My Country poem by Dorothea Mackellar: The places in Australia that fit the famous lines

"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me" might be the best-known line in Australian literature, but surely "I love a sunburnt country" isn't far behind. Something about this line and the poem's descriptions of our varied landscapes would make any Australian's chest swell with pride.

Since it was written in 1904, "My Country" has spoken to ordinary Australians everywhere, although Dorothea Mackellar wasn't your obvious bush poet. She had a wealthy upbringing in Sydney's posh Point Piper and travelled extensively in Europe during her childhood. She wrote "My Country" in London when she was 19, and is said to have been inspired by recalling her family's sprawling country properties in the Hunter Valley and Gunnedah on the Liverpool Plains near Tamworth in country NSW.

A bronze life-size statue of Mackellar on horseback now stands in Gunnedah. The surrounding countryside features hillsides pockmarked with sheep, rust-roofed farmhouses, gum trees fluttering with parrots, and ragged blue mountains smudged on distant horizons – just the sort of scenery described in "My Country".

Yet part of what has made the poem so successful is that it describes not a specific place, but rather a distilled version of Australia. As we dream of our future travels, here are 10 of the poem's descriptions and the places they seem to encapsulate.

I LOVE A SUNBURNT COUNTRY

JCR1PP Uluru (Ayers Rock), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Northern Territory, Australia SatSep12covermycountry

Uluru. Photo: Alamy

THE PLACE

Red Centre, NT

THE INSPIRATION

The dramatic heart of ancient Australia, anchored by the brooding presence of Uluru, is a must-visit for anyone with poetry in their soul. The outback here is a splotched canvas of sunburnt wonder, the light bold, the 600-million-year-old rock folded, cracked and majestic. Seeing the sunrise at Uluru is like watching the dawn of creation.

EXPLORE

Budget time for several excursions at different times of day, since shifting light changes Uluru's intense colours. Exploration options include hiking, cycling, ranger-led tours and camel rides. The Field of Light outback art installation and Sounds of Silence dinner under the spangled Milky Way (ayersrockresort.com.au) are fabulous. Set aside a day for the rust-red domes of nearby Kata Tjuta (parksaustralia.gov.au).

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discovercentralaustralia.com; northernterritory.com

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A LAND OF SWEEPING PLAINS

The Living Desert Reserve is nestled amongst the Barrier Ranges and is located 9km from the City of Broken Hill. The topography, scenery and views within the 2400ha reserve are breathtaking and can be explored through the numerous walking trails available for various fitness levels. Located within the reserve and settled in the tranquility of the gullies and rocky outcrops is the 180ha Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary. Bordered by a predator-proof fence, the sanctuary allows visitors to gain close access to outback plants and animals, while understanding the regions Aboriginal heritage and the importance of preserving this environment for future generations. SatSep12covermycountry
Photo credit: iStock
Reusage permitted for print and online

The Living Desert Reserve near Broken Hill. Photo: iStock

THE PLACE

Broken Hill, NSW

THE INSPIRATION

The scorched orange plains of the NSW outback are both exhilarating and intimidating in their immensity, and have provided backdrops to iconic movies from Mad Max to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Silvery saltbush, bonsai-twisted trees and fissured hills stretch to eye-scrunching horizons. Springtime wildflowers provide wondrous bursts of colour.

EXPLORE

Ten kilometres beyond town, Living Desert Reserve features sculptures and sensational sunsets. For the perfect sweeping-plains vista, head to former mining town Silverton (silverton.org.au) and wait for sunset at Mundi Mundi Lookout. Leave time to trek to Mutawintji National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au), where rugged gorges cup permanent waterholes, and abundant Aboriginal art is emblazoned on rocks.

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brokenhill.nsw.gov.au; visitnsw.com

OF RAGGED MOUNTAIN RANGES

Rough landscape in Flinders Ranges National Park, Australia SatSep12covermycountry
Photo credit: iStock
Reusage permitted for print and online

Photo: iStock

THE PLACE

Flinders Ranges, SA

THE INSPIRATION

Nowhere is such magnificent outback so readily accessible. The Flinders are buckled and burnt, aggressively rugged but magnificently beautiful too. Shattered peaks, shadowy gorges and banded layers of rock provide a pop-up book of geology, while rock art and tumbledown homesteads tell harsh history lessons. White gums clash with orange rock, cockatoos scream, and sunsets explode.

EXPLORE

Moralana Scenic Drive, Brachina Geological Trail and Bunyeroo-Brachina-Aroona Scenic Drive provide spectacular landscapes without even leaving your car. The natural amphitheatre of Wilpena Pound provides great hiking, easy along its flat kangaroo-nibbled floor, and challenging up St Mary's Peak. For truly ragged ranges, head to Akaroola.

