Dorothea Mackellar, author of poem My Country, immortalised on giant silo artwork

When Dorothea Mackellar penned My Country, the wide brown land was almost unfailingly white, with many Australians, including their government, much preferring it that way.

Now, well over a century later, in an expression of Australia's evolution as a nation, the task of immortalising Mackellar in the town where she spent much of her youth has fallen to Heesco Khosnaran, a Melbourne-based Australian street artist with Mongolian heritage.

On the concrete blank canvas of the historic Gunnedah Maize Mill, Mr Khosnaran recently completed a silo art mural - now one of as many as 44 (and ever-growing) scattered around regional Australia - variously depicting Mackellar in her youth, a local horse-drawn harvesting scene and an extract of the most well-known stanza from the poem.

"My work takes me to many different parts of Australia and with each place I learn more about Australian history and culture and it is always very interesting to me," says Mr Khosnaran. "I've spent pretty much all my adult life in Australia. It gave me this life and career. I'm more than happy to give back what I can.

"[Similarly to My Country], there is a very famous [Mongolian] poem called My Native Land by Natsagdorj .We all learned it in primary school. The poem's been made into a song and is constantly referred to in Mongolian culture but I don't think I've seen a mural dedicated to it. I would love to paint a mural dedicated to it, for sure."

Philippa Murray, chair of the Dorothea Mackellar Memorial Society in Gunnedah - a town of almost 13,000 located in north-eastern NSW - is the instigator of the mural as well as poetry awards in the poet and author's name.

Ms Murray reckons that the My Country poet, who died in 1967, would be "rapt" by the chosen artist and the mural she considers to be emblematic of "the circle of life of old and new Australia".

The process of commissioning such murals is considerably more complex than it may appear. Graincorp, which cooperates with rural communities on silo art projects on its towering concrete sentinels, has a strict approval processfor the artworks.

In Gunnedah, Ms Murray says that along with the regulation development application from the local council, a suitable site had to be identified as well as a muralist and funding support from the federal government.

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Then the facade of the 29-metre high, privately-owned mill had to be repaired and repainted, ready for Mr Khosnaran to work his magic, even though his arrival in the town was delayed due to the extended Melbourne COVID-19 lockdown.

Atop a cherry-picker, the artist had to contend with temperatures of up to 43 degrees as well as swirling winds. However, Mr Khosnaran is no novice, having painted no less than 17 murals in the Gippsland town Yarram, in south-east Victoria, as well as a quartet of other grain facilities. Each silo mural takes an average of a month to complete.

Even though the tourism value of silo art murals has been questioned, with sceptics claiming that tourists drawn to them don't necessarily stimulate the economies of nearby towns, Ms Murray is sanguine about Gunnedah's prospects.

"The mural is a massive shot in the arm for Gunnedah as a tourist destination," she says. "It has already engendered a new sense of civic pride and we surely needed it after three years of drought. I'm so confident the mural will bring a new stimulus and focus to tourism here. "

Ms Murray hopes that the mural will soon be complemented by public open days at Kurrumbede, the original Mackellar family homestead, 25 kilometres from Gunnedah and now owned by Whitehaven Coal. The station was run by the poet's brothers Malcolm and Eric with their sister a regular visitor from Sydney.

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