‘Artful Lives: The Cohen Sisters’ Book Launch

A painting of an island coastline, featuring sandbars, shrubbery, and the ocean off Timana Island, Queensland Australia
To the Islands, Timana


Wed 29 May 6:30pm - 7:30pm


Free, booking required


112 Acland Street, St Kilda VIC, Australia


Romance is in all of us. We long to fashion romantic careers for ourselves. We yearn to read those of others, whether they be of love, life, wealth – Valerie Frankel Cohen, 1936.


The Cohen sisters lived frugally, enjoyed mischief and flaunted their unconventional lifestyle. Raised in Melbourne and drawn to the tropics, their winters were spent painting, fishing and gardening on their tropical island in Far North Queensland. The sisters’ lives spanned the twentieth century, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and the making of modern Australia. Beginning as wealthy, young socialites, they gradually shed their skin to become genteel bohemians, painting and writing-more than anything, enjoying the milieu.


The new publication Artful Lives: The Cohen Sisters by author Penny Olsen and published by Melbourne Books explores the fascinating lives of these women. Hear from publisher, David Tenenbaum before an in conversation between the author and Lynette Russell.

Presented by Melbourne Books
Melbourne Books is an independent Australian publishing house founded in 2000 by its publisher, David Tenenbaum, who has over twenty-five years of book publishing experience. We publish a wide range of books: from biographies, cookbooks, art and architecture to social histories, travel, academic works and novels. We take great pride in producing each book as a considered cultural artefact.

Penny Olsen Speaker

Dr Penny Olsen is an Honorary Professor in the Division of Ecology and Evolution in the Research School of Biology. After a career as a field biologist and ecological consultant, she has is now mostly occupied writing books about Australian natural history and its recorders, both artistic and scientific. In 2011 she was invested as a Member of the Order of the Australia for her for ‘service to the conservation sciences through the study and documentation of Australian bird species and their history.’ Her most recent publications include a book about indigenous Australians’ contributions to our understanding of Australian fauna, Australia’s First Zoologists, Flight of the Budgerigar: An Illustrated History and Feather and Brush: A History of Australian Bird Art.

Lynette Russell Speaker

Lynette Russell (AM) is a Sir John Monash Distinguished Professor and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow. As a historian and anthropologist, she researches and engages with interdisciplinary research, cultural constructions of knowledge and knowledge production, material culture, the relationship between ‘race’ and gender, and Indigenous oral histories. She has recently contributed to the First Knowledges series produced by the National Museum of Australian and Thames & Hudson, co-authoring ‘Innovation’ with Ian J McNiven and standing alongside authors Bill Gammage, Lynne Kelly, Bruce Pascoe, and Marcia Langton