Dear Miss Mackellar,
It is such an honour to write to you as part of my ongoing A-Z Letters to Dead Poets. What started out as a bright spark from the muse, has expanded into an incredible journey covering four continents from 278 B.C. through to 1998. So, there’s considerable diversity.
The reason I am writing to you is to acknowledge what your poem My Country means to me.
To be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a time where I didn’t know those famous lines from Verse 2:
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!
These words have somehow become a part of me, along with Banjo Paterson’s: The Man From Snowy River. It’s almost like they were sprinkled on my breakfast cereal every day and they’ve unconsciously become an integral part of who I am. I’m sure most Australians feel the same way. That My Country has somehow become part of our national psyche. I even learnt it as a song at school.
I gained a much stronger appreciation of the poem while I was backpacking through Europe back in 1992. I was 22 and feeling incredibly homesick. That’s when I truly gained a real appreciation, love and pride in being Australian and my love for the Australian landscape, even if I do prefer it when the grass is green and not scorched brown. There I was in the heart of Paris on Bastille Day revisiting a train trip across the vast space of the Nullarbor Plain on the way from Sydney to Perth. After all, sometimes, you have a leave a place to appreciate it fully and to understand that Australia was never meant to be Europe!
Indeed, you wrote My Country, under the original title of Core of My Heart while you were in London. Feeling homesick, you had been away from Australia for some time and were thinking about the great Australian landscape which you missed. You were 22 years old when it was first published in the London Spectator Magazine in 1908.
Meanwhile, on Monday 27th July, 1992 as a 22 years old backpacker dressed defiantly in my short navy shorts, a plain blue sleeveless top and pseudo Doc Martins, I walked up a rickety, red, wooden staircase in the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris to perform my poetry. Being a proud Australian and wanting to set the scene for my work, I opened my reading with My Country. I was an incredibly proud young Australian flying the Aussie flag in Paris.
As I recited your poem that night, I had no idea that you were also 22 when you wrote the poem. Like me, you were also missing Australia after spending some time away and writing the poem was your way of thinking of home.
In addition to your appreciation of the Australian landscape, I also found such strength and encouragement. For so many Australians, My Country has come to represent the Australian spirit and the dogged tenacity of the “little Aussie battler”, who loses the lot in the drought and then those lifesaving rains turn out to be a flood. Yet, miraculously, the little Aussie battler triumphs and defiantly rebuilds and goes on.
While in many ways that’s become a national stereotype but the strong fighting spirit which you encapsulated in the poem, gives us something to live up to. A belief that we can overcome the twists and turns of fate and battle on. That when the chips are down, we can pull together and bail each other out. We see this played out time and time again, particularly when natural disasters strike. Thanks to your poem, there’s that expectation of rugged challenges but also the knowledge that we can get through it. We’re tough.
Knowing that we’re a nation of survivors is a good thing. There’s tenacity, backbone and dogged determination to stare adversity in the face and push on regardless. I’m not sure whether these qualities are quite as prevalent as they used to be. That said, Australia has always been a highly urbanised society. I wouldn’t be surprised that most of us are now living on easy street totally estranged from the Australian bush and the farming experience and forget that milk comes from cows instead of cartons.
However, time and time again through natural disasters we see this spirit return and overcome. Through bushfires, flood and drought we pull together, helping each other out and even though were such a diverse nation, we pull together as one.
I apologise if this letter quite isn’t up to my usual form. Trying to get my way through these letters every day with my kids home on school holidays is challenging. Te edit will have to come back for a return visit!
This is the latest installment in my series of Letters To Dead Poets for the A-Z Challenge. Please click here to catch up on Letters A-H. This list will be updated on Sunday.