Dorothea Mackellar

Dorothea Mackellar, 1908

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar, known as Dorothea, was a poet and author, well-known for her famous poem “My Country” (which was originally published as “Core of My Heart”). She was born in her family’s home, “Dunara”, Point Piper, overlooking Rose Bay, in Sydney, New South Wales, on 1 July 1885. Her parents were Charles Mackellar (a surgeon), and Marion (nee Buckland).[1]

Her father had been appointed to the Legislative Council in 1885 (where he was able to champion issues of public health), then later appointed to the Australian Senate with the support of the Protectionist government (although he regarded himself as a non-party man); he became Sir Charles Mackellar in 1912 when he was knighted as a Knight Bachelor, and then in 1916 became a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Due to her family’s financial standing, Dorothea was able to be educated privately, being taught by governesses. She liked poetry from an early age, and she translated poems from French, Italian, and Spanish poets. As an adult, her relatively wealthy upbringing allowed her to indulge in a lot of international travel; unlike many of her peers, she was brought up in a relatively easy-going household, which allowed her a lot of personal freedom, and she was known to be forthright and freely speak her mind.

Dorothea Mackellar, The Bulletin, 14 November 1918, p. 36

Her poem “Core of My Heart” was published in The Spectator (London), on 5 September 1908; it subsequently became immensely popular in Australia. Later on, the poem was re-titled as “My Country”, being the name by which it is now commonly known. The poem has featured in many anthologies, and has been taught to Australian school children for over a hundred years; for example, it was included in The Victorian Readers Sixth Book (being the first item in that publication), The New Australian School Series Fifth Reader (NSW), Western Australian Reader: Book VI., and Selected Poems for Australian Schools.[2]

In stark contrast with those Australians who referred to Britain as “Home”, Dorothea Mackellar was Australian first and foremost, and was proud of it. Her biographer, Adrienne Howley (who was also her nurse-companion for almost twelve years, when Mackellar was elderly), wrote of Dorothea that “it irked her to hear her home country compared with quite dissimilar areas of the world, and disparaged for the differences. To her Australia was home, not England. She was of Scots and English descent but proud to be known as Australian born. The habit of belittling “the colony”, as it still was, and referring to England as “home” by those who were, in many cases, more Australian than she, was regarded by her as offensive affectation”. It was a conversation with such a person, i.e. an Australian who preferred England to her own country, that inspired Dorothea to write “Core of My Heart” (“My Country”).[3]

Dorothea Mackellar, The Australian Woman’s Mirror, 1 November 1927, p.11

After her success with “My Country”, she produced several volumes of poetry, as well as writing three novels (two of which were written in collaboration with Ruth Bedford, who was one of her closest friends). However, her other works never gained widespread popularity, like her well-known poem did.

She was an aficionado of poetry in general, and was involved with the Bush Book Club in her early years, holding the office of honorary treasurer.

Although Dorothea Mackellar was engaged twice, both of those relationships ended, and she was never married.

Dorothea received an official honour in 1968, being appointed to the Order of the British Empire; unfortunately, she passed away shortly after the announcement.

Dorothea Mackellar died on 14 January 1968, in Scottish Hospital, Paddington (Sydney).

Although she was the creator of many other verses, Dorothea Mackellar will always be remembered primarily for the masterpiece that is “My Country”, a work of passionate patriotic poetry. For that poem alone, she deserves to be forever remembered as an integral part of the pantheon of Australian writers.

Books by Dorothea Mackellar:
[Books and booklets published during Dorothea Mackellar’s lifetime, arranged by year of publication.]
1911: The Closed Door, and Other Verses, Melbourne: Australasian Authors’ Agency (poetry)
1913: Outlaw’s Luck, London: Mills & Boon (novel, set in Argentina)
1912: The Little Blue Devil, London: Alston Rivers (novel, with Ruth Bedford)
1914: Two’s Company, London: Alston Rivers (novel, with Ruth Bedford)
1914: The Witch-Maid & Other Verses, London: J. M. Dent & Sons (poetry)
1923: Dreamharbour and Other Verses, London: Longmans, Green and Co. (poetry)
1926: Fancy Dress and Other Verses, Sydney: Angus & Robertson (poetry)
1945: My Country and Other Poems, Sydney: W. H. Honey, [1945?] (poetry, illustrated by Rhys Williams)

Selected poetry by Dorothea Mackellar:
[Arranged chronologically]
Core of My Heart [1908, later re-titled as “My Country”]
Australia’s Men [1915]
Fractures [7 January 1928]
Australia [1945?]

