Poems by Mary Gilmore
1865 – 1962
Australian socialist poet and journalist
MARY JEAN CAMERON GILMORE was born Mary Jean Cameron on 16 August 1865 at Cotta Walla near Goulburn, New South Wales. From the time she was one year old, Mary’s family moved repeatedly. Her father worked as a carpenter, building homesteads on properties in Wagga, Coolamon, Junee, Temora and West Wyalong. For 10 years, this itinerant life meant Mary only received a sporadic formal education.
When her father bought land and build them a house in Brucedale, she finally had a permanent home. This allowed her to go to school on a regular basis.
At age 14 in preparation to become a teacher, Mary worked as an assistant at her uncle’s school in Yerong Creek. She completed her teaching exams in 1882 and began teaching at Wagga Wagga Public School until December 1885. She also taught at Illabo Public School and at Silverton Public School near the mining town of Broken Hill. It was here that Mary formed her socialist views, expressing them in her poetry.
Mary Gilmore’s image appears on the back of the Australian $10 note. It was issued 1 Nov 1993 and has a portrait of Banjo Paterson on the front. Her poem No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest is included on the $10 note along with an illustration inspired by the poem.
In 1973 she was honoured by Australia Post with her likeness on a postage stamp.
In 1890 she moved to Sydney and became part of the “Bulletin school” of radical writers. Mary formed a close friendship with Henry Lawson and was influenced by him as well as other writers of the day who championed workers and the oppressed.
She sailed on the Ruapehu to Paraguay in 1896, where others had established a communal settlement called New Australia two years earlier. There she married fellow colonist, William Alexander Gilmore (1866-1945). In 1899 Mary, William and their son William Dysart Cameron Gilmore (1989-1945) left the settlement. They eventually moved back to Australia after a brief stay in London with Henry Lawson and his family.
Australian Workers Union
The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) was Australia’s largest and most powerful trade union. Mary joined becoming their first woman member. In 1908 she became women’s editor of The Worker, the AWU’s newspaper. In it she campaigned for better working conditions for working women, for indigenous Australians, and for children’s welfare. Twenty years later Mary’s views had become too radical for the AWU.
Dame Mary Gilmore
Although Mary Gilmore wrote about ideas that were rather controversial at the time, in 1937 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Dame Mary Gilmore was the first person to be granted this award for her services to literature.
Call for Australian Patriotism
In 1939 she published Battlefields, a volume of poems. Her stirring poem No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest was her call for Australian patriotism. She recognized the danger to our country from the Japanese and German ambitions for world domination.
From 1952 Mary Gilmore wrote a regular column, the Arrow, for the Communist newspaper Tribune. However, she never belonged to the Communist Party. The column appeared regularly until mid-1962. In it she continued her campaign for human rights. She also contributed articles and poems to the Sydney Morning Herald.
First State Funeral
Dame Mary Gilmore died on 3 December 1962 at the age of 97. Her funeral at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church was the first state funeral honouring a writer since the death of Henry Lawson in 1922. She was cremated and her ashes buried in her husband’s grave in the Cloncurry Cemetery, Queensland.