Review Blog

Feb 03 2012

Nancy Bentley the first Australian female sailor by Tracey Hawkins

cover image

New Frontier Publishing. 2011. ISBN 9781921042768
Suitable for children up to 8 years. This picture book is set in Tasmania. It relates the true story of an incident in the life of Nancy Bentley. Following a snake bite Nancy needed a doctor urgently. Her desperate father decided that the closest doctor was the ship's surgeon on board the HMAS Sydney at nearby Port Arthur. So, her father put her into a row boat to get her treated as quickly as possible.
The rules at the time did not allow women on board, and the Captain had to officially enlist Nancy into the RAN. Thus, aged 6 years old in 1920, Nancy became the 'first Australian female sailor'. Following her recovery Nancy was awarded a Good Conduct Medal and taken on a short voyage to Hobart to the movies as a special treat. Did Nancy really sail from Port Arthur to Hobart on the HMAS Sydney without her parents?.
Although this story is told in a narrative form, the language is formal. At times the story seems disjointed. On one page the ship is heading out to sea and on the next page it has arrived in Hobart.
There is an old-fashioned cover and stylised, naive illustrations. They are uninspiring but quite suited to an 'olde world', quaint story such as this. There are interesting endpapers covered in a variety of documents related to Nancy's story. At the back of the book we find a more formal biography of Nancy's life and a copy of her RAN Certificate of Service.
It is a curious narrative. I am unsure of the motivation for telling Nancy's story. She seems to be an ordinary girl. And this incident would surely have had little influence on Australian naval or feminist history.
Margaret Strickland

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