MORE

parks.sa.gov.au; southaustralia.com

I LOVE HER FAR HORIZONS

One of the most stunning gorges at Karijini National Park in Western Australia. The bright red rocks bring a calming glow to the series of pools along the river.  SatSep12covermycountry
Photo credit: iStock
Reusage permitted for print and online

Karijini National Park in Western Australia. Photo: iStock

THE PLACE

Pilbara, WA

THE INSPIRATION

Few travellers make it as far as Australia's epic north-west, so this is the place to slip beyond mainstream tourist horizons and into adventure. The Pilbara features flamboyant red gorges slashed with mineral whites and purples, which conceal cool fern-lined pools where dragonflies dance. Stunning night skies allow you to gaze towards the horizons of the universe.

EXPLORE

A collision of blood-red gorges in Karijini National Park (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au) provides hiking challenges, while lesser-known Millstream National Park has lush valleys between spinifex-dotted hills. Burrup Peninsula offers astonishing Aboriginal rock art. Blue water outdoes red rock in the Dampier Archipelago (karrathaiscalling.com.au), haunted by dugongs and humpback whales.

MORE

australiasnorthwest.com; westernaustralia.com

I LOVE HER JEWEL-SEA

Aerial view of Whitsunday Islands. SatSep12covermycountry
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The Whitsunday Islands. Photo: iStock

THE PLACE

Whitsunday Islands, Qld

THE INSPIRATION

Only eight of the Whitsunday's 70-plus islands are inhabited. On the rest, butterflies dance and monitor lizards lounge in the sun, while white-sand beaches meet sparkling Midori-blue water. Plunge in and you might spot manta rays and turtles. On reefs, angelfish pout seductively with marigold lips, parrot fish dazzle, and brash damsel fish flaunt bold blues and yellows.

EXPLORE

Mainland gateway Airlie Beach has abundant family-friendly activities and budget hotels. Resorts on islands such as Daydream (daydreamisland.com), Hayman (haymanisland.intercontinental.com) and Hamilton (hamiltonisland.com.au) and are more upmarket. To really absorb the jewel-sea, consider a bareboat or skippered yacht charter (sunsail.com.au) and spend several days exploring deserted coves and beaches.

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tourismwhitsundays.com.au; queensland.com

 

THE WIDE BROWN LAND FOR ME!

FAB66H The P.S. Emmylou is a Murray River paddlesteamer, driven by a completely restored 1906 steam engine. Echuca Victoria Australia SatSep12covermycountry

Paddlesteamer the the P.S. Emmylou on the Murray River. Photo: Alamy

THE PLACE

Murray River, Vic

THE INSPIRATION

A sluggish river and rolling hills make for a Huckleberry holiday. Lazy days drift by like fat fish, the sky is kingfisher blue and every bend supplies another beaut spot to pop open a beer. Get ready for old settlements, mist among towering gum trees, and the stately flap of pelican wings across the water.

EXPLORE

Take a paddle-steamer cruise from Echuca (echucamoama.com), bird-spot in Gunbower National Park (parks.vic.gov.au), explore colonial-era history at Swan Hill and reward yourself at Mildura's cellar doors (visitmildura.com.au). When the border reopens, cross the river to Mungo National Park (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au), where an even wider, browner land conceals ancient archaeological sites.

MORE

visitthemurray.com.au; visitvictoria.com

A STARK WHITE RING-BARKED FOREST

G199A6 Treetop Walk, Canopy walkway, Valley of the Giants, Walpole-Nornalup National Park, Western Australia SatSep12covermycountry

Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk. Photo: Alamy

THE PLACE

South-west, WA

THE INSPIRATION

What better escape from the urban jungle than into a primeval forest? The eucalyptus trees of our continent's south-west grow up to 90 metres tall, so bring your hiking boots and commune with the gentle giants of nature or even indulge in a spot of forest bathing or tree-hugging.

EXPLORE

You'll find magnificent jarrah trees around Nannup and karri trees between Manjimup (manjimupwa.com) and Denmark (denmark.com.au). The 48-kilometre Great Forest Trees Drive near Pemberton (pembertonvisitor.com.au) is stunning. Walpole-Nornalup National Park (parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au) has the world's only red tingle trees. Don't miss the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk (valleyofthegiants.com.au), which takes you 40 metres into the canopy.

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australiassouthwest.com; westernaustralia.com

THE SAPPHIRE-MISTED MOUNTAINS

Scenic views across the Grose Valley as viewed from Govetts Leap lookout in the Blue Mountains. Supplied PR image for Traveller. Not for other use. 

