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Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters

Australia’s first female filmmaking team

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** Shortlisted, The Age Book of the Year Award 2023, Non-fiction **

The trailblazing McDonagh sisters were the first women in Australia to form their own film production company. Between 1926 and 1933, while they were in their mid-twenties, these sassy sisters produced four feature films and a number of documentaries.

The youngest, Paulette, was one of only five women film directors in the world. Phyllis produced, art directed, and conducted publicity. And the eldest, Isabel, under her stage name Marie Lorraine, acted superbly in all the female leads. Together, the sisters transformed Australian cinema’s preoccupations with the outback and the bush – and what they mocked as ‘haystack movies’ – into a thrilling, urban modernity.

Their private lives were equally adventurous, and their suitors included a famous magician, a wealthy rubber broker, a defrocked Anglican priest, and a number of silent film stars.

In Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters, Mandy Sayer reveals the sisters’ remarkable story, from daughters of a respected Sydney surgeon with a love of theatre and the arts, to their first feature film, Those Who Love (1926), an instant hit, and their controversial final film, Two Minutes Silence (1933). Today, their most famous feature, The Cheaters, is frequently screened at international film festivals around the world, most notably in New York and London, to rapturous reviews.

‘Engrossing and entertaining. An inspiration for filmmakers and artists today and anyone who dreams.’ — Jan Chapman

‘LOVE LOVE LOVE Mandy Sayer’s marvellous storytelling skills, showcased in this wonderful biography of the legendary filmmakers, the McDonagh sisters. As meticulously and thoroughly researched as an historical document, yet not just for film aficionados; it’s gossipy, fascinating and totally entertaining. A FABULOUS read, absolutely adored it!’ — Jacki Weaver

‘A welcome reminder of an early part of Australia’s rich, if beleaguered, film history.’ — The Sydney Morning Herald

‘Mandy Sayer’s Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters makes the long wait for a book about the Australian filmmaking team worthwhile. It’s a sparkling account of the sisters’ lives, well researched and timely.’ — Sharon Connolly, Australian Policy and History Network

‘For anyone interested in early Australian cinema and the bohemian lifestyle the McDonagh sisters embraced, this is a riveting read.’ — Jennifer Sommerville, Good Reading Magazine

‘Novelist, memoirist, and journalist Mandy Sayer captures the heady feeling of Jazz Age Sydney in her title, Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters, and in the book itself.’ — Desley Deacon, Australian Book Review