Her Sunburnt Country: The extraordinary literary life of Dorothea Mackellar
Simon & Schuster, $55 hb, 330 pp
Anyone who is old enough, and had their primary schooling in Australia, would know by heart the lines
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains
from the poem ‘My Country’, by Dorothea Mackellar. At a time of climate crisis, when the inhabitants of that country are more apprehensive than ever about sunburn, droughts, and flooding rains, we are also involved in a scarifying national debate about who has the right to call this place ‘my country’ and to love it, a debate highlighted by the referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. So it may not be the ideal time to appreciate the fame that this poem brought to the young Sydney woman who wrote it. Published first in 1908, it reappeared in numerous anthologies over the following period of the Great War, and spoke to the patriotic sentiments that flourished at the time, reaching the status of something like a national anthem. Nevertheless, it is that poem, and that fame, which constitute Dorothea Mackellar’s claim to our attention today.