Photo: Destination NSW

THE PLACE

Blue Mountains, NSW

THE INSPIRATION

Are the Blue Mountains too tourist tramped? Only for the unimaginative. In fact, this vast wilderness on the doorstep of Australia's biggest city still offers silent valleys, eucalypt forest alive with birdcall, and waterfalls that spiral off cliffs to vanish in a haze of spray. Beyond the standard roadside viewing points, varied walking tracks range from easy strolls to rugged overnight hikes, and still surprise repeat visitors.

EXPLORE

Lose the crowds at Pulpit Rock or on the walk between Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout near Blackheath (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au), plunge into the Hartley or Kanimbla valleys, and admire the panorama at Hassans Walls near Lithgow (tourism.lithgow.com).

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visitbluemountains.com.au; visitnsw.com

GREEN TANGLE OF THE BRUSHES

THE PLACE

Daintree, Qld

THE INSPIRATION

The green tangle, coiling lianas and sprouting ferns and orchids described in the third stanza of "My County" all come together in Australia's largest (and the world's oldest) rainforest in Far North Queensland, which provides shelter for pythons and tree kangaroos. Frogs gulp and butterflies lurch. Striped perch flit in crystal-clear pools, while crocodiles haunt sluggish, muddy rivers lined by mangrove trees.

EXPLORE

Kayaking, white-water rafting, crocodile-spotting cruises, indigenous tours and stays in eco-lodges are among the options. The mossy boulders and limpid cascades of Mossman Gorge (parks.des.qld.gov.au) are arranged to perfection. Daintree Discover Centre (discoverthedaintree.com) has a tree-canopy walkway, boardwalks and resident cassowaries.

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visitportdouglasdaintree.com; queensland.com

AN OPAL-HEARTED COUNTRY

A general overlook of Coober Pedy, South Australia, Australia SatSep12covermycountry
Photo credit: iStock
Reusage permitted for print and online

Photo: iStock

THE PLACE

Coober Pedy, SA

THE INSPIRATION

This quintessentially quirky Aussie outback town has lured an international assortment of heat-addled, squint-eyed opal-hunters since 1915. The lunar, saltbush-studded landscape is scorching hot and undulates with abandoned hillocks and diggings. Machinery rusts. It's the ultimate refreshing counterpoint to slick, predictable tourist destinations.

EXPLORE

Much of the town – houses, churches, motels – lies underground. Visit Umoona Opal Mine (umoonaopalmine.com.au), Old Timers Mine (oldtimersmine.com.au) and various art galleries and dugout homes. The sandstone tablelands of Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park (parks.sa.gov.au) immerse you in magnificent sunburnt country once more.

MORE

cooberpedy.com; southaustralia.com

POETS' CORNERS

Delve further into our literary heritage at these five destinations.

GULGONG, NSW

Henry Lawson grew up in the NSW Central West during the last roaring gold-rush days, which would profoundly influence his writing. Delightful 1870s Gulgong features some 150 heritage buildings. Explore the poet's life and work at the Henry Lawson Centre (henrylawsongulgong.org.au) or wait until June next year for the annual Henry Lawson Heritage Festival (gulgong.com.au). See visitmudgeeregion.com.au

STATE LIBRARY, MELBOURNE

The nation's oldest public library opened in 1856 and has been superbly refurbished. Architectural highlights are the plasterwork La Trobe Reading Room beneath its vast dome, and the classically elegant Queen's Hall. Apart from book collections the library features exhibition spaces and hosts regular tours and talks. During lock-down, you can visit digital galleries and listen to podcasts. See slv.vic.gov.au

WINTON, QLD

Banjo Patterson wrote "Waltzing Matilda" here in 1895, based on a swagman's sad story at a local billabong. The Waltzing Matilda Centre (matildacentre.com.au) is devoted to the ballad and explains how it became Australia's most beloved song. It also features the history of other Australiana such as the founding of Qantas and the 1891 Shearers' Strike. See outbackqueensland.com.au

NUTCOTE, SYDNEY

Much-loved children's author and illustrator May Gibbs – best known for The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie – built this yellow Mediterranean-style villa in 1925 and lived there for 44 years. The interior sits in a time warp; the English-style gardens that inspired Gibbs are especially delightful. Book ahead, as COVID-19 limits on visitor numbers currently apply. See maygibbs.com.au

ALBERT STREET LITERARY TRAIL, BRISBANE

Walk along Albert Street between the Botanic Gardens and King George Square in downtown Brisbane and inspect more than 30 brass pavement plaques inscribed with quotes about Brisbane – both flattering and disdainful, yet always thought-provoking – from Queensland writers such as Thea Astley, David Malouf and Nick Earls. See visitbrisbane.com.au

Quoted lines by arrangement with the licensor, the Estate of Dorothea Mackellar, c/- Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE LIFE AND WORK OF DOROTHEA MACKELLAR SEE dorotheamackellar.com.au

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