Woman MacKellar, Isobel Marion Dorothea (Dorothea) (1885 - 1968)


Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Darling Point, New South Wales, Australia
Novelist and Poet

Written by Ann Standish, The University of Melbourne

Dorothea Mackellar was born in Sydney in 1885 to Sir Charles Mackellar, a surgeon and politician, and his wife Marion (nee Buckland). As the only daughter of a wealthy, elite Sydney family, she was educated at home and encouraged in intellectual and artistic, as well as sporting, pursuits. She travelled widely with her parents, through Europe and especially Great Britain, and spent time at her family's country properties around Gunnedah in north-west New South Wales.

By the time she was twenty, Mackellar was fluent in a number of European languages and had attended a number of lectures at the University of Sydney, although she did not enrol for a degree. She had begun writing in her teen years, and at nineteen wrote the poem for which she would become renowned. Core of My Heart, was first published in the London Spectator in 1908 and was republished a number of times in Australia before its publication under the title My Country in Mackellar's first book The Closed Door and Other Verses. The second verse of this poem, 'I love a sunburnt country/A land of sweeping plains/of ragged mountain ranges/Of droughts and flooding rains', is perhaps the best known and most anthologised of all Australian verse. The contrast Mackellar set up between the English landscape - 'The love of field and coppice/Of green and shaded lanes/Of ordered woods and gardens' - struck a chord with Australian readers, particularly in the context of World War I and the patriotic sentiments it inspired. In claiming 'my country' as a place that could be loved with a passion, despite its harshness, Mackellar voiced for white Australians a resonate sense of belonging, home and national pride.

Mackellar's reputation as a leading Australian poet and a major female contributor to the genre of nationalist verse rests largely on this one poem. By the outbreak of World War I, she had published another collection of verse and three novels, including two co-authored with her close friend Ruth Bedford; two more verse collections followed in the 1920s. None, however, captured the public imagination to the same extent. She wrote little after her father's death in 1926, although she did act as treasurer to the NSW Bush Book Club and in 1931 was involved in establishing the Sydney branch of PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) with Ethel Turner and Mary Gilmore. Her literary activities appear to have ceased after this time. Frequently in ill health, she spent many of her remaining years in a nursing home. She was living at her home in Darling Point at the time of her death in 1968, after a bad fall. She had been recognised with an OBE shortly before her death.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • 'Mackellar, Dorothea', in Arnold, John; Hay, John. A; and Kilner, Kerry (eds), The Bibliography of Australian Literature: K - O, University of Queensland Press (UQP), Brisbane, Queensland, 2007, p. 270. Details

Online Resources

See also