Life sentences

t’s time to update an important register of eminent people in Australia’s history, as Professor MELANIE NOLAN , PhD ’89, explains.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) project was begun in the 1950s and now there is general agreement that its earliest volumes need to be revised.

Not only has more information about many of the subjects become available, there is also a glaring gender imbalance in those volumes – women account for only 1.8 per cent of entries in volumes 1 and 2. If you take the whole colonial period, women fare slightly better, with four per cent of entries.

To improve the gender balance we have decided to add 1,500 new entries to the dictionary of women who flourished during the colonial period. As a first step, we are compiling a list of possible candidates for inclusion.

Eora woman Barangaroo, a consort of Bennelong, is on the list. It is thought Barangaroo ( -1791), a fisherwoman and woman of great authority, was present at the meeting of Aboriginal women and white newcomers in February 1788, an event painted by William Bradley. The Sydney suburb Barangaroo, which is part of the territory of her people, is named after her.

Lucy Hannah Applewhaite (1833-1909) is another candidate. She featured in a recent episode of the SBS program Who do you think you are? about the forebears of singer, former MP and political activist Peter Garrett.