The Coolest People in Australian History

Tania McCartney (photo)
Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is one of our favourite visitors and — hooray! — today she’s visiting again. We’re celebrating her newest book Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend. This is the fifth book in the ‘Aussie Heroes’ series of junior historical fiction, it’s an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8–12. (Illustrations are by Pat Reynolds.)

Tania is on a blog tour to celebrate the book. You might remember when Tania launched her book Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline, she gave us Ten Reasons Why History is Exciting. Today she’s here with her list of The Coolest People in Australian History. Awesome!

Over to you, Tania.

There’s a saying you may have heard: fact is stranger than fiction.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that Real Life — and the many quadrillions of things that happen in Real Life — are often more shocking, more exciting, more adventurous, more interesting, funnier and crazier than anyone could ever make up in a storybook.

History and its stories are particularly stranger than fiction — and the further you go back in time, the more bizarre these stories can be. Some of you may have read the Horrible Histories books, and you’ll know exactly what I mean!

The history of the Australian people is, of course, many thousands of years old. It all began when our First People arrived — some say over 60,000 years ago. Other than the precious relics of our Aboriginal stories and cave paintings, our country’s recorded history is a lot shorter than that — just over 200 years.

In that time, many people have dedicated their lives to shaping this great country of ours — standing up against injustice, providing a helping hand or creating something beautiful. There are simply too many people to choose from, but I’ve chosen five people I think are some of the coolest Aussies in history.

To me, these people are cool because they were either brave or talented — or both. The brave ones were ferociously brave. The talented ones were the best in their field.

I wonder who will make this Cool Aussies list in 100 years’ time. Will it be you?

  1. May Gibbs (1877–1969). Cecilia May Gibbs was an artist and author responsible for the beautiful Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie series of children’s books (among many others) that celebrate our Australian flora. Once upon a time, the only books Australian children had to read were from British or American authors! May Gibbs was one of the very first authors with a true focus on Australian life and our environment, and of course, many Aussie authors have since followed in her footsteps. Very cool indeed.
  2. Donald Bradman (1908–2001). Australia is a nation of sport-lovers and quite possibly our most famous Aussie sportsman would be Sir Donald Bradman. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. He was such a fine cricketer, people said he was the equivalent of three batsman, not just one. He was also cool because he was a vibrant, entertaining sportsman; his skills would attract enormous crowds. I must admit, I still don’t ‘get’ cricket but there’s no doubt Mr Bradman was probably responsible for making it so popular.
  3. Ned Kelly (c.1855–1880). Some people would argue that a murderous bushman is not the coolest of historical Australians, but much has been written in support of Ned Kelly — that he was misunderstood and targeted by the authorities — perhaps even set-up. Some have even called him a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. When he was hanged at age 25, his final words were ‘such is life’.
  4. Eddie Mabo (1936–1992). Eddie Koiki Mabo was born in the Torres Strait Islands and was a champion for Indigenous land rights. He was deeply committed to forging a landmark decision with the High Court of Australia that allowed Aboriginal people to claim back the land that was taken from them when white man arrived in Australia. Today, we celebrate Mabo Day on 3 June every year, in honour of Eddie’s important achievements. Not only cool — awesome.
  5. Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877). Caroline was born in England but emigrated to Australia with her family, where she began helping the penniless, homeless young women sent by boat to Australia. As more women and families began to arrive, Caroline helped them find work and housing. She also reunited families and improved appalling conditions on immigrant ships and on the Victorian goldfields. Caroline helped families make the best of terrible situations and dedicated her life to the wellbeing of others. Not much cooler than that.

What do you think of my 5 Coolest People in Australian History list? Do you agree with it? Who would be on your list and why?

Leave a comment below, with YOUR top 5 Coolest People in Australian History, and I’ll publish your picks on my blog! Make sure you leave your first name and age with your comment.

~ Tania McCartney, author of Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend.

Caroline Chisholm - book cover

Do you want to know more about Tania McCartney and her new book? Check out the other stops on the Caroline Chisholm Blog Tour.

8 thoughts on “The Coolest People in Australian History”

  1. Celine, 11, WA

    I like your choice of cool people in history; one of your coolest people in your list is in mine as well. Here’s my list:

    1. Mary Haydock
    Mary Haydock ran away from the house where she was in service at the age of 13, disguised as a boy. She was caught stealing a horse and was sent to seven years transportation. When she was a convict, she married a free settler and businessman Thomas Reibey. Thomas died in 1811. Mary expanded many businesses, raised her family, and became extremely rich and did many charitable works. Her portrait is on the twenty-dollar note.

