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Mary Gilmore in 1899


MARY GILMORE


'A Strenuous and Formidable Dame'

'She is a great girl and I would like to see her get married to one of our best fellows,' wrote one of Mary Cameron's male colleagues in 1896.

Miss Mary Cameron had been a pupil-teacher at Cootamundra, Albury, Wagga Wagga and Silverton (near Broken Hill) and was now leaving to teach twelve Australian children living in very unusual circumstances.

In 1892 these children's parents had originally joined other disillusioned Australian socialists in building a communal settlement, ' New Australia ', in Paraguay, South America. After a disagreement, forty-five of the initial 241 adults had formed a splinter colony called ' Cosme ', and Mary Cameron became the teacher at their one-roomed school.

Fifteen months later Mary did marry a Cosme resident, thirty-one year old former Victorian farmer, Will Gilmore, described as a 'strong, straight and manly' bushman. During the following year a son was born to the couple.

The daily newspaper, which Mary edited, was named The Cosme Evening Notes and was published by simply being read aloud to the assembled colonists each evening.

All did not go well at Cosme. The harsh life was made worse by petty jealousies, a very hot climate and an imbalance between males and females.

The Gilmores decided to quit. Will journeyed south as a shearer in Argentina to raise the fare home, while Mary stayed alone with their ailing child for nine more months.

'I have such a hatred of this place,' Mary wrote in one of her unposted daily letters to her husband, 'Those people who are not selfish, are such liars you cannot believe a word they say'.

The family regrouped in Patagonia where Mary worked as a governess for twelve months. Then they returned to Australia via London, travelling home with Henry Lawson's unhappy family. Lawson later described Mary as 'rather a strenuous and formidable person'.

Later, Mary Gilmore edited the women's pages of a socialist weekly, The Worker , for twenty-three years.

Her verse was published in The Bulletin and in New Idea ; her first volume of poetry was brought out to much acclaim in 1912.

Mary Gilmore's very popular The Worker's Cook Book was published during this period. She became active in campaigns for the aged and under-privileged and lived alone in a small Kings Cross flat, her husband having decided in 1905 he preferred a rural life.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
© BARRY JOHN WATTS 2002

 

Mary Gilmore in 1899
Mary Gilmore,
photographed in 1899

 

The Cosme school

The colonist's school-house
where Mary taught

 

The Gilmore family
The Gilmore family,
Will and Mary with their son



Editor of Women's Page
Mary Gilmore, Women's Page editor, 1927

 
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