‘My Country’ with the opening lines ‘I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains…’ recited by millions of Australian school children through the decades, is perhaps the most famous and evocative verse in Australian poetry. There is a link between Equity Trustees and the famous Australian who wrote it.
Its writer, Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar, was born more than 100 years ago, in 1885 in Sydney. Australia was still a patchwork of autonomous colonies – federation was still 15 years away, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge half-a-century – yet the Great Southern Land’s unique and rugged natural beauty was beginning to permeate the hearts of its new settlers.
When Mackellar found herself in London at age 19, she became homesick for her country of birth and it was then that she penned her best-known work, ‘My Country’. Originally published in the London Spectator with the title ‘Core of My Heart’, the six-verse poem went on to become a catch-cry of Australian patriotism, especially in the wake of the Great War where the ANZACs’ sacrifice at Gallipoli put Australia on the world map and gave the young country its first national legend.
‘My Country’ was far from Mackellar’s only work – her talent was identified early and she wrote numerous other poems as well as three novels. Her biographer Beverley Kingston wrote “Her verse shows that she was cultivated and spirited, her novels that she was hopelessly romantic.” The Australian literary historian H. M. Green described her as a “lyrist of colour and light” enraptured by the Australian landscape, while Dorothea herself “never professed to be a poet. I have written – from the heart, from imagination, from experience – some amount of verse.”
Dorothea passed away in 1968, after suffering ill health, and just two weeks after being appointed an OBE. While she wrote little in her later life after the creative outpouring and energy of her youth, she left behind an inspiring legacy to the country she loved. A Sydney electorate and a Canberra suburb have since been named after her, as well as a nation-wide poetry competition – the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards – which has been running since 1984.
She also left behind an estate valued at more than $1.5million in 1968. Dorothea was a client of Australia’s first trustee company - The Trustees Executors and Agency Company (TEA became ANZ Trustees – which was in turn purchased by Equity Trustees) was executor of the Will and administered her estate – the key papers from which are now available at the NSW State Library (including the handwritten ‘My Country (Core of my heart)’.
Interestingly, TEA was also executor for Dorothea’s father, Sir Charles Kinnaird Mackellar (1844 – 1926). Sir Charles was a highly regarded physician, businessman and later politician (which included a stint as a Senator in the first national Australian government with Federation). He held numerous Board positions, including more than 20 years with the Bank of NSW, which later became Westpac.