We ended 2013 on a high with a thirteen percent increase in the number of reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs compared to 2012.  Last year Challenge participants wrote 141 reviews in this category, a big increase on the number reviewed in 2012.

The Challenge is about bringing attention to as many of Australia’s women authors as we can, not just the small number of already famous writers. Reviewers of histories, biographies and memoirs excelled in finding a large number of books to write about. As a result 111 authors of books in these genres had their work reviewed by Challenge participants.

Reviewers preferred to review recently published books. Over fifty percent of reviews were of books published in the last two years with thirty percent of reviews covering books published in 2013 alone. If you are interested in a recently published book it is worth your while checking our lists of reviews for the first and last half of 2013 as well as for 2012.


am-I-black-enoughAs I mentioned in the mid-year review, memoirs were the most popular genre in this category comprising over half of the total reviews. Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss continues to resonate with Challenge readers receiving four reviews this year from Melissa Phillips, Marilyn Brady, Whispering Gums and Kevin Rennie.

lucy-family-alphabetJudith Lucy’s account of her life and her family, The Lucy Family Alphabet was published in 2008 yet it is still a popular book with Challenge participants attracting reviews by deborah_B, Cassie and Janine Rizzetti. A winner at the NSW Premier’s History Awards, The Mind of a Thief, by Patti Miller was the other memoir to receive three reviews: from Melissa Phillips, Anna Maria Dell’oso, and deborah_B.

Patti Miller, The mind of a thiefIt is notable that both Am I Black Enough For You? and The Mind of a Thief are books about our indigenous history and how we are grappling with it today. Eighteen reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs in 2013 were about books about our Aboriginal past and present. Participants wrote eleven reviews of books which were authored by indigenous women in 2013. We hope that even more books by indigenous women will be reviewed this year. If you would like to read one but don’t know what is available, have a look at the long list of books in Anita’s Black Book Challenge. Keep an eye out for other books by indigenous authors which Jessica White features in her regular Diversity posts.

boy-lost-olssonThe Mind of a Thief won the community and regional history prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2013. Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson was another award-winning memoir. About a mother whose son was snatched from her arms while leaving an abusive husband, Boy, Lost won a Queensland Literary Award for non-fiction in 2013. It was reviewed by Jessica White.

Green Vanilla Tea Marie Williams“A stunning and moving work of memoir” is how Challenge reviewer, Nike Sulway described Green Vanilla Tea by Marie Williams. Written by the wife of a man who suffered from early onset dementia this book was the winner of the 2013 Finch Memoir Prize.

Prizes, awards and wins. I am highlighting award-winning books in this overview because in 2013 Australian women writers won a large number of the most prestigious awards in Australia for the histories, biographies and memoirs they wrote. A highlight was the NSW Premier’s History Awards where women won every prize on offer for books in 2013.

Australian women write quality books.


larrikins-bellantaChallenge readers also reviewed some winning histories. Larrikins: A History won Melissa Bellanta the Ernest Scott Prize for a history of Australia or New Zealand (or colonisation) and was reviewed by Janine Rizzetti.

There is a history of everything, including the issue of lost children in the Australian bush. Curious? Read more in Janine Rizzetti’s review of Babes in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image by Kim Torney.

Day_to_Remember_FrenchIt was great that we received some reviews of histories written for children. Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker reviewed Jackie French’s WWI history, A Day to Remember. Mel @ A Subversive Reader reviewed another Jackie French history, Gold, Graves and Glory, which covers the history of Australia between 1850 and 1880. Jackie French won the award for the Young People’s History Prize at the NSW Premier’s History Award. No-one wrote a review of her winning book Pennies for Hitler in 2013 or her shortlisted book, Dingo: The Dog Who Conquered a Continent. These are books that participants might like to review this year.

Wright Forgotten Rebels EurekaQuite a few books were released in the lead up to Christmas.  I reviewed one of these, Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright.  In this book Wright features the women of the goldfields and their work, a history which has been forgotten since those revolutionary days.

swindler's progress mckenzieThe last review we received for this category in 2013 was Janine Rizzetti’s post about The Swindler’s Progress by Kirsten McKenzie. “This is the best book that I have read this year”, she declared. It is a fascinating tale of impersonation and identity traces that covers various places in the British Empire of the nineteenth century.

Janine Rizzetti has written a tremendous number of reviews for the Challenge this year as well as other reviews. She wrote sixteen reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs, more than double of that of the next most prolific reviewer. She also reviews other genres, writing a total of twenty-five reviews for the Challenge this year. Swindler’s Progress must be a standout.


Butler Kittys WarThe big winner at the NSW Premier’s History Awards was Kitty’s War by Janet Butler. This biography of an Australian nurse serving during WWI received three reviews for the Challenge, from Christine, Janine Rizzetti and Yvonne Perkins.

Another award-winning biography is Toyo by Lily Chan. It won the Dobbie Literary Award in 2013. This biography of Chan’s Japanese grandmother was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith.

Women write about war and they write about big business. Melissa Phillips reviewed House of Hancock: The Rise and Rise of Gina Rinehart by Debi Marshall.

What better way to finish this overview of Challenge reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs than to highlight two biographies about Australian women writers?

madeleineTarla Kramer enjoyed reading Guiluia Giuffré’s interviews of Australian women writers which was published in 1990. Whispering Gums reviewed Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John by Helen Trinca.

Both Madeleine and Boy, Lost were shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

And Something Quite Different…

liquid-nitrogenOne book reviewed last year rises above the confines of genre. Its form is poetry.  Challenge reviewer, Magdalena Ball, identified it as belonging in the history and life writing category. Yet we glean from Magdalena’s review that this work is something quite beyond anything that we usually encounter in these genres.

The book, Liquid Nitrogen, won the poet Jennifer Maiden, top honours at the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards announced a few days ago. Maiden won the Victorian Prize for Literature as well as the prize for poetry. Her work stood out above a field that included the work of some of Australia’s most celebrated authors.

Maiden’s book demonstrates that there are many ways of telling life stories. Read more about Liquid Nitrogen in Magdalena Ball’s review.


It is the large number of participants who have built this Challenge into the force it is today. Sixty six contributors wrote reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs in 2013. Take the time to browse through their reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs for the first and last half of 2013 as well as for 2012.

Thankyou to all the participants for writing these reviews. You opened up my eyes to books I would not have otherwise come across. Your insights stopped me in my tracks and expanded my horizons.

We look forward to another bumper year of reviews!

About Me

I’m Yvonne Perkins. For the last few years I have been working as a research assistant on a variety of historical projects one of which was an investigation of the history of teaching reading in Australia. Currently I am researching the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of soldiers who served in World War I. In my spare time I enjoy reading history and writing about it on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past. I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.