Meet the women paving the way for female innovators


Women have been changing the face of Australian innovation for over a century.  This week, which marks World Intellectual Property Day on 26 April, WOB takes a look at some of the remarkable women who, despite hardship and setbacks, have paved the way for today's female innovators.


Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. Today IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.

Many of the women listed below persisted with their passions and interests in a time when women were often discouraged from participating in the professional or academic spheres. And despite hardship and setbacks they paved the way for female innovators today.

Carolina Louisa Atkinson (Calvert) (1834 – 1872)

At 23 years of age, Carolina Louisa Atkinson became the first Australian woman to write a novel published in her own. The novel was called ‘Gertrude the Immigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life’ and was published by ‘An anonymous lady’ in 1857. She went on to publish many more novels and serials under her own name.

Carolina also made a large contribution to early botany. She was a regular contributor to the Horticultural Magazine and advocate of native plants – in 1865 she provided readers with a jar of native cranberry (Lissanthe sapida) jam in an effort to encourage people to eat the native fruit. You can find a large collection of Caroline’s drawings of Australian native flora in the Mitchell Library in Sydney.

Frances (Fanny) Leona Macleay (1793 – 1836)

Another writer and scientist, Frances Leona Macleay (Fanny) became well known through the letters she wrote to her older brother describing Sydney life from 1826-1836. She also had an active interest in science since childhood and became an accomplished artist who drew accurate scientific illustrations for her father, who was a reputable scientist. 

Mary Penfold (1820 – 1896)

Many have heard of Penfolds Wines, but not necessarily the woman that founded the winery - Mary Penfold. Winemaking was Mary’s interest and her husband’s interest was in giving it to his patients as he was convinced of the medicinal powers of red wine. They started with port and Sherry and then discovered clarets and Rieslings sold better. While the Penfolds couple planned the vineyard together, what had originally been conceived as an adjunct to a medical practice developed into a thriving and prestigious business due to Mary’s passion and guidance, according to Susanna De Vries in her book ‘Strength of Spirit: pioneering women of achievement from first fleet to federation’.

Constance Stone (1856-1902)

Constance Stone was the first woman to be registered as a medical practitioner in Australia, even though she was initially turned down as a student by the University of Melbourne because she was a woman.

After graduating Constance found it difficult to gain a hospital residency so she collaborated with 11 other women to form ‘The Women’s Hospital’ which became the ‘Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children.’ It aimed to treat working class women for free and abolish the ordeal of ward rounds, where women in mainstream hospitals who could not afford fees were forced to endure medical examinations by medical students who treated them in a patronising manner. These women were all active and unrelenting advocates for vaccinations and other humanitarian preventative measures that we take for granted today.

Florence Mary Taylor (1879 – 1969)

Florence Mary Taylor was Australia’s first female architect and engineer (structural and civil). She was finally able to gain accreditation at the age of 41, 13 years after graduating

With her husband she established the Building Publishing Company, a producer of trade and professional journals. They were also both founding members of the Town Planning Association in New South Wales. Florence had progressive ideas about town planning which she pursued relentlessly. However she struggled to be taken seriously at the time because she was a woman. Only towards the end of her professional life and after the death of her husband did her articles start to become highly regarded and taken seriously. 

Helen Taylor and Anita Walters

Two of Australia’s first ever female patent examiners – Helen Taylor and Anita Walters, were among the very first women to work in the IP field. Helen Taylor started working as a temporary examiner of patents in November 1950. After that she went on to become a patent attorney with Starfield & Taylor in Sydney in the 1970s and went on to work in Britain. She later returned to Sydney and became a consultant with Shelston Walters.

Anita Walters worked in patent examination and became the first female supervising examiner in the early 1970s before she retired in the mid 1970s.

Helena Rubinstein (1872 -1965)

Self-made millionaire and cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein created the first publicly-listed global cosmetics corporation, filing her now famous VALAZE trade mark with the newly formed National Patent Office in January 1907. Helena may not be the first woman to file a trade mark, but owning registration number 3544 put her right toward the top of what would have been a very short list of women owners 115 years ago.

Elizabeth Blackburn (1948 - present)

Elizabeth Blackburn is an Australian scientist who changed the world as we know it when in 1984, she and her co-scientist, Carol Greider, discovered the telomerase. It is the protective cap at the ends of eukaryotic chromosomes that prevent it from damage—this discovery has significantly impacted cancer and ageing research.


Professor Fiona Wood (1958-present)

In 1999, Perth-based plastic surgeon Professor Fiona Wood patented her spray-on skin technique which involves taking a small patch of healthy skin and using it to grow new skin cells in a laboratory. Fiona's spray-on skin technique played a key role in treating burns victims from the 2002 Bali bombings, and Fiona and her team are credited with saving the lives of 28 people.


Sally Dominguez (1969-present)

Sally Dominguez invented her most well-known innovation the Rainwater Hog, a rainwater tank which could be used in either horizontal or vertical orientation. Previously, rainwater collection and storage systems were quite large and expensive, but Dominguez's modular design allows for a far more accessible and customizable solution for homes, businesses, and schools.


Nicole and Simone Zimmermann

Australian sisters Nicole and Simone Zimmermann founded their label, Zimmermann, in Sydney in 1991. With over 600 designs filed over the last seven years, including 61 in 2021, the sisters describe their work as “sophisticated, clever and delicate”, with designs registered through the distinctiveness of their shape, configuration and pattern. Several stand-alone stores across the country and also stocked internationally showcase how successful the fashion brand has become.

Abigail Forsyth

Abigail Forsyth and her brother Jamie Forsyth are credited with the innovation and design of something we didn’t know we cared about until we did - the ‘reuse’ movement created by the KeepCup. Their story started in Melbourne with a simple idea, keep it and use it again. KeepCup has become a household item and a barista standard across the country. Protected by a design right, patent and trade mark, it highlights the importance of a good IP strategy. 

Information for this article sourced from

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