by Whispering Gums

The second part of a two-part series on sources, for those interested in reading and researching Australia’s 19th- and earlier 20th-century women writers, including those who may not have achieved prominence in their lifetimes, or whose works have been forgotten and/or overlooked. In this part, the focus is secondary sources, that is, on where you can find information and writings about the authors and the period. Click on the link for the first part on Primary Sources.


Online sources

Please note that not all online sources are available for free use. Most that aren’t can be accessed via your library membership, sometimes remotely, but sometimes only at the library itself.

  • AustLit: an online, encyclopaedia record of Australian writers and writing, created and maintained by researchers and librarians from Australian universities, led by the University of Queensland. Mostly pay-walled, but there is limited guest usage, or researchers can access via their library.
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography: comprehensive online (and print) dictionary of national biography covering over 13,000 people from a wide range of fields, including writers. Contains, at the time of writing, entries for people who have died up to 1995.
  • The Australian Legend’s AWW pages for Gen 1 (1788-1890), Gen 2 (1890-1918) and Gen 3 (1919-1959): compiled by Bill Holloway, each page contains an introduction to the relevant generations of Australian women writers, plus lists of the writers, some works and links to blog content from contributors.
  • Australian Literary Studies: a subscription-based peer-reviewed journal of “Australian and international literary scholarship and criticism” that was founded in 1963. It’s coverage of Australian literature is deep and broad, and articles can be found on many of our major women writers from the nineteenth century to the present.
  • JSTOR, an online database, which provides full-text searches of past and current academic journals, books and similar works in the humanities and social sciences. Most access is by subscription (which most major libraries have for their users) but some is public domain, with free access available. (There are others, such as ProQuest’s suite, but libraries can help researchers with specific needs find the best database/s for them.)
  • Search engines (like Google, etc): the ultimate database, but you need good search strategies to narrow your search,  and you sometimes end up with content behind paywalls.
  • Trove. Newspapers and Gazette database: as well as being a good source of stories and serialised novels published in Australian newspapers, from the beginning of newspaper publishing in Australia in 1803, Trove also contains reviews and commentary on Australian writing, writers and literary events and organisations. It is truly a treasure trove.
  • Wikipedia: online encyclopaedia containing a wealth of information about Australian women writers. Besides containing articles on  individual women writers, there’s the List of Australian Women Writers page, and categories like Australian women novelists and Australian literature by year (which will point you to a plethora of pages like 1860 in Australian literature).

Printed sources

Printed sources range from bibliographies and encyclopaedic style listings to more discursive books and monographs discussing periods, themes or groups of writers.

Bibliograhies, companions, directories, surveys etc

  • Debra Adelaide, Australian women writers: a bibliographic guide (1988): a comprehensive list of all Aussie women writers (to 1988), including a brief description of and a list of works by each writer.
  • Maryanne Dever and Anne Vickery, Australian Women Writers 1900-1950: An exhibition of material from the Monash University Library Rare Books Collection (Catalogue, 2007, also available online): contains an essay introducing the exhibition, followed by interpretive text for the 145 exhibits.
  • H.M. Green, Australian Literature: 1900-1950 (1951) and A History of Australian Literature, Pure and Applied (1961; rev. ed. 1984, by Dorothy Auchterlonie)a critical review of literature, broadly defined, from the First Fleet to 1950, with lesser coverage to 1960.
  • Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australia literature, 2nd, index and a survey of Australian writing, presented chronologically, from 1789 to 1988.
  • Nicholas Jose (ed.), The Macquarie PEN anthology of Australian literaturean anthology of Australian literary writing across all genres from over two centuries, including First Nations writing. Includes essays on the selections, and 500 samples of work from over 300 authors (of all genders).
  • Leonie Kramer and Adrian Mitchell, The Oxford history of Australian literature (1981): reassessment of Australian literature, focusing on the movements of ideas about literature, rather than on a straight historical approach.
  • Colin Roderick, The Australian novel: A historical anthology (1945): contains biographical notes on nineteen Australian novelists, with extracts from their works.
  • Michael Sharkey, Many such as she: Victorian Australian women poets of World War One (2018): an anthology, but also a useful list of twenty-four poets associated Victoria and who published significant work during the First World War. Also includes an overall introduction, and biographical information of the poets included. (Online sampler.)
  • Elizabeth Webby (ed), The Cambridge companion to Australian literature: contains essays on the major writers, literary movements, styles and genres seen as relevant to discussions of Australian literature at the time of pulbication.
  • Elizabeth Webby, Early Australian poetry: an annotated bibliography of original poems published in Australian newspapers, magazines and almanacs before 1850
  • William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton and Barry Andrews, The Oxford companion to Australian literature (1986): contains over 3000 entries on Australian literature from 1788 to the 1990s.


This section is necessarily highly selective, and limited to some major scholarly writings that focus on Australian women writers up to the mid 20th century. Many of these may not be currently in print, but will be found in some libraries and second-hand bookshops.

  • Debra Adelaide (ed), A bright and fiery troop: Australian women writers of the nineteenth century (1988): a collection of essays covering writers like Louisa Atkinson, Catherine Helen Spence, Ada Cambridge and Tasma.
  • M Barnard Eldershaw, Essays in Australian Fiction (1938; rep 1970): essays by literary collaborators, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw, on their contemporaries/near contemporaries, Henry Handel Richardson, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Christina Stead and Eleanor Dark.
  • Geoffrey Dutton (ed.), The literature of Australia (1964): essays on Australian literature from 1788 to 1964, with a bibliographical guide to that literature and its criticism.
  • Dale Spender, Writing a new world: Two centuries of Australian women writers (1988): a “women’s literary history” covering over 200 writers from 200 years of white settlement in Australia.
  • Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945 (1981): studies the lives and work Australian women writers, such as Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Pritchard, M. Barnard. Eldershaw, Nettie Palmer, Eleanor Dark, Jean Devanny, Dymphna Cusack and Betty Roland.
  • Geordie Williamson, The burning library: Our great novelists lost and found (2012): discuses the lives and work of selected Australian novelists, of all genders, “many of whom have unjustly disappeared from the public imagination”, including a few “older” women, such as M. Barnard Eldershaw and Christina Stead.

I was tired of the general disparagement of AustralianLiterature in its country of origin as well as abroad) and I was tired of the particular disparagement of women writers; and I was sorely tried by the unsubstantiated and unsatisfactory explanation that the reason there were so few women writers included in the literary canon and studied in educational institutions was because so few women writers were any good. How could this be known? How could the expert to tell? (Dale Spender, Introduction to Writing a new world)

As with Part 1 on Primary resources, please add to the comments any source you know of, and we will add it to our list.


Whispering Gums, aka Sue T, majored in English Literature, before completing her Graduate Diploma in Librarianship, but she spent the majority of her career as an audio-visual archivist. Taking early retirement, she engaged actively in Wikipedia, writing and editing articles about Australian women writers, before turning to litblogging in 2009. Australian women writers have been her main reading interest since the 1980s.