• Eliza Reilly

Eliza Reilly on Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History

Eliza Reilly is a writer, performer and author of Sheilas: Badass Women of Australian History, out now

Let’s be blunt. There aren’t enough women in our history books. Even when there is a woman we can name for doing something cool in Australia, she is usually someone who is law-abiding, nice, on time, a winner, a mother, a wife, and most importantly: media trained.

Leaving the rest of us ferals without role models or inspiration for getting through the tough stuff. I found my biggest longing for a ‘shero’ came in the moments before I had to do something ‘out of line’ for my gender, like asking for a raise, setting a personal boundary, celebrating an achievement without apologising, or getting through the first day of the menstrual cycle during tax time. I’d wonder, surely there are women in our history who had to do way more heinous stuff than, for example, blocking an ex online or smuggling recreational drugs into a music festival? Well, I’ve got some fantastic news...There are!


If you’ve never taken a moment to drag your gaze away from your own fantastic cleavage, you’re probably naive to this prolific World War II spy. Or you’re not a baby boomer – boomers love World War II. Basically, if you’ve never heard of the girl who sent terror through the heart of every Nazi, that means you’re like me.

Nancy Wake was a WW2 spy who was so good at killing Nazis'; she ended up on the top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list.

She was known for smuggling French soldiers over mountains, throwing grenades into SS meetings, and for her love of a good cocktail. When she was asked to describe herself; Nancy replied that she was "someone who loved nothing more than 'a good drink' and handsome men 'especially French men.'" By karate chopping Nazi’s to death while wearing a neat red lip, Nancy Wake taught us that women are just as capable as being fearless killers as men.

MARY ANN BUGG - Bushranger

In the mid-1800s, Mary Ann Bugg was one of the most kick-ass bushrangers to roam Australia. However, for obvious reasons (racism, misogyny, y’know.. the classics) she was largely erased from our History. Leaving the glory and fame to be stolen by her bushranger husband, Captain Thunderbolt. Mary Ann’s deep knowledge of local country and her ability to straddle both the white English world and her own, were two of her biggest superpowers. Mary Ann was also a boss bushranging mother who had thirteen children. That means she was pregnant for one hundred and seventeen months – that’s nearly ten years of her life. She is proof that behind every great Aussie bushranging man there is an even more badass bushranging Sheila. A bold Worimi woman, she was one of the few female First Nations bushrangers in Australian history.

DEBORAH LAURIE — Commercial Pilot

The first woman to become a pilot with a major Australian airline after winning a landmark sex discrimination case against Ansett Airlines. They argued “women's menstrual cycles made them unsuitable”. LOL, sorry bros. All of this stuff would be merely jaw-droppingly amusing if it wasn’t so often flung at women who are just trying to apply for a job they’re qualified for, or simply asking for respect when they get one. ‘I just wanted to fly,’ Deborah says. ‘That’s all it was ever about.’ Deb still flies commercial planes all times of the month.

When you start looking, Sheilas can be found everywhere. But being a Sheila has nothing to do with being ‘good’. It seems obvious, but apparently it’s not. Simply put: you don’t learn the big lessons in life only from the ‘good’. Women have been harnessed and weighed down with the obligation to be history’s martyrs for a hot minute too long. So thanks, patriarchy, for telling us over and over that being a ‘good girl’ is the only way you can be a ‘valued girl’. Thanks, but no thanks. To me, a Sheila is someone who holds multiple truths at once. A Sheila can save the world and change it for the better; that does not mean you would want her to come around for cupcakes. That does not mean her kids like her. That does not mean that she has great fashion sense. A Sheila is someone who saw how the majority did it and said, ‘Fuck that.’