Classic Australian Verse collected by Maggie Pinkney

Henry Lawson- C.J. Dennis – Dorothea Mackellar – Henry Kendall – A. B. (Banjo) Patterson

Our English teacher at the Community Place, where I volunteer as a tutor, introduced us to ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar, which lead to my discovery of this book and I am forever grateful.

This is a collection of over 100 poems set into three sections – Early Voices, People and Places & Bush Songs and Ballads.

In early voices, the poets write lines filled with confused wonder at their new land of weird weather and fauna bordering on mythical. The botany bay song is included here which is a great tune for a sing (google it if you haven’t heard this one)! The song is the cry of a wretched convict who pines for home and belts out a warning across the seas for young lads and lasses, to check their ways lest they find themselves bound on a ship to be transported away which was the fate of prisoners in those days.
Farewell to old England forever,
Farewell to my rum-culls as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey
Where I used to cut such a swell….

Now all you young dookies and duchesses,
Take warning from what I do say,
Mind all is your own as you toucheses
Or you’ll join us in Botany Bay. Botany Bay Traditional


…There missiles to far distance sent
Come whizzing back from whence the went;
There quadrupeds go on two feet;
There birds, although they cannot fly,
In swiftness with your greyhound vie… There Is A Place In Distant Seas Richard Whately, 1787-1863



…Into the park I took a stroll –
I felt just like a buttered roll.
A pretty name ‘The Sunny South’
A better one ‘The land of Drouth!’… Colonial Experience Anonymous


100 years later, bewilderment washes away to reveal beautiful colours of this rugged landscape. The contrast of the country is mentioned in many poems from the People and Places sections and however life-threatening the droughts and flowing waters may be, they embrace it with love. There is a refreshing rhyme on how wonderful Billy Tea is, ones about swagman camping in the bush, women of the bush, fossicking, shearing, mountains, emus and wallaroos.


…“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”… My Country Dorothea Mackellar, 1885-1968


The valley’s full of misty clouds,
Its tinted beauty drowning,
Tree-tops are veiled in fleecy shrouds,
And mountain fronts are frowning… Rain In The Mountains Henry Lawson, 1867-1922

Bush Songs and Ballads fill us in on the events and stories from colonial times, of normal and notorious folk. Bushrangers Ben Hall and Ned Kelly feature here and many others, but my favourite is the tale of Mulga Bill and his bicycle by Banjo Paterson. The last poem in this collection is Paterson’s wonderful ‘Waltzing Matilda’ which is another one you can never tire of singing!

Hope you check this out, from the library, and read some with the kids. Just one book can paint a vivid picture of early settlers and their experiences far quicker and more joyfully than any history curriculum. Our English teacher mentioned that most Australians knew, off-by-heart, the above 8 lines from Dorothea Mackellar’s My Country. I was surprised my teenagers found those lines unfamiliar, but I’m sure it was taught in school and has probably just slipped their memory.

 ?Can you recite those lines from memory? ?

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