The Nazis called her ‘the white mouse’ for her ability to evade capture. But Nancy Wake was significantly less, well, mousey than her code name might suggest.
This was a woman who helped thousands flee persecution during World War II.
Who landed on the Gestapo’s most-wanted list, with a five-million Franc price on her head.
Who snapped a German munition factory guard’s neck. With. Her. Bare. Hands.
Who today is remembered as one of Winston Churchill’s most highly decorated secret agents and an Australian-bred war hero.
But you’d be forgiven for not knowing Nancy’s achievements, or even recognising her name. For history, and the crusty white dudes who write it down, have a tendency to muffle stories like hers. (I mean, to be fair, it says it right there on the tin – his[s]tory, ‘n’ all.)
Presenters/comedians/ Eliza and Hannah Reilly (Growing Up Gracefully) are eager to change that. Their new web series, Sheilas, produced by Giant Dwarf with support from Screen Australia, celebrates “the badass women of Australian history”.
Nancy Wake. Swimmer Fanny Durack. Bushranger Mary Ann Bugg. Feminist activist Merle Thornton. As they put it, “pioneering, tough-titted ladies who hiked up their petticoats and fly-kicked down the doors of opportunity.”
The sisters developed the series after they came to the realisation they could only name male icons of Aussie history; that was, after all, all they’d been taught at school.
“We feel it’s really important to look back at the achievements of the bold and badass women before us, and not take their struggles for granted,” Eliza told Mamamia. “They’re so inspiring when you think about the times in which they lived and how much courage it took for them to stand up to the status quo.
“We hope viewers will come away with a bit of that courage for themselves. And a few LOLs.”
Nancy Wake’s story.
So technically Nancy is a New Zealander, which we’re going to gloss right over because a) she moved to Australia at 20 months, and b) she’s definitely ours, OK? Good.
Born on 30 August, 1912, her restless spirit and fierce temper is said to have been forged by her father’s decision to abandon her mother and all six children when Nancy was just four years old.