Eat My Dust!
Walker Books, 2023
32pp., hbk., RRP $A26.99
It is 1928 and despite proving their capabilities during World War I, most men still believed a woman’s place to be “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen”. Many who had stepped in to fulfil the roles and occupations traditionally taken by men had been relegated back to domestic duties, yet there were many who defied the prevailing practices and attitudes and chose to follow their dreams.
Among them were Kathleen Elizabeth Howell and Jean Ochiltree Robertson whose passion was driving and who, in 1927, had completed the perilous trip between Melbourne and Darwin mapping their journey and the mileages as they went from Melbourne to Mount Gambier and Adelaide before heading north through the Central Desert to Oodnadatta and Alice Springs and up through to Darwin, sending their research back to their sponsors, the Shell Oil Company, who used the information to produce their first map of the route to central Australia.
Even though they were well-known in the motoring circles of the time, were experienced in both motor mechanics and driving in the desert, in 1928 when they took on the the west-east speed record from Perth to Melbourne (having already driven from Melbourne to Perth) and beating it by five hours, it was the derision and discrimination of the men that proved to be a greater hurdle. Each place they stopped for fuel or food, they were met by those who felt that such a journey was not the realm of women. To which they tended to respond, “Eat my dust!” Thus, told as narrative non fiction, this new book provides both an introduction to two little-known heroines who paved the way for women to drive today, and highlights those attitudes offering an insight into how difficult it was to be female in a male environment and the opportunity to investigate the transition of women’s achievements and influence over the last century.
With the 2023 CBCA Book Week theme of Read. Grow. Inspire still fresh in our minds, this is another story that allows young readers to meet the pioneers who followed their dreams, inspired others and made something “abnormal” normal for today’s generations.