She went from managing a cattle station for the family to writing some of Australia's classic literature. But it was her family's story that gave her the material to write.
Born to Michael Patrick Durack and Bessie (nee Johnstone) in 1913, Mary Gertrude Durack's early years were spent with her siblings in the remote Argyle Downs and Ivanhoe cattle stations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. During their time of running the stations, Mary and her siblings worked very closely with the local Aboriginal people, who taught them how to cook and muster cattle.
It were these pioneering activities of the Durack family that became the subject of her famous literary work, Kings in Grass Castles. This was followed by her sequel Sons in the Saddle.
A young Mary Durack
By 1935 Mary and her sister Elizabeth had published their first collaboration: All About: The Story of a Black Community on Argyle Station. Mary had provided the words and Elizabeth, the illustrations.
The sisters went on to produce a number of children's books between 1936 to 1963. In this time Mary was writing under the name Virgilia for The Western Mail. She wrote a column for women and children called Virgilian's Friendly Corner. She did not take easily to meeting her fans and often kept to herself.
In 1938 she married Horatio 'Horrie' Clive Miller, an aircraft engineer and well-known aviator. She raised her family in Nedlands, Perth as she and Elizabeth continued publishing children's books.
By 1950 Mary had ventured out and was writing novels, the first being Keep Him My Country, which was published in 1955. But it was Kings in Grass Castles, published in 1959, that established her as an author of repute.
Her life was a struggle at times as she lost two of her daughters, one in 1960 and the other in 1975, before being injured when hit by a car as she crossed the road. Despite a long period of rehabilitation, however, she managed to finish Sons in the Saddle in 1983. She used the diaries and letters of her father and oral history material from Aboriginal people to paint the picture of the Durack family.
Having been appointed OBE in 1966, Durack was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) and awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of Western Australia in 1977. All in all Mary authored and co-authored 28 books, widely praised for her narrative skills and willingness to portray Aboriginal people and European women as part of the history of northern Australian colonisation.
The sculpture 'The Storyteller' is dedicated to Mary Durack. Courtesy Glenn Day, Monument Australia.
Dame Mary died in her home at Nedlands on 16 December 1994. She was survived by her two sons and two of her four daughters. Cremated, her ashes were buried in the garden at the Argyle Downs Homestead Museum.
The sculpture 'The Storyteller' was erected in her memory and can be visited on the Great Eastern Highway at Burswood Park, Burswood, Western Australia.
'Mary Durack', Wikipedia, accessed 2nd January, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Durack
Malcolm Allbrook, 'Durack, Dame Mary Gertrude (1913–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/durack-dame-mary-gertrude-27045/text34521, published online 2018, accessed online 20 January 2023.
'Mary Durack', Monument Australia, accessed 23/1/2023, https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/arts/display/114114-mary-durack