Life On The Job

Famous or Historic People

Dorothea MacKellar (1 July 1885 - 14 January 1968) - Australian Poet & Fiction writer
(ACU student Anabel Mifsud helped compile this biography)



Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar was born on 1 July 1885, at her family’s home “Dunara” that stood on Point Piper, overlooking Rose Bay on Sydney Harbour.

The third of four children, Dorothea was the only daughter born to renowned physician and Parliamentarian, Sir Charles Kinnaird Mackellar and his wife, Marion (nee Buckland). She had older brothers Keith and Eric and younger brother Malcolm.
 (Source: Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards)

Dorothea was born as a third generation Australian. Her grandparents had arrived in Sydney, from Scotland in 1839 and she was born on the 1st of July 1885. She was the third child, but the only daughter of a physician and parliamentarian, Sir Charles Mackellar and his wife Marion Mackellar. She was born in Sydney and although she was raised in a professional urban family her poetry is highly regarded as being classical Bush poetry. (Source: Dorothea Mackellar website)

Dorothea was said to be a strong swimmer, and a keen judge of horses and dogs. Her writings also indicate that she was a “hopeless romantic”. She was engaged twice between 1911 and 1914, however both relationships broke down. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

She is best known for her poem, My Country and the line "I love a sunburnt country"

Did You Know?

Dorothea Mackellar wrote her most famed poem ‘My Country’ at the young age of 19.

She was travelling in England at the time and was feeling particularly homesick, so she used her poem to remind her of the Australian landscape she was missing so dearly. (Source: Poem Hunter)


Dorothea was educated through home-schooling for most of her life, before she attended lectures at a university level. Her schooling was very informal and didn’t have specific subject areas for her to study. During her time at home school she also learnt to paint, fence and learn multiple languages. This very unstructured learning environment worked well for Dorothea as she had an opportunity to focus more on her interests than following the same learning as other students.

She also spent a large amount of time travelling to various countries throughout her schooling such as England, America and Eastern Europe, during her travels she visited many galleries and museums which added to her knowledge of the arts. Many of her poems and books make reference to her travels, so it was clear that it had a profound impact on her life and her writing. It was through her travels that she also learnt to appreciate just how beautiful the Australian Landscape was, as she would often become homesick and think back to the mental images she had created before she left.  (Source: Dorothea Mackellar website)

The young Dorothea received private tutoring in painting, fencing and languages and later attended lectures at the Sydney University although never formally enrolled as a student.

Speaking French, German, Italian and Spanish fluently, Dorothea acted as interpreter when the family travelled overseas. Having a privileged and sheltered life Dorothea’s first experience of painful reality was the death of her brother Keith in the Boer War. (Source: Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards)

Employment and Training

During her travels overseas she often served as an interpreter for her father as she was fluent in many languages. Due to her ability to help him in his travels she had the opportunity to explore the arts right across the world which helped her develop her knowledge and love of poetry that she was famed for.

Throughout her life Dorothea also maintained a strong interest in her family, community, politics as well as the arts all of which is clearly reflected in her poems and books.

During her time as a poet Dorothea Mackellar wrote many amazing poems, some examples of her work are:

  •  ‘My Country’,

  • ‘The colours of Light’,

  • ‘Fire’,

  • ‘Dawn’,

  • ‘Colour’,

  • ‘Burning off’ and

  • ‘The Waiting life’.

In addition to writing poems, Mackellar also wrote novels, one by herself, Outlaw's Luck (1913), and two in collaboration with Ruth Bedford. These are The Little Blue Devil (1912) and Two's Company (1914). (Source: Poem Hunter)

Experiences & Opportunities

The Mackellar family owned several properties in the Gunnedah area, including “Kurrumbede” and “The Rampadells” approximately 25 km north west of the town bordering the Namoi River.

Totalling more than 2400 ha (6000 acres) they were purchased by Sir Charles in 1905, the family already owning “Torryburn” a farm near East Gresford in the Hunter Valley where Dorothea spent time as a young girl. Sir Charles handed these properties over to his two remaining sons Eric and Malcolm who became well respected and generous members of the Gunnedah community. Over the years Dorothea often visited the area, staying with her brothers and maintaining her horseriding skills.(Source: Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards)

She became responsible for her ageing parents and wrote little after her father’s death in 1926. She had acquired “Tarrangaua” a splendidly located retreat at Lovett Bay on Sydney’s Pittwater where she swam and read. Her mother died in 1933 and Dorothea divided her time mostly between “Cintra” a house in Darling Point and “Tarrangaua.”

