Great Australian Writers:
Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar is best remembered in Australia for the
second verse of her poem My Country (1908):
love a sunburnt country,
land of sweeping plains,
ragged mountain ranges,
droughts and flooding rains,
love her far horizons,
love her jewel-sea,
beauty and her terror –
wide brown land for me!
Those words so aptly describe the Australian continent.
Dorothea wrote the poem, originally titled Core of My Heart, while living in England. At 19 years of age, and homesick, she poured
her heart into verse – contrasting the countryside of the 'old country' with that of her home. Many Australians, and
others, may not realise the first verse describes England and concludes with the emphatic words: My love is otherwise.
Born on 1 July, 1885,
at Point Piper, Sydney, Dorothea was the third of four children and only daughter of a prominent family. Her father, a noted
physician, also served as a Parliamentarian in the New South Wales colonial government.
Although a city girl by birth, Dorothea spent time on her brothers' properties in western New South Wales around the town of Gunnedah. Her knowledge of and love for the Australian bush developed
during that time.
Dorothea received private tutoring and later attended Sydney University, but never
formally enrolled as an undergraduate. A talent for languages enabled her to act as family interpreter when they travelled;
she spoke French, German, Italian and Spanish fluently.
collaboration with Ruth Bedford, Dorothea wrote two novels (The Little Blue Devil, 1912, and Two's Company, 1914),
and one novel herself, Outlaw's Luck (1913).
While living in London,
at age 28, she fell in love with an English poet, Patrick Chalmers. Back in Australia, before the start of World War I she obtained her parents' approval to marry and wrote to Chalmers. The letter
was apparently lost and Chalmers married another woman. Dorothea was heartbroken and never married.
One particular poem, The Waiting Life (1926), revealed her as a woman to whom responsibilities
came first, and enjoyment later:
Since it befell, with work and strife
I had not time to live my life
I turned away from it until
be done and strife be still.
My hands and head for use are free,
Nor does my own life worry me,
But docile as
a spaniel waits
Until this present stress abates.
Tranquil it breathes, and waits, I know,
With all its joy contained.
I hope when I have time to play
My life will not have run away!
She travelled widely during the 1920s and 30s, and her writing appeared in many respected journals, such as the
London Spectator, American
Harper's Magazine and the Sydney Bulletin. Several of her poems were translated into German, Spanish, French
her lifetime, four volumes of her poems were published: The Closed Door (1911), The Witchmaid (1914), Dreamharbour
(1923) and Fancy Dress (1926).
Dorothea Mackellar died on 12 January, 1968, in Sydney after a
period of ill health. Shortly before her death she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her contribution
to Australian literature.
Her poem Colour (1909) was read during her funeral service. The last verse is a fitting prayer
from a woman who lived a full and inspiring life:
be to God, Who gave this gift of colour,
Which who shall seek shall find;
Thanks be to God, Who gives me strength to
Though I were stricken blind.
Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards
The Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards, now recognised as the oldest and largest poetry competition for schoolchildren
began in 1984. The aim of the competition is to 'ignite a spirit of patriotism amongst Australia's youth, similar to that felt by thousands of
adults upon reading Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem, "My Country".'*
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