Mary's writing career began at an early age, when some of her childhood verses were published by her parents in a book entitled, Little Poems of Sunshine in 1923. Highly embarrassed by this, she was later quoted as saying, 'It was about the worst thing that ever happened to me. It set me apart, as a kind of freak. I longed to be good at basketball, but instead I was a child poet'. When she was sixteen she left school in Perth and moved to the family's land, long since established by Patsy in the Kimberley region, living at both Ivanhoe and Argyle stations. She began writing stories of station life, which were published in The Western Australian and later the Bulletin. Elizabeth was soon to join her and began illustrating these articles, which were later published as All-About; The story of a Black community on Argyle Station, Kimberley. This was followed by two sequels, Chunama and Son of Djaro. Mary, later writes of this time, 'There was a happy native community there and we grew very close to them and their lives. We walked and rode with them through the beautiful surrounding country, all around the Ord River and into the Ranges... This Ivanhoe time was significant, as far as our understanding of the blacks were concerned' (McVitty, 1989, p. 64).
The Durack sisters certainly had an unusual associations with the Aborigines, since at that time still so many despised them. It was said that their family was one of the few not to shoot them! Mary and Elizabeth insted found playmates and lifelong friends amoung the many Aborigines they knew, as had their grandfather and his family before them. The dedication in The Way of the Whirlwind reveals the Durack sisters views of these unique people:
For we have watched the hours of your delight
And sighed that so much sweetess fade away,
Of days that knew no darkness but the night
And ways that knew no parting save in play...
Elizabeth Durack, travelled widely throughout her life in Australia, Europe, Africa, Aisa and The Pacific, but it was her great love of Australia and its people that shone through in her paintings. In 1966 both sisters received an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and later Elizabeth received the Order of St Michael & St George - Commanders (CMG) in 1982. However, she also received notoriety of a different sort when in 1997 Elizabeth admitting to entering work into Aboriginal art exhibitions under the name 'Eddie Burrup'! She was one of the first to adopt Aboriginal techniques in her painting, long before it was 'trendy' to do so. Despite the controversy however Durack continued to paint under this name until her death in 2000.
List of Works
Written by Mary Durack, illustrated by Elizabeth Durack
1923, Little Poems of Sunshine by an Australian Child, Samson, Perth, WA. (written by Mary at age ten).
1935, All-About: The Story of a Black Community on Argyle Station, Kimberly, The Bulletin, Sydney, NSW.
1936, Chunuma, The Bulletin, Sydney, NSW.
1940, Piccaninnies, Offset Printing, Sydney, NSW.
(Date Unknown), Son of Djaro, Samson, Perth, WA.
1941, The Way of the Whirlwind, Consolidated Press, Sydney, NSW. (Angus & Robertson, London, 1956).
1946, The Magic Trumpet, Cassell, Melbourne, Vic.
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