These days, most people have never heard of Violet McKenzie, affectionately known to 'her girls' as Mrs Mac.
She was the first woman in Australia to enrol in an engineering course – much less graduate with a diploma. She ran her own business, The Wireless Shop, which thrived against the backdrop of Sydney's CBD.
But above all, by the end of WWII, she had trained more than 10,000 servicemen and 3000 women and established the Women's Emergency Signalling Corps. Yes, this woman was most definitely boss babe in her time.
Although in bubble. we usually celebrate women who have started up small businesses in their 20s in the current climate, we were deeply captivated by this book that championed a woman who achieved so much during a time when women weren’t seen as anything more than a housewife. It’s truly important that we appreciate, understand and recognise boss women from times before us.
Violet McKenzie didn't get into university, and instead took the pathway of a diploma. She was refused jobs on the basis that she was female, and was subject to jealous masculine opposition on a routine basis. However, she inspired men and women everywhere to never give up, and she is particularly inspiring for women hoping to get into STEM-based careers and for adapting to adversity in the face of social and economic turbulence – which could not be more timely and relevant.
Her biographer, Canberra-based PhD holder David Dufty, is passionate about championing Mrs Mac's work ethic in the face of adversity. He writes about her in an endearing way, but at the same time without ‘bias’. It’s a deeply factual – yet highly entertaining – read with a lifetime of research delicately delivered on the pages.
When Violet McKenzie made an appearance in this code-breaking book, in a chapter titled ‘Mrs Mac and her Girls in Green’, David was astonished to find his readership were more interested in Mrs Mac than the code-breakers he’d spent five years piecing together.
Throwing caution to the wind and letting The Sydney Morning Herald print his phone number, David was overwhelmed by the passionate response and the interviews that followed – with people who were electrified by the presence and authority of the ever-humble Mrs Mac.
All around Australia, former members of the Women’s Royal Australian Service and navy men regard Mrs Mac with a level of reverence usually reserved for saints ... which is well-deserved for this iconic Australian wartime legend.
This is definitely a must-read for history buffs, feminists, and those who just love to be constantly inspired.