A NSW Government website

Women in history

Women have played a vital role in shaping the society and culture of NSW and Australia throughout history. The Blue Plaques program celebrates the achievements and contributions of these amazing women, many of whom became a driving force in their chosen field and challenged the status quo.

From celebrated artists, authors and actors to aviators and activists for education, health and emancipation, these pioneering women continue to inspire generations of Australians.

A formal portrait of Bessie Robinson wearing a dark dress, standing next to a table with a vase of flowers.
Elizabeth Jane Robinson. Image courtesy of the Rygate Family Collection

Bessie Robinson

Elizabeth Jane (‘Bessie’) Robinson was a businesswoman who drove the development of the central west town of Canowindra and advocated for quality public education. Bessie’s land stretched from present-day Gaskill Street to Clyburn Street. The Old Vic Inn now stands on the site of The Victoria Hotel built on Bessie’s land, which she ran from 1868 until the early 1900s. In the early 1870s Bessie began campaigning for better education in Canowindra. In 1875, the government agreed to set up a state school. Bessie was also instrumental in building modern-day Canowindra, developing her land for residential and commercial purposes.

Read more about Bessie Robinson

Black and white picture of two storey house with colonial balcony.
Inglewood, now Woodlands circa. 1892. Ethel Turner is on the verandah (right) with sister Lilian (left); their stepfather Charles Cope is below and astride a horse.   Image Courtesy of National Library of Australia, Philippa Poole Photograph Collection, and Peter Poole 

Ethel Turner

Ethel Turner is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors. Woodlands is the house where she wrote the children’s book Seven Little Australians, a classic coming-of-age story of wilful, rebellious siblings under the care of a rigid father. With its portrayal of Australian family life at the turn of a new century, Seven Little Australians continues to endure in literary folklore. It is the only Australian children’s book to have remained continuously in print since its publication in 1894.

Read more about Ethel Turner

Photograph of May Gibbs working at her rented studio on Bridge St in Sydney. May is seated behind an easel, looking to camera holding a paintbrush. On a table next to her is a vase of native foliage and a series of her artworks for the Daily Mail are framed on the wall behind her.
Portrait of May Gibbs c. 1916 . Image Courtesy of National Library of Australia

May Gibbs

May Gibbs is one of Australia’s best-known children’s authors and illustrators. Drawing inspiration from the Australian bush, May’s watercolours of gumnut babies, big bad banksia men, kangaroos and kookaburras shaped generations of children’s responses to nature.

As Australia’s first full-time, professionally trained children’s book author and illustrator, her works continue to delight readers to this day.

Read more about May Gibbs

Black-and-white photo showing Nancy Bird Walton standing casually in front of an old-fashioned aircraft wearing full aviation gear, including a cap, with goggles pushed up over her forehead
Nancy Bird 1933 on wheel of Metal Moth VH-VOP belonging to Tammy Petherbridge - PXE 787. Image Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales 

Nancy Bird Walton

Nancy Bird Walton was a pioneering Australian aviator and founder of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association. She spent the first four years of her life in Kew, later launching a career flying planes in outback New South Wales, Europe and the United States.

Adventurer, patriot and trailblazer, Nancy forever changed how women were seen, both on the ground and in the skies.

The Western Sydney International Airport at Badgerys Creek is to be named in her honour.

Read more about Nancy Bird Walton

Formal portrait of June Bronhill taken in London in 1954. June wears long white Opera gloves and holds a crystal goblet. There is a hand-written note on the lower right of the photo by June saying “Love to Val & John from June (illeg) 1955
June Bronhill, London, 1954. Photographer Denis De Marney. Courtesy Broken Hill Outback Archives no. 90/1/248 

June Bronhill

June Bronhill was an Australian soprano who became a celebrated star of light opera during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Born June Mary Gough, she took the stage name Bronhill in recognition of her birthplace, Broken Hill. With a diamond-sharp voice and impeccable diction, June scored prized lead roles in opera, operetta, musical theatre and television in London and Australia. In 1994, the auditorium at the Broken Hill Civic Centre was named the June Bronhill Auditorium in her honour.

Read more about June Bronhill