Renowned La Trobe historian listed for multiple literary awards

Dr Clare Wright, Associate Professor of History and ARC Future Fellow was shortlisted for this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in the Australian History category for her work You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World.

You Daughters of Freedom The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World (Text Publishing) is the second book in Professor Clare Wright’s democracy series, following The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

Clare, Professor of History at La Trobe and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, was listed for multiple prizes following the 2019 release of You Daughters of Freedom, including the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Australian History category), the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) Book Prize and the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award.

We spoke to Clare briefly before she left for London for the U.K. release of You Daughters of Freedom.

How long did it take you to research and write the book? What were the challenges?

This book was sort of lightning. The previous book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka was my post-doc that I did at La Trobe - that took about ten years to research and write. This book from the beginning of research, to book on shelf was eighteen months. In the actual writing period I wrote 10,000 words a week for sixteen weeks. It was actually almost traumatically quick – like a baby that’s born on the way to the hospital in the car!

You Daughters of Freedom: The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World centres around the lives of five women - what inspired you to write about these women in particular?

These five women were all Australian political activists. After Australia won its globally ground-breaking achievement of giving white women political equality - the right to vote and the right to stand for parliament - these five women went to work for the British suffragette movement.

I wanted to write about not just one particular woman because I needed to highlight that the suffrage movement was a collective movement of action. To suggest that these kinds of paradigm-shifting moments in our political history could be put down to the efforts and achievement of one person would be misrepresenting the truth.

I could have written about more than the five – but that’s about as many characters a human reader can keep in mind. My books are based on scholarship and I write narrative non-fiction that’s very character driven. I want my readers to identify with the characters, see the world through their eyes, - to feel that sense of transformation that happens over the course of their lives. These five were also the ones whose names kept coming up over and over again in the archives. They worked for the British suffragettes. Many of them were household names – we’ve forgotten them now, but in their own era they were known not just in Australia, they were known internationally.

Why is so important to read about and learn about the suffragettes in 2019?

We’re now used to the term ‘disruptor’ and grassroots community campaigns and actions like feminism, and me too, and anti-domestic violence campaigns. We feel that they are disruptive campaigns. The suffrage campaigners were the original disruptors. They were the ones challenging the status quo. They were challenging the power structures, they were challenging male privilege, and they were challenging male entitlement.

They were doing it ways that were highly visible, highly co-ordinated and internationally co-ordinated. I think it speaks a lot about the way they were able to create change – real, lasting, meaningful, structural change. It’s really important to the story of how we continue on with unfinished business. The fact that women’s lives have changed so much over the last century, and yet some of the campaigns that those suffragettes started – like the equal pay campaign, like the domestic violence campaign - we are still fighting today.

Also - this book is second in my democracy trilogy. What I’m attempting to do is write women back into national history. Often when there are books that take a gender lens, they are considered to be niche, marginal or about women and therefore only of interest to a small interest to a group of people. Whereas what I’m doing is writing Australian political history - I’m re-writing the story of Australia with the women who were there as nation-builders, written back into it.

This book is just as much about Federation - the achievements and the flaws of our Federation, and the disenfranchisement of indigenous people, the racism that underpins that era of Australian nationalism. But I’m really reinstating the notion that this era - the Federation era of achievement and its capacity and its incapacity is the most important story that we have to tell in Australia. That it is more important, or at least just as important as some of the other narratives - in particular ANZACs and World War One.

What is next coming up for you?

The first book in the democracy trilogy, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, is being made into a television drama series. This will be an international co-production with La Trobe investing in it through its strategic innovation fund.

I work in the most wonderfully supportive and creative department. The history program at La Trobe is such a terrifically fertile and fun environment in which to work, and I can’t imagine working from any other base.  Last week Nick Bisley, Head of School – Humanities and Social Sciences launched a new podcast featuring myself and my colleague and co-host Yves Rees. The Archive Fever podcast features intimate conversations with writers, artists, curators, fellow historians and other victims of the research bug.

Key Publications

You Daughters of Freedom : The Australians Who Won the Vote and Inspired the World

· Shortlisted, Prime Minister's Literary Awards, 2019

· Longlisted, CHASS Australia Book Prize, 2019

· Shortlisted, University of Southern Queensland History Book Award, Queensland Literary Awards, 2019

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

· Winner, Stella Prize, 2014

· Winner, Waverley Library Award for Literature, 2014

· Shortlisted, Prime Minister's Literary Awards, 2014

· Shortlisted, NSW Premier’s History Awards, Australian History Prize, 2014

· Shortlisted, WA Premier's Book Awards, 2014

· Shortlisted, Queensland Literary Awards, University of Southern Queensland History Book Award, 2014

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