Durack, Mary (1913–1994)

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Durack, Mary (1913–1994)

Australian author known for her biographies of the Durack family, Kings in Grass Castles and Sons in the Saddle. Name variations: Dame Mary Durack. Born Mary Durack on February 20, 1913, in Adelaide, Australia; died in 1994 in Australia; daughter of Bessie Ida Muriel (Johnstone) and Michael Durack; sister of Elizabeth Durack (painter and illustrator); educated at Loreto Convent (graduated 1929); married Horace Clive Miller (an airline operator), on December 2, 1938; children: (Patricia) Mary Miller Millett; Robin Elizabeth Miller Dicks (deceased); Juliana Miller Rowney (deceased); Andrew Clive Miller; Marie Rose Miller Megaw ; John Christopher Miller.

Selected writings:

(with Florence Rutter) Child Artists of the Australian Bush (Harrap, 1952); (novel) Keep Him My Country (Constable, 1955); (family history) Kings in Grass Castles (Constable, 1959); The Rock and the Sand (Constable, 1969); (editor) M.L. Skinner, The Fifth Sparrow (Sydney University Press, 1972); (with Ingrid A. Drysdale) The End of Dreaming (Rigby, 1974); Swan River Saga (two-act play; first produced in Perth, Australia, 1971, published by Service Printing Co., 1975); (biography of Eliza Shaw) To Be Heirs Forever (Constable, 1976); (novel) Sons in the Saddle (Constable, 1983); (with Olsen, Serventy, Dutton, and Bortignon) The Land beyond Time (Macmillan, 1984); (with Mahood, Williams, Willey, Sawrey, Iddon, and Ruhen) The Stockman (Landsdowne-Rigby, 1984).

Selected writings for children:

Little Poems of Sunshine by an Australian Child (R.S. Sampson, 1923); All-About: The Story of an Aboriginal Community on Argyle Station, Kimberley (Endeavour Press, 1935); Chunuma (Endeavour Press, 1936); Son of Djaro (Endeavor Press, 1938), The Way of the Whirlwind (Consolidated Press, 1941, reprinted, Angus & Robertson, 1979); (poems) Piccaninnies (Offset Printing, 1943); (poems) The Magic Trumpet (Cassell, 1944); (poems) Kookanoo and Kangaroo (Rigby, 1963, and Lerner, 1966); To Ride a Fine Horse (St. Martin's, 1963); The Courteous Savage: Yagan of Swan River (Thomas Nelson, 1964, published as Yagan of the Bibbulmun, 1976); An Australian Settler (Clarendon Press, 1964, published as A Pastoral Emigrant, Oxford University Press, 1964); Tjakamarra: Boy between Two Worlds (Vanguard Service Printing, 1977).

"I was never aware of having an ambition to write books," said Mary Durack, "though I seem to have been a compulsive writer from the time I could form words on paper…. Perhaps the compulsion arose from the genes of Celtic

ancestors who were frustrated by lack of opportunity, education, or encouragement." The second of six children, Durack was the daughter of a rancher and grew up in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, enjoying station life. When she and her older brother reached school age, the family moved to Perth where better educational opportunities awaited the Durack children. Mary completed school at the Loreto Convent at age 16 and by her own decision returned to Kimberley. She was joined there by her sister Elizabeth Durack , who was two years younger than she, as soon as Elizabeth had also graduated. The pair shared cooking duties and salary on their father's Ivanhoe station. With Mary as writer and Elizabeth as illustrator, they began a collaboration, and the children's book Chunuma (1936) was their first publication together. After seven years, they had saved enough money to travel to Europe, where they remained for a year.

Following their travels, the sisters parted ways, and Mary Durack returned to Western Australia to write for the Western Mail. A succesful freelance writer, she married Horace Miller, an airline operator. The couple settled in Perth and had six children, and Durack flew west often to the family's second home in Broome.

Although she was also a novelist, Durack's greatest success came with her children's books and her biographies of the Durack family, including Kings in Grass Castles and Sons in the Saddle. "That the greater part of my literary output has been of a documentary or historical nature," remarked Durack, "was a matter of chance rather than of choice. For preference I would have concentrated on fiction or drama, but my inheritance or chance acquisition of historical documents decided otherwise." In addition to her published works, Durack was also the writer of several unpublished plays, three of which were produced in Australia: "Dalgerie" (libretto for one-act opera), "The Ship of Dreams" (two-act for children), and "The Way of the Whirlwind" (two-act ballet for children). Her two-act play Swan River Saga was first produced in Perth in 1971 and was published by Service Printing Company in 1975.

Durack strove for accuracy in her histories: "Bearing in mind Napoleon's definition of history as 'a fiction agreed upon,' I try to assure that there is as little fiction as possible in my interpretation and to remember that my characters, enmeshed in their time and circumstances, should not be casually judged by standards imposed by different backgrounds and other generations." She was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1966, and made Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1978. Dame Mary Durack died in Australia in 1994.


Hetherington, John. 42 Faces. Melbourne: F.W. Cheshire, 1962.

Metzger, Oprida, and Deborah A. Straub. Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volume 17. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.

Wilde, William H., Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford, 1985.

related media:

Six of Durack's "Kookanoo" stories were recorded on an album released by Admark (1973).