The startling truth is that Taking to the Field is the first complete history of Australian women in science. As in so many areas, women have played a role that has been largely unrecognised and uncelebrated across the sciences – even though, as far back as a century ago, there were scientific fields where women outnumbered men.
When, in 2009, Tasmanian-born molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn was, along with two colleagues, awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, she became the first Australian woman to win a Nobel Prize. The news was met with stories focusing on her as a gender crusader rather than the breadth of her research into the biological process, which resulted in the founding of a whole new scientific field.
Sexism has long prevailed in the lab, where women were given marginal roles, and at schools, where girls were not even taught some sciences – physics, for example, was considered the domain of men (biology, however, was fine for girls). It was commonplace for Australian male scientists to claim as their own and plagiarise the work of their female peers, who took on positions even though, by and large, they were not encouraged, and this book celebrates those who persevered.
Carey places the discussion in its rightful context, where Australian science, genocide and eugenics meet, and includes discussion about the expert knowledge of Indigenous women. This is an enthralling and enraging book for all students and lovers of history.