It’s difficult to maintain one’s good temper when reading this sumptuous biography of Margaret Sutherland. 

Who? The Australian composer, musician and social activist who had the misfortune to live and work across the first half of the 20th century, when musicologist Cecil Gray could blithely paraphrase Dr Johnson by writing in 1924 that “a woman’s composing is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

The cover of "Inner Song". Margaret Sutherland sits next to a piano, leaning her head on one hand. Manuscript is engraved over the top.

To be fair, although why one should be is unclear, he would have been unaware that in 1973 Sutherland would be the composer of the first opera to be recorded in Australia. Her one-act chamber work The Young Kabbarli featured not only Genty Stevens in the role of the fabulist and anthropologist Daisy Bates, but also a young David Gulpilil as “an Aboriginal singer”. It was recorded at Flinders University and it would be fascinating to have Sydney’s Conservatorium revisit it now under...