The Trade Unions established a Mary Gilmore Award in 1956 to encourage literature "significant to the life and aspirations of the Australian People.
Dame Mary Gilmore is the female face of the Australian $10 note. When she died, aged 97, Dame Mary was given a State funeral by both the Federal and New South Wales state governments.
We recently found second hand a copy of The Tracks We Travel: the second collection including the Mary Gilmore Award Stories. (edited by Jack Beasley and published by the Australasian Book Society in 1961 (first collection was published in 1953). There are many Mary Gilmore awards, but this one is special to trade unions. The ACTU did sponsor Mary Gilmore Poetry Prize for awhile and there was as Mary Gilmore Award for the winner of the May Day Literary Competition. Contributors include Nancy Cato, Frank Hardy, Dorothy Hewett, Alan Marshall, Vera Deacon and John Morrison. Joan Hendry’s story End of a Holiday was the winner of the 1956 Mary Gilmore Award. In the foreword Mary writes that
“May Day has more than one aspect. It has reached out into the cultural field in Australia by establishing a literary competition… To this the May Day Committee has generously given my name. "
Mary was educated at a number of country state schools. Aged 16 she became a pupil-teacher at the Superior Public School for Girls in Wagga Wagga, and was transferred to the Infants' Department in 1884. She taught at Beaconsfield Provisional School in 1886, followed by Illabo Public School, and in October 1887 was appointed temporary assistant at Silverton Public School near Broken Hill, New South Wales. She returned to Sydney in 1890 and taught at Neutral Bay, though her name and the dates of her residency are still proudly displayed on the Silverton Public School sign.
During the 1890s Mary became interested in social reform and supported the maritime and shearers' strikes. So as not to break the rules of the Department of Public Instruction, through which she was employed as a teacher, Mary wrote under the pen names Em Jaycey, Sister Jaycey and Rudione Calvert. At about this time she met and became a life-long friend of Henry Lawson.
Mary became the first woman member of the Australian Workers Union, which she claimed she joined under her brother's name. She later became a member of the executive. By 1895 Mary had given up teaching to join William Lane's New Australia Movement. She sailed to his Cosme settlement in Paraguay, arriving January 1896 and there married shearer William Gilmore (1866-1945). From 1902-1912 the Gilmores lived at William's parents' farm in Casterton in Western Victoria. Here Mary was able to re-establish her writing and political links. In 1903 she was featured on the Bulletin's 'Red Page' and she helped with campaigning for the Labor Party in the 1906 and 1910 federal elections for the seat of Wannon. In 1908 Mary commenced editing the woman's page of the Australian Worker, a position she held until 1931. In 1910 her first collections of poems Marri'd, and other verses was published.
Later Mary Gilmore was associated with the Communist newspaper Tribune. Her column 'Arrows' appeared regularly until mid-1962, commenting on contemporary Australian and world affairs. In 1954, as she approached her ninetieth year, she published her final volume of poetry, Fourteen Men. The Australasian Book Society commissioned William Dobell to paint her portrait for her 92nd birthday in 1957. She strongly defended the controversial portrait because she felt it captured something of her ancestry; she donated it to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Her last years were made memorable by ever-increasing signs of public esteem. Her birthdays were celebrated publicly by Sydney literati and ordinary folk alike; streets, roads, schools, old people's homes were named after her; literary awards and scholarships were given in her name; visitors from Australia's literary and political world, and overseas admirers, made regular pilgrimages to her; her pronouncements were highlighted by the media; she made television and radio appearances; she led May Day processions as the May Queen. She died on 3 December 1962 (Eureka Day).