Classic Author Focus: Mary Gilmore

A portrait of Dame Mary Gilmore by Adelaide Perry

Mary Gilmore was an Australian socialist writer and poet who was the first woman to be awarded the honor of Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She is considered a national literary icon of Australia.

Gilmore was born in New South Wales as the daughter of a Scottish farmer, David Cameron, and his Australian-born wife, Mary Ann Beattie, a writer. Because of her father’s tendency to wander and take different jobs, Gilmore lived in both country towns and bush settlements throughout the area. At a young age, she began working as an unofficial pupil-teacher, which she did for four years before passing a formal entrance examination to become a pupil-teacher.

Toward the later 19th century, Gilmore became more and more involved in workers’ rights, supporting maritime and shearers’ strikes as much as she could under the strict regime of the Department of Public Instruction, and became a disciple of the utopian socialist views of William Lane. In 1893, she and others followed Lane to Paraguay, where they formed the New Australian Colony. She married and started a family, but returned to Australia in 1902 because the colony did not live up to expectations.

She became involved in the literary world once returned to Sydney, where she was editor of The Australian Worker and wrote for a variety of other publications. There, she became known as a campaigner for the disadvantaged. She reached her greatest fame in old age, maintaining a prodigious output of books and poetry until she was 89.

Dates: 1865-1962

Most popular work: “No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest”

Other works: Two Songs, The Passionate Heart, The Wild Swan: Poems, Battlefields, Fourteen Men, Men of Eureka and Other Australian Songs, Old Days: Old Ways

8 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Mary Gilmore

  1. Once, in a second hand book shop I spied a book about Gilmore’s time in Paraguay, I picked it up and carried it around the shop with me, but by the time I got to the counter it was one of the books I jettisoned in the name of economy. I’ve regretted it ever since.

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  2. I’ve always been interested in reading about her time in Paraguay and what the group wanted to achieve. I believe they held quite racist views (typical of the times) along with their plan for a ‘common-hold’.

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  3. What an interesting woman. I will look for her work during next year. I have decided not to do too many challenges, instead reading at least one writer from countries I don’t usually read from. She could be my Australian pick. I have already decided to read up on books by Jane Harper. It is always interesting though to try out new writers.

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