My Country

My Country, Dorothea Mackellar, 1908

  • Australia, #7
  • Free at
  • Read October 2014
  • Rating: 3/5 (a little sentimental for my taste, but I’m not a great judge of poetry)
  • Recommended for: Anyone with an interest in Australia who’s willing to spend five minutes reading a poem about it.

This is just one poem, not very long or difficult to understand, and I wasn’t sure it was worth its own blog post. But it is an “iconic patriotic poem” according to Wikipedia, and it kept popping up in my research on Australian literature, so I thought I better stick it in. I’m not a great consumer of poetry, so I don’t feel entirely qualified to judge, but I don’t think it’s a particularly great poem. It’s descriptive, and it rhymes, but there isn’t a whole lot of deeper meaning to tease out. The most important thing about it, I think, is that it marks a shift in Australian consciousness. In the nineteenth century works I read, most of the characters think of themselves as English, and think of England as “home”–even if they’ve never been there. Mackellar’s poem gives voice to a shifting national consciousness, whereby white people born in Australia began to identify as Australian, rather than English or Irish or whatever their European ancestry was (I think it would be interesting to know whether such ancestry tracking still goes on to a lesser extent in Australia the way it does in America–where, for instance, people are still apt to refer to themselves as Irish or Italian or Polish even if their family has been in the States for generations and they don’t know any non-American relatives). The Fortunes of Richard Mahony does a good job exploring the early stages of this shift: the Mahony, though strongly identifying as English, and making great sacrifices to “return” to this homeland that he has never seen before, finds it impossible to fit into English society, impossible to love England’s “ordered woods and gardens” and “grey-blue distances” (in Mackellar’s words), having been shaped by the “sunburned country” in which he was born and grew up. Mackellar’s poem seems to mark the beginning of the period in which white Australians think of themselves as distinctly Australian, and so I think it’s important from a historical standpoint, even if it’s not the world’s most beautiful poem.

California 2005

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