Mary Durack

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Mary Durack
Born (1913-02-20)20 February 1913
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Died 16 December 1994(1994-12-16) (aged 81)
Occupation Author, historian
A black and white scan of the cover of Mary Durack's 1976 children's novel Yagan of the Bibbulmun, with illustrations by Revel Cooper.

Dame Mary Durack AC DBE (20 February 1913 – 16 December 1994) was an Australian author and historian. She wrote Kings in Grass Castles and Keep Him My Country.


Mary Durack, born in Adelaide, South Australia, to Michael Patrick Durack (1865–1950) and Bessie Durack (née Johnstone), and her siblings lived at the remote Argyle Downs and Ivanhoe cattle stations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The Durack family were pioneers in the settlement of the area by Europeans. The story of her family's history, beginning with the mid-19th century migration from Ireland, is presented by Durack in Kings in Grass Castles, and its sequel, Sons in the Saddle.[1]


In 1935 Mary and her sister, Elizabeth, were to publish their first collaboration. The text in All About: The Story of a Black Community on Argyle Station was supplied by Mary and the illustrations were by Elizabeth. The collaboration was to produce a number of children's books: Chunuma in 1936; Son of Djaro and the Way of the Whirlwind in 1940–1941;The Magic Trumpet in 1946 and To Ride a Fine Horse (1963).

Mary Durack wrote under the name "Virgilia" for The West Australian during 1937–38, a column for women and children in rural areas. In 1950 she wrote the novel Keep Him My Country. Other important works include the saga of the Durack family, Kings in Grass Castles (1959) and its sequel, Sons in the Saddle; and a play, Swan River Saga: Life of Early Pioneer Eliza Shaw (1976). A biography, To Be Heirs Forever, also used Eliza Shaw as a subject. Durack also continued to write children's literature, most notably the story of the Nyungar man, Yagan, which was published in 1964 as The Courteous Savage: Yagan of the Bibbulmun[2] and Tjakamarra: Boy between two worlds.

Other works by Mary Durack included a two–act play, Ship of Dreams; an Australian Settler (1968);[3] The Rock and the Sand (1969) is a history of missionaries in the state; The Aborigines in Australian Literature (1978) is part of the non-fiction component of her work, a subject often forming the basis of many of her works of fiction.

Durack adapted Keep Him My Country into the libretto for a one-act opera, Dalgerie, by James Penberthy; it premiered in Perth on January 22, 1959. On July 25, 1973, along with Larry Sitsky's The Fall of the House of Usher, it was one of the first two operas to be given an evening performance at the Sydney Opera House.[4]

Personal life[edit]

On 2 December 1938 she married the aviator, Captain Horrie C. Miller, OBE, who died in 1980. They had two sons and four daughters, including Robin Miller, a famous aviator and nurse who was known as "The Sugarbird Lady" after her work fighting polio. Two of Mary Durack's daughters predeceased her.

Durack was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to literature on 31 December 1977.[5] On 12 June 1989 she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).[6]



  • All-About : The Story of a Black Community on Argyle Station, Kimberley (1935)
  • Keep Him My Country (1955)

Children's fiction[edit]

  • Chunuma (1936)
  • Son of Djaro (1940)
  • The Way of the Whirlwind (1941)
  • A Book of Picture Stories (1942)
  • To Ride a Fine Horse (1963)
  • Kookanoo and Kangaroo (1963)

Poetry collections[edit]

  • Little Poems of Sunshine : By an Australian Child (1923)
  • Piccaninnies (1940)
  • The Magic Trumpet (1946)


  • Time and Tide : the Story in Pictures of Roebuck Bay, N.W. Australia (1946)
  • Kings in Grass Castles (1959) - biography
  • The Courteous Savage : Yagan of Swan River (1964) - biography
  • A Pastoral Emigrant (1965)
  • The Rock and the Sand (1969)
  • To Be Heirs Forever (1976)
  • The Aborigines in Australian Literature (1978) - criticism
  • The End of Dreaming (1978)
  • A Legacy of Love (1981) - biography
  • Sons in the Saddle (1998) - biography

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bolton, G. C. Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 4 August 2016 – via Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
  2. ^ Later published as simply Yagan of the Bibbulmun
  3. ^ Published in Australia as A Pastoral Immigrant
  4. ^ Margaret Ross Griffel; Adrienne Fried Block (1999). Operas in English: A Dictionary. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-25310-2. 
  5. ^ "It's an Honour - Honours - Search Australian Honours". Retrieved 4 August 2016. 
  6. ^ "It's an Honour - Honours - Search Australian Honours". Retrieved 4 August 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Adelaide, Debra (1988). Australian Women Writers, pp. 57–58 – biography and a full bibliography of publications
  • Wilde, W.H.; Hooton, Joy; Andrews, Barry (1994) [1985]. The Oxford companion to Australian Literature (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press. p. 245. ISBN 0-19-553381-X.