10 Aussie Women you’ve never heard of who Changed the World

You wouldn't believe what they have done

7 March 2018

Article heading image for 10 Aussie Women you’ve never heard of who Changed the World


By the age of 24, Rosie had set up a not-for-profit child welfare organisation called foundations.(au) and a home for at-risk Ugandan children, known as -our-place’. These safe havens were established after her first trip to East Africa in 2009. Rosie’s vision was to have a world where all children were safe, educated, healthy and most importantly, felt loved. Rosie is also the co-founder of Institute for Global Women Leaders (IGWL) http://www.igwl.org/. Rosie has spoken to over 5000 Australian Year 11 and 12 female students about leadership, contribution and the power of young women. In 2013 Rosie received a New South Wales Young Citizen of the Year Award. 



Jan is the chief executive officer of the Foundation For Young Australians. She has spent over 25 years helping grow and empower youth and help them lead positive change in the world. Jan has set up industry approved programs like YLab, which focuses on putting young people at the forefront of global issues. Innovation Nation grants participants $1000 to create ideas for social change in their communities. Jan also backs young disadvantaged indigenous people from the Northern Territory and Western Australia helping them get an education and thriving beyond the learning environment. Jan was awarded membership to the Order of Australia in 2000. She is a pioneer for social enterprise and a role model for female entrepreneurs.




Elizabeth is Tasmanian-born and in 2009 became the first Australian woman to win the prestigious Nobel Prize in recognition for her work and achievements in physiology and medicine. In 1978, Elizabeth joined the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley where she and Carol Greider co-discovered the enzyme telomerase. Telomerase are believed to play a role in the ageing process and diseases like cancer. Her research has opened up new pathways in treating cancer and researching ways to stop the ageing process from illnesses like dementia. Elizabeth is respected worldwide by her peers for her scientific accomplishments and her leadership and integrity.





Miles published her two novels, My Brilliant Career (1901) and All That Swagger (1936) and won acclaim worldwide. Miles, an Australian literary great, moved to the US in 1906 to work on alleviating woman’s suffrage as a feminist.  She worked in Chicago for just under 10 years before coming back home. Miles was a strong advocate for Australian storytelling and literature, supporting writers and literary journals. She joined the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1933. The world famous Miles Franklin Award was set up as part of her will, as she bequeathed her estate to fund the award. The suburb of Franklin, in northern Canberra and the nearby primary school Miles Franklin Primary School are named in her honour. 




Edith’s name may not be familiar to this generation of Australians, but if you pull a $50 note out of your purse or wallet you will see her face. Edith was a champion of women’s rights in Australia and was the first woman elected to an Australian parliament in 1921 via the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia, as a member of the Nationalist Party. In the early 1900s she fought for the rights of prostitutes and disadvantaged children. Edith collected food and clothing for soldiers at the front line and set up systems to help care for soldiers returning home from battle during World War I. Edith was recognised as being one of the first advocates of sex education for children in schools.




Fiona was born in England and emigrated to Australia in 1987. She commenced her medical career while in London and focused on plastic surgery while combining research, innovation and surgery. Fiona was accepted at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Sussex in the burns unit, which started her lifelong journey in helping burns victims. She was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia in 2003, the 2003 and 2004 West Australian of the Year and the 2005 Australian of the Year for her work on “spray on skin” which alleviated burn scars. Fiona is also recognised as an Australian Living Treasure. She believes that burns medicine will always evolve with new research, greater technological advances and new ways to treat sufferers.



Dame Nellie was Australia’s first acclaimed opera singer. She was born in 1861 in Melbourne, and took part of her name from her home city – “Melba”. Nellie went on to achieve fantastic success in Europe in the late 1800s and was one of the biggest celebrities in the world, conquering New York. She created a music school in her hometown of Richmond, Victoria, which she later merged with the Melbourne Conservatorium. When World War I commenced in 1914, she raised over 100,000 pounds for war charities, and was honoured as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire as a result. In 1927 Nellie became the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time magazine. Her image appears on the $100 note. In 1987 the ABC produced a mini-series based on her life, called “Melba.”



Justine, along with her husband Daniel and friend Jarryd Burns, started their organisation called “Thankyou” and commenced selling bottled water in 2008 to give communities in developing nations access to clean drinking water. They expanded to body care and food products to fund sanitation and food delivery projects and have just entered into New Zealand and the baby market. When they started their business they discovered that almost 1 billion people didn’t have access to safe drinking water. Thanks to their work, and others, that number has decreased to just over 600,000 people. Thankyou now stocks water, food, body care and baby products and has given over $5.5 million to water, sanitation, food and child and maternal health projects in 20 countries. 




Steph set up Project Futures in 2009 and has raised over $5 million dollars to stop sexual slavery and human trafficking by empowering women to take action and lead in their communities worldwide. Steph was visiting Cambodia when she picked up The Road of Lost Innocence, the memoir of international human rights activist Somaly Mam. In the book, Mam tells her story of being sold into sexual slavery, and her work to help other young women after she escaped the horrors of exploitation. The book ignited Steph’s passion to end sex trafficking. A year later, she'd organised a charity bike ride through Cambodia with a group of 20 people. She founded the not-for-profit Project Futures in 2009, with a mission to "engage a generation" and "end sex trafficking". Steph stood down as CEO in 2017 but is focused on combining her corporate knowledge and not-for-profit heart to continue to help others around the world.


Nancy, better known as the White Mouse, was born in New Zealand but moved to Australia as a young child with her family. She lived in France with her husband when World War II commenced in 1939, with Nazi Germany invading and occupying vast areas of France within weeks. She became a leading figure in the French Resistance movement and became a secret agent, working to get people out of France and to safety. In 1943 Nancy became  the Gestapo's most wanted person with a 5-million-franc price on her head, meaning that she needed to be extracted to Britain and separated from her husband. The feared German police, the Gestapo, labelled her the “Whtie Mouse.” Immediately after the war, Wake was awarded the George Medal, the United States Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and thrice, the Croix de Guerre. She learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, she worked for the intelligence department at the British Air Ministry, attached to embassies in Paris and Prague.

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