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When I was in primary school, we were taught both English and Australian poems, many of which were favourites of my mother. I have decided to write an article on Australian poems which formed a part of my childhood. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I have decided to briefly review the poets and the poems, and then to post actual recitations or singing of one of their much-loved poems, which are no longer taught as they are considered racist.

As Australia journeys into an unknown and uncertain future, it is good to remind ourselves that we are here today because of those who went before us, and we have a sacred obligation to honour their legacy.

So many people from all walks of life have shaped our Aussie way of life, which makes us Australian, unashamedly and without apology. We were born out of true grit, sacrifice and reluctant citizenship in some cases, but our soldiers, our farmers, our women and our poets have celebrated the joy of being Australian.

We are from the land down under, and our poets’ voices still echo in the halls of our history and long may they do so. This is part of our celebration of the people who gave voice to being dinki-di, true blue Aussie. To Hell with those politicians and wimps who dishonour our ancestors.

Mary H Foott

Mary Hannah Foott was born in Glasgow in 1846, and following her immigration to Australia and subsequent marriage, she spent time in the outback, including Bourke and Western Queensland. She later opened a school at Rocklea near Brisbane, and published short stories and poems. She was a true patriot with two of her sons serving in WWI, one of whom was killed at Passchendaele in 1917, sadly one year before her death. The other son attained the rank of Brigadier-General.

Her most well-known and remembered poem was Where the Pelican Builds, published in 1881. The poem is based on a true story of some men who set out from Western Queensland into the interior and never returned. Pelicans breed in locations where there is an abundance of water and fish, and it was thought that such a habitat existed in Central Australia. In fact, Lake Eyre is such a habitat after heavy rains.

Like many of the early Australian poets, Mary’s poems were published in the now defunct Bulletin which was a fiercely nationalistic publication in those early days.

Bulletin Headlinebulletin


(Cartoon published after Bulletin ceased publication)

 Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson was born in 1867 in Grenfell on the NSW goldfields where his father was a miner. At age 14 he became deaf, and while working at various menial jobs, he began writing stories and poems, encouraged by his mother who was a poet herself. During the 1890s many of his works were published in the Bulletin, at which time he developed friendships with Banjo Patterson and Breaker Morant. He married Bertha Bredt in 1896, from which time he developed mental issues and an addiction to alcohol. The marriage broke down by 1903, and Henry was subsequently imprisoned a number of times in Darlinghurst Jail for non-payment of child support and drunkenness.

Henry continued writing until 1915. The remainder of his relatively short life was spent in being cared for by friends at Naremburn, a suburb of Sydney, and destitute wandering around Sydney. At times while drying out, he lived in Flat Rock Cave in Naremburn. Henry died in 1921 and was granted a State Funeral. He is buried in Waverley Cemetery. Bertha, who died many years after him is buried in the same grave.

Lawson Grave

Henry wrote The Ballad of The Drover published in 1889, which is a poem about a young drover returning home, who is drowned along with his faithful dog. In contrast to the somewhat idealistic poetry of Banjo Patterson, Henry’s poetry and stories present a much harsher picture of life in the bush.

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson

Banjo Patterson

Banjo Patterson was born in 1864 at a property near Orange in NSW. When Banjo was five, the family moved to a property at Illalong near Yass where he observed horsemen from the Snowy Mountains competing in equestrian events and consequently developed a love of those horsemen and horses. He was involved also in the rounding up of wild brumbies. When he was ten, he was sent to Sydney Grammar School, where his relative Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia had preceded him. He qualified and practiced as a solicitor, and like Henry, his early writings were during the 1890s, which were published in the Bulletin. He served with distinction in WWI and retired with the rank of major.

Banjo’s most well-known poem is The Man from Snowy River published in 1890. It is based on the daring ride of a young man from Snowy River near Kosciusko in NSW, in order to head off a mob of wild brumbies which had been joined by a valuable colt.The ride is said to have taken place in rugged country north-west of Canberra, around the site of the present Burrinjuck Dam. It is thought that the story may be based on fact, as told by the actual rider Jim Riley to Banjo. However, there is dispute about this. The poem also features Clancy of the Overflow, which is the title of another well-known poem written by Banjo and published in 1889. He was also the author of the lyrics of Waltzing Matilda, published in 1895.

burrinjuck dam

 Patrick Joseph Hartigan (John O’Brien)

John OBrien

Patrick Hartigan, who wrote under the pen name of John O’Brien was a Catholic priest born in 1878 at Yass. He served in the towns of Thurgoona, Berrigan and Narrandera up until the 1920s. He is said to have given the last rites to Jim Riley, the supposed man from Snowy River. He was later elevated to the rank of Monsignor and died in 1952.

Patrick wrote wonderful verse about the early Irish settlers. Although written earlier, his most famous verse was published in the anthology Around the Boree Login 1921. Poems among many others included Around the Boree Log, The Little Irish Mother, The Trimmin’s on the Rosary, The Presbyt’ry Dog, Tangmalangaloo, The Old Bush School, and the following Said Hanrahan. Said Hanrahan refers to the drought and banking crisis of the early 1890s, which proves that financial crises are nothing new and that climate change is a recurring feature of nature.

