Dame Mary Gilmore and the ‘New Australia’ Settlement

Whilst researching Mary Gilmore’s life I was intrigued to learn that she was part of the New Australia Movement, which established an Australian settlement called ‘Cosme’ in Paraguay in the 1890’s. During this time many Australians were disillusioned with the government, the conditions of workers, and fed up with British rule. Led by William Lane, the New Australia settlement was a progressive socialist self governing community where religion and alcohol were banned, there was group responsibility for children, and equality between men and women. Mary moved to Cosme in 1896 and it was here she met and married Victorian shearer William Gilmore in 1897. A year later she gave birth to their only child William Jr. The settlement fell apart and the Gilmore’s left Cosme in 1899 and returned to Australia in 1902.

New Australia Colony, Paraguay

I think it was courageous of Mary to resettle in a foreign land as a single 30 year old woman. Mary has been described as a very kind lady who cared deeply for the sick, underprivileged, the elderly and the plight of aborigines. She was a free thinker and a feminist who was ahead of her time. Mary’s three years at Cosme were life changing because she gained a husband and child, and undoubtedly the experience was also challenging and edifying. We are fortunate Mary Gilmore returned to Australia, as she contributed enormously to our country, not just in a literary sense but in so many areas of social reform. Her achievements are remarkable.

I wouldn’t say it was a success, but I certainly wouldn’t say it was a failure. It was purely communistic. Mary Gilmore on Cosme, 1959.

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