In baseball, nothing happens until the batter steps up to the plate. There’s no fun, no action, no drama until someone steps up and swings the bat.
Mary Gilmore was no baseballer, but according to her biographer, W.H.Wilde, she was “the most widely known and best loved woman is in the first two centuries of Australian history”. She got there principally, because she was always ready to step up to the plate.
A school teacher by trade, Mary arrived in Sydney at the age of twenty five. She was immediately mesmerized by the intellectual fervor of the 1890s nationalism and socialism.
She fell in with William Lane’s movement. When William started a model socialism commune in Paraguay, he called for volunteers. Mary stepped up. She lived and worked in the commune for three and a half years and when it collapsed she returned to Australia with her husband and son.
She desperately wanted to re-join the intellectual and literary circles of Sydney, but she was stony broke. With her husband and son she retreated to the country. Her in-laws owned a modest farm in far western Victoria. They had a spare cottage and Mary’s husband Bill would, at least, be able to find some work.
Mary hated the isolation of rural life. Work was scarce, even for Bill, and they really only scratched out a living.
Mary’s years there were desperate, verging on depression and pessimism. But desperate and lonely though she was, Mary found solace in writing poetry.
Mary was a realist. She knew her poetry wasn’t very good but under the circumstances, it was the best she could do. So she kept at it.
In 1907 she wrote to Hector Lamond suggesting that his newspaper – “The Worker” – a male dominated, union orientated paper, should devote a page to women’s issues. Hector wrote back: Been there, done that. It just doesn’t work! However, he was prepared to look at a page if Mary would design one and send it to him.
Mary was at first base! Now there was no stopping her. She not only designed the first page for him, but she continued to produce the page for another 23 years.
The women’s page gave practical advice about cooking and running the household. But right from the start Mary was intent on tackling the “big issues”, particularly socialism and the politics of the day. Mary’s “women’s page” never shirked the issues and whether it was conscription, alcoholism, gambling, social welfare or unionism, Mary presented a point of view.
For the first three years Mary produced the “Women’s Page” from Casterton, in rural Victoria. Undaunted by the fact that she was so far from the intellectual bustle of the capital cities, she stepped up to the plate each week and produced her page.
I can sit in the dugout all day, scheming, thinking, planning. But in baseball and life, nothing happens until someone steps up to the plate and swings.
It’s time for me to take a lead from Mary Gilmore. It’s time for me to find the courage to keep going. It’s time for me to step up again.