I LOVE A SUNBURNT COUNTRY: The Diaries of Dorothea Mackellar
Edited by Jyoti Brunsdon
Nt. Ryde, Angus & Robertson, 1990

The wonderful poem, “My Country” by Dorothea Mackellar, written in 1904, is known and loved by many Australians. The quandary is, why does almost everyone only know the 2nd verse of a 6-stanza poem, the starting line being “I love a sunburnt country”. The beginning and end of this poem are largely unknown and rarely recited.

This 2nd verse of “My Country” is the most recited verse of all Australian poetry. Even parts of this stanza have become commonplace in today’s vernacular, some 120 years later. Words like “a land of sweeping plains” and “droughts and flooding rains”, as they so aptly still describe the Australian landscape. This poem was on the schools’ syllabus until the 1960’s, so that’s probably why we can recite it today, but still only the second verse.

Dorothea was born in Sydney in1888 to a wealthy and influential family. Her father was a prominent physician. They lived near Hyde Park and later at Darling Point and also owned a holiday cottage at Church Point on the Pittwater.

The poem was originally published under the title “Core of my heart” in the London journal, The Spectator, in 1908. It was revised and appeared in a poetry anthology under the name ‘My Country” published in Melbourne in 1911.

“My Country” was popular in its day because of its strong nationalistic sentiment. Australia had become a new nation in the first decade of the 20th century. We were looking for something that would make us feel unique and a contrast to Britain. Something that would make us proud of where we came from, and this poem certainly did that and still does today. When World War 1 broke out, and the ANZAC tradition was being forged on the battlefields of Turkey and Europe, Australian soldiers were proudly fighting for King and country – but which country?

This book contains the diaries of Dorothea from 1910 – 1918. However, the diaries were written in code. The editor, Jyoti Brunsdon, had to decipher the coded diaries before they could be any use to her. She thought she would find a treasure trove of insights into the poet’s life, her thoughts and aspirations. Instead, she discovered that Dorothea had led a very sheltered life, and her days were spent conforming to the social restrictions placed on young, wealthy, intelligent and unmarried women of her time. The diaries revealed that Dorothea’s days were full of social engagements either at the theatre, travel, swimming, or charity work.

Dorothea continued to write throughout her life, with four anthologies of poetry and several novels published. However, interest in her poetry waned as different sytles became more popular, in the late 1920’s. Except, of course, for her most famous poem about Australia.

Dorothea was awarded the OBE, for her services to Australian Literature, in the 1968 New Year Honours List. That year, she was 83 years old and in hospital in Paddington with a broken hip. She suffered a stoke a couple of weeks later and died on 14th January 1968, 2 weeks after her award. She is buried in the family vault at Waverly Cemetery, Sydney.

Janice Millard, Librarian


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