Healing Powers of Sisterhood

Author Alison Lloyd's newsletter #5

Scroll down for a double dose of sisters, and more:

  • a portrait of the Stone sisters in colonial Melbourne

  • a link to a new short story

  • Romans from my reading

  • an update on the cover dilemma

  • and a new Australian film

Doctor, doctor

One of my sisters, who is a doctor, had a birthday this week. To celebrate sisterhood, and women doctors, this newsletter’s portrait is of a pair of pioneering Australians.

Clara and Constance were the daughters of a Melbourne builder. Constance, the older sister, wanted to study medicine, but the University of Melbourne would not let women into the course. Undeterred, Constance went off to study in the USA and Canada instead. On return to Melbourne in 1890, she became the first woman to register as a medical practioner in Australia. The following year her sister Clara was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Melbourne’s medical school.

The sisters set up in private practice together. Some of their early cases must have been confronting. The Argus newspaper reported in 1891 on the post-mortem of a 6-month old baby. The child’s single mother had paid a ‘nurse’ 10 shillings a week ‘for its keep’, presumably because the mother had to go out and work for a living. By the time Constance Stone was called in to see the baby boy, he was so ‘dirty and emaciated’ that he died the next day.1

Constance also examined a nine-year-old girl who accused an adult man of rape. (Again, he was supposed to be her carer. The tradition of evil step-parents and abused orphans found in fairytales and Charles Dickens had a basis in reality, it seems.) Dr Stone attested to ‘partial rupture’, physical evidence of the crime, but the jury found the accused not guilty.2

In 1896, Constance, Clara, their cousin Emily and eight other female doctors set up Australia’s first hospital ‘for women, by women’. It began as a clinic in a church hall, became the Queen Victoria Hospital in 1899, and served Australian women for almost a century.

You could say the Stone sisters made a rock-solid contribution. They were caring and enterprising, like my modern sister. Happy birthday Caroline! And much gratitude to all those working in the cause of women’s health.

Like a short story to read?

I’ve written a new piece of historical fiction featuring another pair of sisters. Here it is, if you feel like a trip back in time. Or if you like thoughtful, hopeful stories :)

Your comments are welcome! Reader feedback helps me know when my writing is good, or not there yet.

Leave a comment

From my Bookshelf

I really do love ancient settings. I settled into the opening chapters of the latest bedside book with a sigh of pleasure. A Man at Arms by Steven Pressfield is about a mercenary sent by the Roman army to capture a secret letter. His quest becomes entangled with a teenage boy and a mute girl. It gets bloody, and a little improbable, but I enjoyed the adventure. In Chapter 2 an omniscient narrator (unusual in modern novels) gives a four page explanation of the historical setting, which I liked:

Rome built roads… The Romans dug wells… They constructed forts… They bound the land with strongholds and arteries of military transport as a jailer binds a prisoner with manacles and chains. Then there was Roman administration. To her armies of foot and horse were appended battalions of clerks and functionaries… But the most revolutionary reordering was neither hewn from stone nor enforced by the sword. It was this:


The daily post.

Rome brought the mail, and the mail brought the world.3

Where’s the Red Button? update

Thank you everyone who gave your views on the cover options posted in the last newsletter. It’s always enlightening to hear opinions other than your own. Apologies for the technical glitches some had with the images.

Turns out there are a lot of elements to juggle on a book cover. After considering everyone’s feedback, we ended up using a different image. Then the never-ending tweaks we made felt like Alice-in-Wonderland nibbling on her mushroom, trying to reach the right size — bigger, smaller, up a bit, down a bit… But finally we’ve settled on this:

Hope you like it!

Now to get the inside right. I’m not kidding — while the book is written, it’s about to be edited, and then it gets its own interior design. More on this project later…

The Drover’s Wife

In edition #4, I talked about Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, and likely inspiration for ‘The Drover’s Wife’. Indigenous writer Leah Purcell has done her own take on that classic story. Her version is more about marauding men than actual snakes. See the movie trailer by clicking on the image.

If you liked anything in this newsletter, you are welcome to share it with others:

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A longer account of this 1895 case, written by the granddaughter of victim Ethel Wilkinson, is online


Abbreviated extract from A Man at Arms, by Steven Pressfield, W.W. Norton, 2021, pp12-14.

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