    2. Ned Kelly
    Ned Kelly is one of those people who some think is a villain and some think is a hero. I personally thought that Ned Kelly was a villain, but after I went into further research about Ned Kelly, I changed my mind. He’s cool!

    3. John Simpson Kirkpatrick
    Simpson was an ordinary boy who at the age of 21, signed up to go to war. He found a donkey, and used him to help carry wounded soldiers back to the hospital. John and Duffy (his donkey), saved many lives and was beginning to be known to lots of the enemies, and they were beginning to be angry. One day, a Turkish soldier sneaked up on John and shot him. Duffy still continued to take the wounded soldier to the hospital because he had already memorised the path. This made not only John Simpson Kirkpatrick a hero, but his donkey as well.

    4. Andrew Barton Paterson
    Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo Paterson) wrote the words to the famous song “Waltzing Matilda”. I think he is one of the coolest people in history because he wrote about what people were doing in the rural areas of the country that he loved.

    5. Jandamarra
    Jandamarra was friends with an Englishmen called Richardson and joined the police force with him. However, when he was assigned to kill his own people in jail, he refused. Instead, Jandamarra changed sides and freed his own people. From then on Jandamarra was on the list of “wanted”. I think he’s cool because he never betrayed his own people.

  2. Joseph 9 WA

    1. Donald Bradman – he was a great cricket player
    2. AB (Banjo Paterson) because of his bush poetry.
    3. CJ Dennis who also wrote bush poetry
    4. Cathy Freeman – a very fast runner
    5. Fay Kathleen Howe – she lived on Breaksea Island in a lighthouse in WA and even when she was still a girl she used to pass on telegraph messages from soldiers on passing ships to the soldiers’ families during the war.

  3. Matilda, 7 (WA)

    I like Banjo Paterson because of his poems and May Gibbs because I like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and my Great Nana because without her I wouldn’t be born.

  4. Pippa, 11, WA

    1. Howard Florey who discovered Penicillin
    2. Edmund Barton – Australia’s first Prime Minister and he pushed for Federation
    3. Mary MacKillop – the first Australian saint
    4. Lionel Logue – the Australian speech therapist who helped King George VI
    5. Can I put me? 🙂 I’m a poet, writer, musician, composer, editor, book reviewer, publisher, scientific discoverer, mathematician … and more to come!

  5. Jamie

    My Five coolest People in Australian History
    1. Ned Kelly the famous bushranger.
    2. Sir Donald Bradman amazing cricketer
    3. Captain Cook found Australia.
    4. C.Y. O’ Connor a famous engineer who built water pipelines and got water to Kalgoorlie gold fields.
    5. Banjo Patterson famous for his poetry.

  6. Wow, guys – this is SO COOL! Thank you for all your wonderful comments. I loved reading them.

    Matilda – I really love Banjo and May, too–some of my fave people.

    Jamie – I had never heard of CY O’Connor! Thank you for educating me.

    Joseph – I had also not heard of Fay Kathleen Howe. Thank you!

    Celine – I loved your detailed responses and learning about these amazing people. I think it’s fantastic to learn about people who were more ‘behind-the-scenes’–it’s so enriching!

    Yes, Pippa, you CAN put yourself! I love it. And I can’t wait to see what you do with your life… what ALL of you do with your lives!

    I’m going to leave it another couple of days, just in case anyone else comments over the school hols, then I’m putting all these fabulous suggestions on my site.

    Well done, everyone!

    I’ll be back soon…


  7. Hey kids! I’m delighted to forward you a link to my blog–with all of your responses to my 5 Coolest People call out! Thank you SO much for responding with your brilliant answers. I loved every one of them. You can see the link here

    And I’ll also be publishing your words on Kids’ Book Review during Children’s Week (21 to 28 October) so make sure you check out the website during that week. I think some of you may also be posting reviews on KBR during Children’s Week!

    Happy reading, all! So lovely to e-meet you, and hope we’ll be in touch again soon. Maybe think about entering my Writing Competition? It’s being hosted by Soup Blog– just click the competitions link above.



  8. I would like to add William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta Aboriginal man who lived from 1860-1941, formed the first national Aboriginal organisation in Melbourne, met the Prime Minister and petitioned the King of England to lobby for the advancement of his people and led the only known private protest worldwide against Kristallnacht, the start of the Holocaust. I have written his biography which is also a history of contact between Aborigines and settlers to today – Would anyone be interested in reviewing it?

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