[1] Adrienne Howley, My Heart, My Country: The Story of Dorothea Mackellar, St Lucia (Qld.): University of Queensland Press, 1989, p. 23
Dunara”, Office of Environment and Heritage (NSW) (accessed 27 May 2019)
Note: Several references refer to Rose Bay as the birthplace of Dorothea Mackellar, however that description is used regarding Rose Bay as a geographic area (of a bay), rather than as a suburb (the suburb named Rose Bay is located to the east of Point Piper, both of which are in the Rose Bay geographic area).

[2] The New Australian School Series Fifth Reader (revised edition), Sydney: William Brooks & Co., [undated, 1919?], pp. 217-218 (item 50)
The Victorian Readers Sixth Book (first edition), Melbourne: H. J. Green, Government Printer, 1929, pp. 1-3
W. Foster and H. Bryant (editors), Selected Poems for Australian Schools: Junior Secondary Classes (new and enlarged edition), Sydney: The Land Printing House (printers), [undated, 1960s?], pp. 117-118 (item 86)
Western Australian Reader: Book VI. (revised edition), [Perth? (WA)]: The Education Department, Western Australia, 1948, pp. 295-296

[3] Adrienne Howley, My Heart, My Country, op. cit., p. x
In memory of a poet”, The Australian Women’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 31 January 1968, p. 3 (inspiration for “Core of My Heart”)

General references:
Adrienne Howley, My Heart, My Country, op. cit., p. x, 22-23, 108
Beverley Kingston, “Mackellar, Isobel Marion Dorothea (1885–1968)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 16 October 2012)
Births”, The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 7 July 1885, p. 1 (birth notice for Dorothea Mackellar, unnamed, born in Rose Bay, Sydney)
Dorothea Mackellar, “Core of My Heart”, The Spectator (London), 5 September 1908, p. 329 (p. 17 of that issue)
“A woman’s letter”, The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 14 November 1918, p. 36, col. 2 (honorary treasurer of the Bush Book Club)
Bernice May, “Dorothea Mackellar”, The Australian Woman’s Mirror (Sydney, NSW), 1 November 1927, pp. 11, 54 (quotes a letter from Dorothea: “I was born at Rose Bay”)
“Answers to Correspondents”, The Australian Woman’s Mirror (Sydney, NSW), 16 April 1929, p. 40, col. 2 (Dorothea born in Rose Bay, Sydney)
“Our service department”, The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 11 February 1942, p. 17, col. 1 (Dorothea born in Rose Bay, Sydney)
Dorothea Mackellar’s 63 year old poem: Almost a signature”, The Canberra Times (Canberra, ACT), 16 January 1968, p. 11
Jane Connors, “Bedford, Ruth Marjory (1882–1963)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, (accessed 16 October 2012)
Ann M. Mitchell, “Mackellar, Sir Charles Kinnaird (1844–1926)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (accessed 17 May 2019)
Mackellar, Charles Kinnaird (1844–1926): Senator for New South Wales, 1903 (Protectionist)”, The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate (accessed 17 May 2019)
New Year’s Honours”, Kalgoorlie Miner (Kalgoorlie, WA), 2 January 1912, p. 5 (Charles Mackellar knighted)
Sir Charles Mckellar”, Kalgoorlie Miner (Kalgoorlie, WA), 3 January 1916, p. 6 (Charles Mackellar MLC in 1885)

Further reading:
Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country”, State Library of NSW [includes scans of the manuscript copy of Mackellar’s “My Country”]
Dorothea Mackellar”, Wikipedia
Charles Mackellar”, Wikipedia

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