5 australian books for international women's day

5 Australian Books To Read For International Women’s Day

Feb 25, 2024

We’re only a couple of weeks away from International Women’s Day, so I thought now would be a good time to share some Australian-focused books you can read to prepare your students for this day.

Of course, you can (and should) read these wonderful books all throughout the year as well.


What is International Women’s Day?

Held on March 8th every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the globe. It’s also a day to discuss, promote and celebrate advances in equality for women.

Fun fact: The first IWD occurred way back in 1911!


What are the colours of IWD?

Purple, green and white are the official colours of International Women’s Day. Purple signifies justice, dignity and being loyal to the cause, green represents hope and white represents purity.


Books to celebrate International Women’s Day

In this post I wanted to highlight amazing Australian women who have helped to shape our nation. The following picture story books are a great collection to start discussions on advances in equality for Australian women in particular. 


1. Protest in Australia

Plenty of research supports the critical relationship between background knowledge and reading comprehension. For this reason, I strongly suggest starting your International Women’s Day discussions by reading the Women’s Suffrage information in Sue Lawson’s book, Protests in Australia.

This double-paged spread provides a basic outline of Australian women’s rights over time, including highlighting the work suffragette women did to successful obtain the right for Australian women (including Aboriginal women) to vote.

Teaching ideas for Protest in Australia

After reading this book, I recommend constructing a visual timeline of events that you can add to as you continue learning about the achievements of Australian women. Having this visual reminder will assist students to better understand the biases, injustices and inequalities faced by many of the women in the other books recommend in this post.


2. Meet… Nellie Melba (1880s)

This is a fascinating read about an influential woman in Australia’s history: Nellie Melba. This book, written by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Claire Murphy, informs the reader about Dame Nellie Melba’s early life and her passionate desire to become a world-famous soprano singer. It outlines the countless obstacles Nellie had to overcome to eventually reach her goal and is a fantastic example of the power of dedication and hard work. This is a great book for reminding students that you can make a difference to the world through art and music (it doesn’t all have to be sport!)


Teaching ideas for Meet… Nellie Melba

Place Dame Nellie Melba’s life and achievements on the timeline of women’s history in Australia.

Discuss the context of the era in which Nellie grew up- what were some of the major challenges for women back then? Do a compare/contrast activity to look at the differences for women now in terms of careers, marriage, parenthood etc.


3. Eat My Dust! (1928)

Eat My Dust!, by Neridah McMullin and Lucia Masciullo, is a riveting non-fiction narrative that tells the story of two Australian women who, in 1928, broke the land speed record driving from Perth to Adelaide. Jean Robertson and Kathleen Howell faced much discrimination in their time, with many people -particularly men-doubting their capacity to achieve the goals they set for themselves. As demonstrated in this text though, this fabulous duo never ceased to believe in themselves and managed to prove all their doubters wrong along the way!

Teaching ideas for Eat My Dust!

Place Jean and Kathleen’s achievements on your timeline of women’s history in Australia. Use this contextual understand to discuss the events in the text.

The opening line the book is: “In 1928, girls don’t drive cars, let alone race them.” Ask students to discuss the meaning of this opening sentence. Put it in the content of your history timeline. What did girls do in this time?  Considering the social, economic and technological events at that time, what made this particular feat so incredible? What differences would be present if the two women were to compete in a driving race today?

Research some of Jean and Kathleen’s other amazing achievements (mentioned in the back of the book) and add these to your women’s history timeline.


4. Meet… Nancy Bird Walton (1933)

This "Meet…" series book, written by Grace Atwood and illustrated by Harry Slaghekke, tells the fascinating story of Australia’s first female commercial pilot, Nancy Bird Walton. Importantly, it outlines how she defied gender stereotypes to pursue her passion of flying. The story also outlines how Nancy went on to lead the first ever “Ladies Flying Tour” of outback Australia.


Teaching ideas for Meet… Nancy Bird Walton

Place Nancy Bird Walton’s achievements on your timeline of women’s history in Australia.

Read through the timeline at the back of the book and add her other achievements to this timeline as well.

Compare Nancy’s achievements with the women in Eat My Dust! How are they similar and different? Create a venn diagram to represent this.


5. Daughters of Melbourne (1800s to now)

Daughters of Melbourne: A guide to the invisible statues of Melbourne, written and illustrated by Maree Coote, is an absolutely stunning book that highlights 50 fabulous Victorian women.

It was while Maree Coote was writing a non-fiction guidebook about Melbourne that she realised there was a ‘complete lack of female Melburnians among our public statuary.’ In her research of Melbourne’s statues in 1999, she found, “Dead white men abounded, worthy and unworthy, local and foreign, on an off horseback, but no women. Not one.”

This book sets out to highlight 50 fabulous and talented women -from the early 1800s to the current day- who Coote believes are worthy of having a statue erected in their honour. She presents a compelling argument for each of them in her beautifully illustrated book.

Teaching ideas for Daughters of Melbourne

Note: Although the writing in this book is not necessarily aimed at primary school students, with guidance, students will be able to interpret the main ideas and injustices discussed on each page. Don’t let the complexity of the text deter you!

Read the section titled ‘On Visibility’ to open discussions about the visibility of women in society. This is a dense text so you may want to select specific parts of it and use a Close Reading protocol to work through it with your students. As with Sue Lawson’s book, this section will help build critical background knowledge, prompt questioning and provide rich discussion points for students.

Select one (or more) women to read about in this book. Add their achievements to your women’s history timeline.


Teaching ideas for International Women’s Day

  • Read though some of the texts mentioned in this post.
  • Compare and contrast the women mentioned in the texts.
  • Create a list of the values demonstrated by each of the women. Give examples of how they demonstrated these values.
  • Discuss the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of this group of women (the reason we celebrate IWD).
  • Talk about the impact each of these women had on shaping the future for other Australian women.
  •  Read my other blog post, 9 Picture Books Celebrating Women, to find other texts to read for IWD.


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