Her brother Malcolm sold “Kurrumbede” in 1939, there being no direct Mackellar descendents. The last 10 years of her life were spent in a Randwick nursing home in increasing ill health. She outlived her younger brothers, dying in her sleep on 14th January 1968. The funeral service was held at the historic St Mark’s Church, Darling Point where her poem “Colour” was reportedly read. According to her nurse Adrienne Howley, Dorothea regarded this poem as her finest work. Her ashes were placed in the family vault at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney. (Source: Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards)

In the New Year's Day Honours of 1968, Dorothea Mackellar was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her contribution to Australian literature. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Poetry of Dorothea MacKellar

Core of my Heart by Dorothea MacKellar
(Source: State Library NSW)

My Country: recited by Dorothea MacKellar (poem written in 1904)


YouTube: "My Country"

Based on Dorothea Mackellar's iconic poem "My Country", this final year animation from UNSW Arts & Social Sciences animation student Jelena Sinik, in collaboration with UNSW graduate Ralph Stevenson, was selected as a finalist for the 2014 ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) Awards for Best Tertiary Animation.

Memorial & Legacy:

In 1984, Gunnedah resident Mikie Maas created the “Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards”, which has grown into a nationwide poetry competition for Australian school students.

Dorothea was a strong advocate of using poetry to express inner emotion, desires and hopes. For this reason the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards are a great way to encourage students to not only become involved with writing their own creative and critical texts, but to think about their own beliefs, hope and express them in a positive way. (Source: Dorothea)

On Australia Day, 26th January 1983 a special memorial to Mackellar was placed in ANZAC Park, Gunnedah. At the same time as this unveiling a large arts exhibition took place including a series of 34 water colour paintings by artist Jean Isherwood that illustrated some of Mackellar’s most famous poems. These watercolours were eventually placed on a permanent display in the Gunnedah Bicentennial Regional Gallery. (Source: Poem Hunter)

Gunnedah Memorial
Mackellar - the horsewoman at Gunnedah

Mackellar has also been honoured with an entire federal electorate that covers half of Sydney’s North Beaches named in her honour. The Canberra suburb of Cook was also officially named in her honour and it is assumed the suburb of Mackellar was as well; however this has never officially been confirmed or denied. (Source: Poem Hunter)

YouTube: Colour by Dorothea MacKellar


YouTube: Dorothea MacKellar's My Country analysis [Year 11 student]




Dorothea MacKellar - Website

Dorothea MacKellar website
Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards

Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards
NSW State Library Archive - My Country

State Library Archive
ABC Splash - Dorothea Mackellar's "My Country" as a song

My Country

Did You Know?

Mahabharata is the longest poem in the world. Written by an Indian poet, it has around 1.8 million words.

March 21st is World Poetry Day. It is an initiative by UNESCO to celebrate poetry and poets from around the world.

The oldest written poem is the Epic of Gilgamesh, originating from Babylon. It is believed to be about 4 000 years old!


Australian Landscapes Slideshow


LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

1. Look at the following Australian Landscape Slideshow


2. With a partner, write down two words that describe each scene.

3. Create several Haiku Poems from your words.

Haiku poems consist of 3 lines. The first and last lines of a Haiku have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables. The lines rarely rhyme.

4. Share with the rest of the class.


Poetic Techniques

High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

1. Dorothea employed many poetic techniques in her writing. Using the following link as a reference point, see which techniques you can identify in Dorothea’s poem My Country.

poetic techniques

2. In the style of My Country, create a rhyming poem describing your favourite place.

3. Read the following poems about the Australian landscape.


September in Australia by Henry Kendall

September in Australia
On the Plains by G E Evans

On the Plains

The Kookaburras by John O’Brien

Drought by William H. Ogilvie


4. Discussion

What do they have in common with one another and with My Country? What words or phrases have been used to describe the Australian landscape? Are these words/phrases/sentiments unique to our land?




Australian Landscapes: Multimedia Production

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

1. You are going to create your own interactive media poem about Australia’s Landscape using what you have learnt about Dorothea Mackellar!

Firstly you will need to use Windows Movie Maker, Apple I-movie or free online tools such as Prezi or a similar presentation/video making software.

2. Use Richard Smyth’s acclaimed photography of Australian Landscapes.

Richard Smyth

Select 5 or 6 pictures and create a small descriptive paragraph about each image. You do not need to make this rhyme, but you should try to make comparisons from the landscape to another well-known image or feeling in the form or a simile.

Simile -  for example: The red sand was like a fine powder brushing over my feet.

Metaphors - saying that something IS
something else for example: The sand was hot as fire and burned my feet as I stepped.

3. Once you have selected your images and written your brief descriptions you will need to put the images and text together in your chosen software.  

Make sure you don’t crowd too much text onto a single image as it will take away focus from the picture.

4. The final step is to find a piece of music that will go well with your movie.

This could be an Australian Soundscape or even a traditional Indigenous Aboriginal piece of music.

Now that you’ve put your entire movie together you are ready to share it!


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