“I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains,” is an iconic line ingrained deeply into Australian culture.

But has the Australian reader heard “Beneath the rock that rises from the sand, The muffled footsteps of a ghostly band”?

The popularity of Dorothea Mackellar’s work led to much more than her own success as the rise of the Gunnedah based poetry awards named after the poet gave voice to the next generation of young artists.

The Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Awards are celebrating 40 years and to recognise the milestone, this piece steps through how the organisation came to fruition from those poetry loving citizens.

Those breathing in the cold air at Kurrumbede earlier in the month looked out on the land and possibly understood what Dorothea Mackellar felt when she wrote about the “flood and fire and famine”.

It is claimed that Dorothea wrote My Country during a visit to Kurrumbede, on Gunnedah’s Blue Vale Road.

While there are other speculations as to where it was written, the iconic poem was first published in The Spectator under the title Core of my Heart and later published in The Sydney Mail in 1908.

Dorothea Mackellar died on January 14, 1968 aged 82, however, her influence never left Australia and her presence is certainly still watching over Gunnedah.

Dorothea Mackellar’s bronze statue depicting her in side-saddle on horse in ANZAC Park, was unveiled after several years of fundraising in 1983.

It is a landmark for Gunnedah, created by Dennis Adams which has her facing toward Kurrumbede and The Rampadells and is located near the Mackellar Centre.

Mikie Maas OAM PHF was at the helm of the fundraising but her strong love for the Australian land and the coinciding poetry that Dorothea crafted meant more was to come.

The Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society was born from Mrs Mass with the support of volunteer judges Rosemary Dobson and Joan Phipson and local poet Anne Bell (Knight) OAM.

The foundation originally saw 300 entries in its first year of the awards in 1984 and saw massive growth through the decades.

The first theme in 1984, and very on the nose, was ‘My Country’ which received 300 entries.

The secondary winner, Desiree Jurgs from Narrabri High School, was 15 at the time of submitting her winning poem ‘Australia’.

The “Beneath the rock that rises from the sand” was how the poem opens.

Rosemary Dobson was the primary section judge while Joan Phipson was the secondary judge that year.

Both continued to judge until 1989, that year receiving 5300 entries. It was likely difficult to comprehend at the time how high the number of entries would continue to climb.

As the years went on, more schools heard about the awards and wanted to compete.

The very peak number of entries for the awards was in 2005, when the theme ‘Water’ brought in 15,771 entries.

The number of entries has lowered since then, but a respectable 6491 poems were submitted for last year’s ‘The Winding Road’ category.

The most recent winner was Sarah Rowland aged 17 from Churchlands Senior High School, Wembley WA whose poem Sew My Shadows captured the judges through its energy.

Students enrolled in the Australian education facility are eligible to enter each year.

There are still a few days left for young poets to submit their poetry for this year’s optional theme “Listen, I have an Idea” with the winners to be announced in early September.

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