will definitely have readers heading to the library for bigger biographies of their favourite featured heroines. It’s also beautifully presented, making it a perfect gift for the kid that’s grown out of the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls you gave them for Christmas a few years ago.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Eliza Reilly’s Sheilas: Badass Women of Australia History is out now, through Pan Macmillan. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.