Patricia Jean "Patsy" Adam-Smith was born in Nowingi, Australia, and adopted as a child by railway workers. She grew up in a number of small country towns. During World War II, she enlisted as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse and served from 1943 to 1944. After the war, she became the first female radio officer aboard an Australian merchant ship, serving from 1954 to 1960. She then got a job as an Adult Education Officer. In 1970, she became Manuscripts Field Officer for the State Library of Victoria, a position she held until 1982.
She was a prolific writer on a wide range of subjects, including history, folklore, and railways. Her award-winning 1978 book The ANZACS was adapted into a 13-part television series.
She published her autobiography in two parts separated by 30 years, Hear The Train Blow (1964) and Good-bye Girlie (1994). Other notable works included Australian Women at War (1984) and Prisoners of War (1992). She received the Order of Australia in 1994 for her services to community history, particularly through the preservation of national traditions and folklore and the recording of oral histories.