Friday, July 1, 2011

Dorothe Mackellar

When I clicked on to Google this morning, I was met with the above identification in lieu of the traditional Google logo.  Putting my cursor over it revealed that it was Dorothea Mackellar’s 126th birthday.

Now a 126th birthday isn’t much of a milestone if you’re dead but it did coincide with me recently recalling her claim to fame, the poem “My Country”.  It came to mind when I was thinking about the drought that had devastated more than 90% of Australia, followed by the floods in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.  There was speculation that this was related to climate change but Mackellar’s poem refers to the season extremes in Oz.

I don’t know if the poem is still taught in primary schools but I do recall that we were made to memorise the most well known second stanza.  No one knows the other stanzas anyway.  Maybe learning it has disappeared, along with having to drink the supplied milk (usually warm), starting the day with assembly where you put your hand over your heart and said “I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute my flag”, and each classroom having a picture of the Queen in a white dress on the wall at the front.

Although the poem My Country is a poem about the bush, contrasting its moods and attractions to an English countryside, Mackellar (1885-1968) was born and raised  in Sydney, the only daughter of physician and parliamentarian Sir Charles Mackellar.  She wrote My Country when she was in England and homesick for Australia.  It was originally called Core of My Heart.

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold -
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand -
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

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