More than 100 years ago, a young woman living in England penned a poem about her abject homesickness for Australia. When she returned to Sydney a few years later, her poem was published and became one of Australia’s most iconic patriotic poems.
The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.
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!
Excerpt from “My Country” by Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968)
Upon my first visit to Canberra’s National Arboretum in 2017, I saw a steel sculpture about 35 yards long and a few yards high overlooking the landscape. A few months later, I saw a picture of that sculpture in a doctor’s office; it took me a moment or two to place it. Nice, I thought. But it was not until I heard the “My Country” poem read aloud one Australia Day that the significance of the phrase and the sculpture finally hit me. Because I too have loved, and missed, a sunburnt country.
Our own 100 day countdown for leaving this wide brown land has now begun. Even though Australia is not my motherland, it has twice been my home – in 2005-2006, and again in 2017-2019.
Her beauty and her terror! I have admired Australia’s natural beauty, lush valleys and vineyards, mountains and forests, deserts and dry bush. I have delighted in Australia’s friendly people and diversity of unique plant and animal life. I have caught big venomous spiders in our house, and been *slightly* terrified by nocturnal creatures running on our roof at night. I have held a koala, hand fed many kangaroos and wallabies, and cared for dozens of parrots.
I have walked its bush trails and swam its seas as a nature enthusiast. I have sat in its classrooms and learned as a student. I have walked its halls of power as an American diplomat. I have lain in its hospitals and found relief. I have extended kindnesses, and received them fivefold in return.
Someday soon I too will be elsewhere missing this wide brown land. The smell of the eucalyptus trees and the dry crunch of its leaves underfoot. The calls of magpies and cockatoos. The flight of the white ibis and the prehistoric arc of its black beak. The rose gold and pastel sunsets that take my breath away. The dry air and the red earth of the Outback. The mysterious forests of Tasmania. The Sydney Harbour. Something like remembering a bouquet of native flowers sitting on my dining room table – bottle brush, wattle, kangaroo paw, grevillea, banksia, silver dollars – will probably make me teary.
Until then, we have a few months left to keep exploring, and we will.