Dorothea Mackellar, OBE was an Australian poet and writer of fiction who has been credited with the composition of what is, arguably, Australia’s best loved poem. She wrote the patriotic My Country in 1904 when she was in England and the wistful, plaintive tone of the poem leaves the reader in no doubt how homesick she was for the country she loved. Her “bush” poetry was pretty much at odds with the professional, urban lifestyle that she enjoyed in her early years. She also took an active interest in politics, especially after women were granted equal voting rights to men in 1902 and she wrote and spoke about the need for the conscription of Australians as World War I approached.
She was born Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar on the 1st July 1885 at Point Piper, Sydney. Her father was physician and parliamentarian Sir Charles Mackellar and Dorothea’s home life was comfortable. Her family had originally emigrated from Scotland, her grandparents arriving in Sydney during May 1839. She had a mixed education, much of it private tuition given at home. She studied languages and art and the family took her on their travels across Europe, the Far East and America to enhance her education. This travel certainly helped Dorothea to become fluent in a number of languages and constant exposure to art and culture was a great way to develop her character.
She produced a substantial output of published work covering the years 1908-1926 and was one of the founders of the Sydney PEN Club (Publishers, Editors and Novelists) during the 1930s. Before this though she spent a period in England where she wrote her iconic My Country poem. It was published in the London Spectator magazine in 1908 although its original title was Core of My Heart. Much of the bush poetry that she wrote was inspired by periods spent on her brothers’ farms in New South Wales where she threw herself wholeheartedly into the rural way of life and was an accomplished horsewoman.
She published four volumes of poetry over a fifteen year period beginning with The Closed Door in 1911, this book being the first one to include My Country. Here is that poem:
Her final collection came out in 1926 and was called Fancy Dress. She was also an accomplished novelist although two of her titles were in collaboration with fellow writer Ruth Bedford. The two were keen actors as well and often acted scenes from their stories, but only in private for their own amusement. She was very family-oriented, considering it her priority to help her parents and siblings in any way she could. Perhaps, for this reason, she never married.
In recognition of her contribution to Australian literature Miss Mackellar received the OBE in the New Year’s Day Honours list of 1968. Tragically she had a fall only two weeks later and died of her injuries. She is fondly remembered though, especially by Australian school children who compete for the “Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards”, an annual poetry competition.
Dorothea Mackellar died on the 14th January 1968. She was 82 years old.