A wealth of women
The extraordinary experiences of ordinary Australian women from 1788 to today
This was a centenary history, published in 2001 at the centenary of federation. Someone in Canberra had the bright idea of asking people for stories of women in Australia, and getting a historian to write a history of Australian women using this material. For some reason, they asked me, an unknown Tasmanian, to write it.
This was challenging. It was hard working with a Canberra department. People there knew nothing about writing histories and tended to look on it (understandably, I suppose) as a government report. The head kept on changing, and in a year I worked with, I think, three different heads and four different project managers. Then there was the material – a huge amount. How could I turn stories of about 300 women into a narrative history? The Olympics were on while I was writing it, in 2000, and for a fortnight I just gave up and watched TV.
But I had a deadline, I had to get it finished, and I did. Colleen McCullough launched it in Canberra, wearing dramatic pyjamas. I liked her. She said what she thought, a nice change from the bureaucrats. I also liked the minister, Amanda Vanstone, for much the same reason. ‘I thought this book was just going to be another boring publication we commission’, she said to me, surprised, ‘but it’s actually interesting!’ It didn’t set the world on fire, though.