Mary Gilmore

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Mary Gilmore, aged 83
Mary Gilmore, aged 83

Dame Mary Jean Gilmore, née Cameron, DBE (16 August 1865 - 3 December 1962) was a prominent Australian socialist poet and journalist.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 The Bulletin years
  • 3 Paraguay
  • 4 Writing
    • 4.1 Writer of Poetry
    • 4.2 Editor of The Worker
  • 5 Later life
  • 6 See also
  • 7 Further reading
  • 8 Source

Early life

Mary Jean Cameron was born on a property near Goulburn, New South Wales. When Mary was one year old her parents, Donald and Mary Ann, decided to move to Wagga Wagga to join her maternal grandparents, the Beatties, who had moved there from Penrith, New South Wales in 1866.

Her father obtained a job as a station manager at a property, Cowabbie, some 100 kms north of Wagga. A year later he left that job to become a carpenter, building homesteads on properties in Wagga Wagga, Coolamon, Junee, Temora and West Wyalong for the next 10 years. This itinerant existence allowed Mary only a spasmodic formal education, however she did receive some on their frequent returns to Wagga, either staying with the Beatties or in rented houses.

Eventually her father purchased land and built his own house at Brucedale on the Junee Road, where they had a permanent home. She was then to attend, briefly Colin Pentland's private Academy at North Wagga and, when that closed, went to Wagga Wagga Public School for two and a half years. At 14, in preparation to become a teacher she worked as an assistant at her Uncles school at Yerong Creek.

After completing her teaching exams in 1882 she was offered and accepted a position as a teacher at Wagga Wagga Public School where she worked until December 1885. After a short teaching spell at Illabo she took up a teaching position at Silverton near the mining town of Broken Hill. There she developed her socialist views and began writing poetry.

The Bulletin years

In 1890 she moved to Sydney, where she became part of the "Bulletin school" of radical writers - the greatest influence on her work was Henry Lawson, but it was A. G. Stephens, literary editor of The Bulletin, who published her verse and established her reputation as a fiery radical poet, champion of the workers and the oppressed.


She followed William Lane and other socialist idealists to Paraguay in 1896, where they had established a communal settlement called New Australia two years earlier. There she married William Gilmore in 1897. By 1902 the socialist experiment had clearly failed and the Gilmores returned to Australia, where they took up farming near Casterton in the Western District of Victoria.


Writer of Poetry

Gilmore's first volume of poetry was published in 1910, and for the next fifty years she was one of Australia's most popular and widely read poets, although advanced literary opinion held much of her verse to be doggerel and propaganda.

Editor of The Worker

In 1908 she became women's editor of The Worker, the newspaper of Australia's largest and most powerful trade union, the Australian Workers Union (AWU). She was the Union's first woman member. The Worker gave her a platform for her journalism, in which she campaigned for better working conditions for working women, for children's welfare and for a better deal for the Indigenous Australians.

Later life

By 1931 her views had become too radical for the AWU, but she soon found other outlets for her writing. Later she wrote a regular column for the Communist Party's newspaper Tribune, although she was never a Communist. Despite her politics, she accepted a knighthood in 1937 and became Dame Mary Gilmore. During World War II she wrote stirring patriotic verse such as No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest.

In her later years Gilmore, separated from her husband and enjoying her status as a national literary icon, lived in Sydney. Before 1940 she published six volumes of verse and three of prose. After the war she published volumes of memoirs and reminiscences of colonial Australia and the literary giants of 1890s Sydney, thus contributing much material to the mythologising of that period. She died aged 97 and was accorded a state funeral.

Gilmore's image appears on the Australian $10 note, along with an illustration inspired by No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest and, as part of the copy-protection microprint, the text of the poem itself. In the background behind the illustration of Mary Gilmore is a portrait of Mary Gilmore painted by the well known Australian Artist Sir William Dobell.

See also

  • Mary Gilmore Prize

Further reading

  • W.H.Wilde, Courage a Grace - Melbourne University Press (1988)
  • Dymphna Cusack and others, Mary Gilmore: A Tribute (1965)
  • W H Wilde and T Inglis Moore, Letters of Mary Gilmore (1980)
  • Gavin Souter, A Peculiar People - The Australians in Paraguay


  • Prentis, Malcolm. Great Australian Presbyterians: The Game. Uniting Church in Australia. Retrieved on 2007-03-07.
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