My mum who went to Mass at the rural Irishtown church in WA in the early 1920s, told me that the men waiting outside for Mass to start, did indeed squat down upon their heels and chew a piece of bark.

churchJohn OBrien caricature

Breaker Morant is up there with his fellow contributors to the Bulletin, Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. Surprisingly, Breaker’s poetry was never taught in Australian schools in the days of the British Empire when we oldies were young. 

Take now the fruit of our labour,

Nourish and guard it with care;

For our youth is spent, and our backs are bent

And the snow is in our hair.

Frank Hudson 1913-1988  -The Pioneers

Voices of the Hunter - Phonse O'Neill recites a poem - The Pioneers by Frank Hudson

The Australian Robert Burns – Clarence Michael James Stanislaus (CJ) Dennis


CJ Dennis 1876-1938

CJ Dennis was born in Auburn South Australia in 1876 and died in Box Hill Melbourne in 1938. He went to school in Adelaide as a Christian Brothers College, Wakefield Street boarder.


He had various jobs around Australia in the literary field, and like Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, and Breaker Morant he was a contributor to the Bulletin. He published the well-loved novel of verse The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in 1915, which concerned the exploits of a Melbourne larrikin named Bill, who met and married Doreen who finally forgave him.



He also wrote poems about the Great War, such as Digger Smith which was a book written in verse in 1918 with extract below.


Previously, in 1908 he also wrote the patriotic poem The Australaise, which was published in the Bulletin, and upgraded by him in 1915 to reflect Australia’s involvement in The Great War. The word bloody in the recitation below was indicated in the written poem by dotted lines, with the recommendation that blooming be used, or any other word which suggests itself as suitable WTF? The 1908 recitation below omits the 1915 substituted words Kaiser and German for foeman and enemy, and also the substituted reference to old mother Britain.

On his death in 1938, the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons referred to CJ Dennis as The Australian Robert Burns.


Onya Cobber

First National Australian Poet – Adam Lindsay Gordon - 


Adam Lindsay Gordon 1833-1870

Adam Lindsay Gordon was born in England in 1833. He was the son of a retired British army officer and a mother whose family were slave owners in the British West Indies until Britain abolished slavery in most of the Empire in 1833. Compensation paid by the Government for loss of the slaves made the family independently wealthy, much of which was bequeathed to Gordon following the death of his parents.

Gordon was a restless youth and attended a number of upper-class schools, and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich where he was friends with Charles Gordon, who was destined to meet his end at Khartoum. He was taught horse riding and became an expert horseman. By the time he had approached the age of twenty, he was engaged in a life of dissipation, so his well-connected father shipped him off to South Australia with a letter of introduction to the governor.

In the years that followed, Gordon who had married, engaged in a succession of occupations including police trooper, horseman, steeple-chaser of renown, politician, horse breaker and sheep farmer.


He also engaged in unsuccessful land speculation and a failed business venture. He began writing poetry and became friendly with the poet Henry Kendall (Bellbirds) and the writer Marcus Clarke (For the Term of his Natural Life). His only child Annie was born in 1867 and died not long after. In 1870, bedeviled by rising debts and despair at being unable to pay his publisher, notwithstanding his inheritance which he had dissipated, he took his rifle into scrub surrounding the beach at Brighton in Victoria and shot himself.

Gordon’s poems were both bush ballads, and poems written with a romantic theme. One of the most remembered ballads is The Sick Stockrider written in 1870, the year of his death. The first stanza is below.


Lindsay Gordon is remembered by a statue in bronze erected in Melbourne in 1931, and by a bust in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey erected in 1934.

In Gordon’s long poem Ye Wearie Wayfarer Published in 1866 these famous lines appear, quoted by Queen Elizabeth II in an address to the Nation in 1992:




Onya Mate

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar OBE


Dorothea Mackellar 1885-1968

Dorothea Mackellar was born in 1885 in the affluent Sydney waterside suburb of Point Piper to elite parents. She was home schooled in the classics and languages and travelled widely with her parents throughout Europe, particularly Britain. She also spent time at her family’s property near Gunnedah and developed a love of the bush

She was an author and poet, and at the early age of 19 she wrote the poem which identifies her, My Country. She wrote other poems and novels which did not gain the same acclaim, and ceased writing after the death of her father in 1926.

The following an actual recitation of My Country by Dorothea.


Dorothea was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1968, shortly before her death at Darling Point.  There is a bronze statue in her honour at Gunnedah, unveiled in 1983. She is buried with her family in Waverly Cemetery in Sydney. The grave overlooks the ocean, not far from that of Henry Lawson.


Our Australian Poets and Poems - What would we do without them? 


This forms part of our tribute to Australia. My sincere thanks to Happy Expat and Flysa for their incredible work in helping contribute to this series. Many hours of work have been invested in bringing us historic and important acknowledgment of the lives of those who helped build a strong foundation from such a humble and challenging beginning as a Nation.  

In answer to your question about what we do without them ..... " I think we are finding out  Flysa. " -  Monty. 



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