Scott Morrison’s poet aunt was a socialist crusader whose face is on the $10 note

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s relative Dame Mary Gilmore was a socialist crusader and poet who wrote for the Communist Party newspaper Tribune.

She was the first female member of the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), which Labor leader Bill Shorten later headed, and campaigned for the welfare of the disadvantaged all her life. 

Mr Morrison knows his great great aunt would not have agreed with his political views but is proud of the family connection to the woman on the $10 note. 

Dame Mary (1865-1962) was a bush teacher who became heavily involved in the labour movement and other social causes in Sydney in the 1890s.

She championed nationalism, worker’s rights, feminism, Aboriginal welfare, pensions and health care. Her views eventually became too radical for the AWU of her time. 

Dame Mary’s image has appeared on $10 bills since 1993 and her most famous poem, No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest, is printed in micro form on the note. 

Before taking leadership of the Liberal Party, Mr Morrison was best known for ‘stopping the boats’ as Immigration Minister and cracking down on welfare cheats in the Social Services portfolio.

Mr Morrison told Daily Mail Australia a Queensland man recently wrote a poem (published below) about him called ‘Billy Gilmore’s Ringer’, referring to his uncle, Dame Mary’s grandson. 

‘It’s a nice poem,’ he said. ‘I got quite misty when I read it. I got all sentimental.’ 

Mr Morrison, whose political beliefs seem far removed from some of his aunt’s, spoke proudly of her achievements in Parliament before the 50th anniversary of her death.

‘In a society that still searches for role models for our young women, there are few ladies of greater inspiration than my great great Aunt Mary, of whom my two daughters should be very proud to call their aunt,’ he said. 

‘Even to this day they look on the $10 note with great pride. 

‘She was an immensely talented and compassionate woman of fierce conviction and heart. 

‘She may well not agree with everything I agree with today, but she was a woman of great conviction and a great Australian.’

In the same 2012 speech Mr Morrison spoke of how ‘Aunt Mary’ asked for a transfer from teaching in rural New South Wales to the city, where ‘her interest in social reform burgeoned.’ 

‘She seized her pen and began to write of the injustices she saw in the world around her,’ Mr Morrison said.

‘She was a prolific writer, a poet, a journalist and a trail-blazer in the fields that were strictly patriarchal. 

‘She brazenly carved her own path and stood toe to toe with anyone who dared stand in her way. 

‘She was a passionate nationalist, a zealous activist, an advocate for workers’ rights rather than union largesse and a champion of the oppressed. 

‘But, above all of that, she was a wife, a mother and, maybe to the surprise of those on the other side of the chamber, my great great aunt.’ 

In the 1890s, Dame Mary met Henry Lawson and they became extremely close, leading to an ‘unofficial engagement’ between the two poets. 

She later supported William Lane’s ‘utopian socialism’ and in 1896 joined his New Australia colony in Paraguay where she married Victorian shearer William ‘Bill’ Gilmore.

The couple had a son called Bill before they abandoned the South American social experiment and returned to Australia where Dame Mary continued writing. 

[Bill’s son – also called Bill – was Mr Morrison’s uncle and died last year].

She contributed to the The Bulletin and was on staff at The Australian Worker for many years, as well as publishing books of poetry, becoming a significant figure in the nation’s literary scene.  

Dame Mary, who in later years wrote columns for Tribune, was given a state funeral after her death aged 97 in 1962.

Her ashes are buried in her husband’s grave at Cloncurry in north-west Queensland, where the family worked cattle stations.

Mr Morrison spent time as a boy with his uncle Bill Gilmore on those properties and has credited that experience with learning about life in the bush. 

‘People come up here and learn what Australia is all about,’ Mr Morrison told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘They spend time on stations, and they learn the values of Australia and what the land is like here and our life is like and people go away having learnt a few things.’ 

Local grazier Keith Douglas wrote a poem about Mr Morrison when he visited the area during the north Queensland floods in February. 

‘Someone from up Cloncurry way I think it was has written a poem about me,’ Mr Morrison said. ‘It’s great. It’s called Billy Gilmore’s Ringer.’ 

‘Ringer’ refers to a stockman or station hand and the poem, which also references local father and son politicians Bob and Robbie Katter, lauds Mr Morrison as a man who understands the land and its people.

‘This bloke wrote this really nice poem… and it basically said, “He gets it and he’s going to stand with us, thank goodness for that”,’ Mr Morrison said.

The federal electorate of Gilmore on the NSW south coast is named in Dame Mary’s honour.

Gilmore is the most marginal NSW seat held by the Liberal Party, which has put up Warren Mundine – a former national president of the Labor Party – to contest the May 18 election.

 

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