Nancy Bentley, the eldest of seven children, was born in 1914 and was raised in Smith O’Brien’s cottage in the ex-penal colony of Port Arthur. In 1920, when Nancy was just 6 years old, the HMAS Sydney docked briefly in Port Arthur harbour. Playing outside and listening to the navy band with her siblings, Nancy was bitten by a whip snake. Knowing she would never survive the journey to Sorrell for treatment, Nancy’s family knew their only hope was to seek help from the HMAS Sydney.
Rowing her to the warship in a small rowboat, Nancy’s father begged the captain to take his daughter onboard and treat her – which he gladly did – but therein lie a curious problem. Under the king’s orders, it was forbidden for females to be aboard a naval ship, so in order to keep Nancy under the watchful eye of the ship’s surgeon, the captain announced he would have no other choice but to enlist Nancy in the Royal Australian Navy . . . as Macot Bentley 000001 – Australia’s first female soldier.
This gorgeous book by Canberra author Tracey Hawkins gave me goosebumps all the way through. Warmly told, the story of this lovely little girl highlights the rich tapestry of historical events that make our country so unique.
Beautifully-designed and featuring truly lovely watercolour illustrations by Jacqui Grantford, the book comes complete with a facsimile of Nancy’s Certificate of Service and an author’s biography note detailing her story. This heartwarming tale is one children all over Australia will feel proud to know.
Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Solider is published by New Frontier.