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DAME MARY GILMORE, WRITER, POET, PACIFIST, SOCIALIST & UTOPIAN

A most unusual illustrated Aboriginal art cover had a strip of six orange ½d Kangaroo stamps postmarked by an indistinct roller cancel from Sydney in 1951, and below the stamps was printed ‘HOP - HOP -HOPPING ALONG’. It was addressed to Dame Mary Gilmore, No 9 Clearmont Flats, 99 Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross, with a large lizard drawn below (Figure 1).

The reverse on the flap had an unusual aboriginal ‘insignia, with the following ms. below: What a signet! Send Mrs Dewar the envelope for her collection. Mary Gilmore, Kings Cross, Sydney 25.6.51(Figures 2 & 2A).

Dame Mary Jean Gilmore was born on 16 August 1865 near Goulburn N.S.W. the eldest child of Donald Cameron, a farmer in Scotland and his wife Mary Ann Beattie whose parents were Irish.

Due to the itinerant lifestyle of her parents, Donald and Mary Ann Cameron, Mary was educated at a number of country state schools. Aged 16 she became a pupil-teacher at the Superior Public School for Girls in Wagga Wagga, and was transferred to the Infants' Department in 1884. She taught at Beaconsfield Provisional School in 1886, followed by Illabo Public School, and in October 1887 was appointed temporary assistant at Silverton Public School near Broken Hill, New South Wales. In May 1889, Mary wrote to the Chief Inspector at the Department of Public Instruction requesting a move from Silverton back to Sydney on the grounds that her home was in Sydney and that the climate of the Barrier District was too severe for her constitution. She returned to Sydney in 1890 and taught at Neutral Bay, though her name and the dates of her residency are still proudly displayed on the Silverton Public School sign.

During the 1890s Mary became interested in social reform and supported the maritime and shearers' strikes. So as not to break the rules of the Department of Public Instruction, through which she was employed as a teacher, Mary wrote under the pen names Em Jaycey, Sister Jaycey and Rudione Calvert. At about this time she met and became a life-long friend of Henry Lawson.

Mary became the first woman member of the Australian Workers Union, which she claimed she joined under her brother's name. She later became a member of the executive. By 1895 Mary had given up teaching to join William Lane's New Australia Movement. She sailed to his Cosme settlement in Paraguay, arriving January 1896 and there married shearer William Gilmore (1866-1945). A year after their only son William (1898-1945) was born, the family left the settlement and returned to Australia after visiting Henry Lawson and family in London. An account of Mary Gilmore’s short stay in Paraguay is available in my paper on ‘Colonia Nueva Australia in Paraguay’ at my website: http://www.auspostalhistory.com/articles/172.shtml

From 1902-1912 the Gilmores lived at William's parents' farm in Casterton in Western Victoria. Here Mary was able to re-establish her writing and political links. In 1903 she was featured on the Bulletin's 'Red Page' and she helped with campaigning for the Labor Party in the 1906 and 1910 federal elections for the seat of Wannon. In 1908 Mary commenced editing the woman's page of the Australian Worker, a position she held until 1931. In 1910 her first collections of poems Marri'd, and other verses was published.

In 1912 Mary and her son Billy went to live in Sydney while William joined his brother at Cloncurry in North Queensland. By 1918 her second book of poetry, The Passionate Heart was published, followed by books of prose: Hound of the Road (1922) and The Tilted Cart (1925). Mary's writing was regularly in print, with her last collection of poetry, Fourteen Men, published in 1954 when she was 89 years old.

Besides being a prolific writer, Mary was also a founder-member of the Lyceum Club (Sydney), founder and vice-president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, member of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists and life member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Dame Mary Gilmore's ashes were buried in her husband's grave at Cloncurry cemetery.

To mark the considerable public acclaim for her literary and social ahievements, she was appointed D.B.E. in 1937. Dame Mary Gilmore is the female face on the Australian $10 note. When she died, aged 97 on 3 December 1962, Dame Mary was given a State funeral by both the Federal and New South Wales state governments. Her funeral was attended by all members of the New South Wales Cabinet. Dame Mary donated the Archibald winning portrait painted by William Dobell in 1957 to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. A picture of Mary Gilmore is seen in Figure 3.

I acknowledge that this paper was extracted from the paper written by Anne Heywood & Barbara Lemon http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0032b.htm with additional information from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

 
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