Mary Fullerton

Mary Elizabeth Fullerton (1868-l946), poet, author, feminist and socialist, was born on 14 May 1868 at Glenmaggie, Victoria. Mary had five sisters and one brother and was the second surviving daughter of Eliza (born Leathers in Suffolk) and Robert Fullerton, from Belfast. Her father took up a selection in the Gippsland bush and built the bark hut where Mary was born. Brought up in a Scots-Presbyterian community, Mary became critical of religion and men who tried 'to fit infinity into a pint pot'. She described herself as a 'medley of beliefs'.

Mary was educated by her mother and the local state school. An avid writer and reader, by eleven Mary had read Milton's Paradise Lost three times. Other favourites were Burns, Byron, Shelley and the essayists Macaulay, Hazlitt and Lamb. Later Darwin's evolutionary theory influenced her philosophy. Mary worked on the farm, educating herself at night. By the late 1890s she and some of her family were living in Prahran, Melbourne, later moving to Hawthorn. Attending Dr Charles Strong's radical and non-conformist church, Mary met socialists and feminists. Although shy, she became active in the suffrage movement. Her interest stemmed from her childhood - seeing men of all types allowed to vote but not her mother turned her into 'a little Mary Wollstonecraft . . . I felt that somehow . . . my mother was slighted and, at large, women'. Other involvements included the Victorian Socialist Party and the Women's Political Association, of which she was vice-president. Mary visited England in 1912. She was opposed to conscription and during the war joined Women Against War.

Describing herself as the 'go alone' type, Mary never married. To support herself she wrote articles, stories and poems for newspapers, sometimes under pseudonyms including Alpenstock and Austeal. Publications were Moods and Melodies (1908), a collection of sonnets and lyrics, and The Breaking Furrow (1921), where Mary developed her 'terse poetic style' containing a 'kernel of content'. Her attitude to poetry and religion was similar: 'too much talking in one and too much creed in the other'. Bark House Days, her childhood reminiscences, was published in 1921 (reprinted 1931 and 1964) and she won a prize for her novel Two Women (1923). It and two other novels were published under pseudonyms. Novels published under her own name included People of the Timber Belt (1925) and A Juno of the Bush (1930). Mary returned to England in 1922 to live with her friend Mrs Mabel Singleton. Here she met Miles Franklin (q.v.) - 'I remember how cordial and undoubtedly pleased you were to see me. I was surprised at . . . the warmth of your feelings'. Rapport was instant. Their correspondence highlights mutual support through life and writing traumas - summed up by Miles 'your letters keep me alive'. When Miles Franklin arranged to have her poetry published - Moles do so Little with their Privacy (1942) and The Wonder of the Apple (1946) - Mary insisted on anonymity, as she was sensitive about her lack of formal education and the sex bias in publishing. The pseudonym 'E' was chosen.

Suffering from asthma and heart trouble, Mary was evacuated from London during the war but Miles wrote that 'her spiritual tenacity remained inviolate'. She died on 23 February 1946 and was buried in the Maresfield cemetery, Sussex. While her novels illuminate Mary's philosophy, Bark House Days and her poetry ensure her place in Australian literature.

Colleen Burke