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Friday 17 April 2020

Australian Heroes, Pioneers and Adventurers Rediscovered: The Bounty of Australian Biographies

 The focus of this week's blog is biographies and the important part they play in the reading diet of young adults. This week Leanne shares the story of an extraordinary young Australian woman - Alice Anderson.  
A Spanner in the Works: The Extraordinary Story of Alice Anderson and Australia’s Only All-Girl Garage by Loretta Smith
Biographies have always been a great source of interest and enjoyment as l find delving into the lives of the famous, the infamous and the forgotten intriguing. Alice Anderson has been one of those forgotten Australian pioneers who deserve to be retrieved from the dusty annals of time and celebrated.
This biography is an excellent example of one woman’s extraordinary achievement in a previously ‘male dominated’ industry.
The author Loretta Smith has researched Alice’s life with a passion and impressive academic rigour, evident in the Notes for each chapter, and accompanying extensive bibliography.

A Spanner in the Works, Loretta Smith,
Published by Hatchette.
Alice’s life journey
From the end of the Great War and into the 1920s, Alice Anderson was considered a woman of 'rare achievement' who excelled as a motoring entrepreneur and inventor. Young, petite, boyish and full of charm, Alice was the only woman in Australia to successfully establish the first garage to service motor vehicles that was run entirely by women. She operated her garage, managed staff and trained women apprentices, without the financial backing of family or business partners.
“To be a garage  girl meant joining an elite team of capable young women led by a young woman with loads of personality and shrewd business sense…Garage girls tinkered with tools, got messy with oil and grease, and took to the road in a very public way” (p. 199).
In July 1918 Alice formed the first motoring club for women and established a driving school where women could learn, in a trusted, supportive environment, safe from male ‘scorn’ (p. 202).
She was a courageous adventurer who in 1916, ‘became the first woman to drive singlehandedly over the notoriously dangerous Black Spur [near Healesville]’ (p. 135). In 1926 accompanied by her friend Jessie Webb, Alice set off in a Baby Austin to navigate the 1500-mile journey from Melbourne to Alice Springs. She took on the challenge to prove that the smallest car off a production line could successfully complete the journey. The newspapers serialised and extolled their perilous adventures to the delight and amazement of their readers.

Unfortunately, less than a week after her return, Alice was fatally shot in her garage at the age of twenty-nine. Every newspaper in the country mourned her sudden loss. A coronial inquest concluded that Alice's death was accidental but testimonies at the inquest were full of inconsistencies. 
The legacy and impact of Alice's brief yet extraordinary life was limited by the attitudes and values of the subsequent era. Loretta Smith states:
“Tragically, any gains Alice had delivered to women in motoring in the 1920s had more or less evaporated by the 1950s. Anything to do with cars, other than driving, was acknowledged strictly as a man’s trade”. (p.319)
If we want our teenagers to become successful adults there is no better place to find positive roles models than in the lives of those who have changed our world for the better. Biographies have the capacity to expand the horizons of our students, challenge their perspectives and encourage them to view the world differently. Biographies can promote self-discovery through the experiences and stories of people they can admire and enable them to stand on the shoulders of giants.
In my view, A Spanner in the Works fits many of these criteria, it is a well-written and engaging book that will motivate teenagers, particularly girls, to discover the wealth of vicarious adventures and perhaps inspire personal possibilities.
Leanne Rands
President CBCA Tasmania
Smith, L. (2019). A spanner in the works: The extraordinary story of Alice Anderson and Australia's first all-girl garage. Hatchette Australia.

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