Tracey discusses writing Nancy Bentley the First Australian Female Sailor
Part of the research for this book involved a trip to Port Arthur, Tasmania to see the location and view Nancy’s home.
Smith O’Briens cottage is very small. It contained two rooms and a wooden ladder that led to a loft upstairs. It must have been very cramped with so many children.
Having explored the open headland I stood where Nancy had stood to look out and imagine I could see the enormous warship in the harbour, just as she had.
However, I didn’t linger once I discovered snake holes right where I was standing!
Getting bitten by a snake was not what I needed. Port Arthur is still quite a distance from medical help.
A little background information on Nancy Bentley:
Nancy was born on 6 October 1914. She was the third eldest child of seven children born to Frank and Beatrice Bentley. In 1920, the HMAS Sydney docked in Port Arthur Habour Tasmania, after routine fleet duties in the Pacific. While playing outside, Nancy was bitten by a venomous whip snake. Faced with the fact that Nancy would not survive the journey to the doctors in the nearby town, Frank Bentley rowed his daughter out to the ship to seek help.
At the time, the King’s Regulations and Admiralty Instructions didn’t allow woman to be on board a naval ship. In order for Nancy to remain on board, she was officially enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy. Eight days later, Nancy was officially discharged from the navy because she was ‘required by her parents’.
Captain Cayley awarded Nancy the Good Conduct medal and another special gift-her very own sailor’s uniform.