Blue Mountains poet Minnie L Brackenreg (1858-1936) came to my attention by accident when looking for works published 100 years ago. A fellow Blue Mountains resident, identified only as “Tess”, wrote to the editor of the Blue Mountains Echo in November 1924, offering a companion poem to one of Brackenreg’s which had been published in July earlier that year. I found the original, “Love’s aspirations”; it hadn’t been properly transcribed, and therefore hadn’t come up in my searches. I was keen to find out more about the author who had inspired “Tess’s” tribute.

Breckenreg published three volumes of poetry during her lifetime, only the first of which, Gems from the Mountains (1922), is available online. The second was Jewels from the hills (1923) and the final, Casket of pearls (1930). All were published under the pen-name, “Myee”, which, as the introduction to the first volume states, means “native born”. Apart from these volumes, or booklets, as they were called, Brackenreg had only eleven poems published, all in the Echo, her local newspaper.

A trawl through NSW Births Deaths and Marriages records gives us the bare outline of Minnie Brackenreg’s life. She was born Minnie Louisa Owen, to George and Dorcus Owen of Sydney, in 1858. At the age of twenty she married George Stubbs Brackenreg in the NSW country town of Maitland. The couple had eight children, born between 1879 and 1899, three of whom died at birth or in infancy. By 1883, the Brackenregs had moved from Maitland to Sydney, with subsequent children born in various locations in the Inner West, South and Wollongong areas.

Minnie’s husband George, to my surprise, has his own Wiki entry. He was an entrepreneur and founding member of the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL), and a major influence in establishing the South Sydney RFL club. The couple’s union was evidently an unhappy one, with George taking a mistress, at whose Randwick home he died in 1928. By then, Minnie was living in the Blue Mountains village of Leura. She survived her husband by eight years, dying in 1936 in nearby Katoomba, aged in her late seventies. She was mourned by her five children, four sons and a daughter. Little more is known about her life.

The AustLit database entry for the poet notes:

At about the same time Minnie Brackenreg was writing as ‘Myee’, a book of poems was published by Felicia Australia Myee (q.v.). It has not been possible, however, to determine whether they are the same person.

Owing to the treasures of Trove, this conjecture can be laid to rest. A paragraph in the Sydney morning herald in July 1911 identifies this other poetical “Myee” as a “Miss Helen James”:

We have received a copy of a poem. ‘Australia,’ by Felicia Australia Myee (Miss Helen James), which is being sold by the author in aid of the New South Wales Home for Incurables. (“Puck’s girdle”, Sydney morning herald, 26 July 1911: 5.)

The question as to why some writers’ works are remembered and others forgotten continues to fascinate me. Is it due simply to the works’ aesthetic qualities, often a question of individual taste, even fashion? Is it influenced by the volume of output, the breadth of audience reach, the number of times a poem or story is syndicated, each reprint increasing the likelihood of it being anthologised? Or does a poet need someone to champion their work, a sympathetic reader who will convince others it is worth treasuring? Reading Sylvia Martin’s biography of Aileen Palmer recently, I was struck by this latter point, how important it is for authors to find a champion, as Henry Handel Richardson found in Nettie Palmer. So far, Brackenreg has had few champions.

There are lots of reasons I can suggest why Minnie L Breckenreg’s work has been forgotten. The poet doesn’t appear to have been in contact with literary figures of her day, although many lived in or visited the Blue Mountains, as our piece on Alys Hungerford last month noted. Her output was limited to booklets – self-published? – and her other poems only ever appeared in her local newspaper. Her work doesn’t fit any “Australian” tradition, only rarely describing “bush” life, and most of her descriptions of nature are generic, scarcely distinguishable from a European landscape. In style her work is traditional, rather than experimental, her stance never political. Rather, her poems are fundamentally conservative, often with an overt didactic, even religious, intent.

Are religious poets overlooked in Australia? Possibly. Does one need to be a person of faith to enjoy or value such poetry? Perhaps. So where does this leave Brackenreg’s work for a twenty-first century, predominantly secular audience? Is it worth remembering?

Minne L Brackenreg’s first volume, Gems from the mountains, is unapologetically religious in tone. It is introduced by Chaplain-Major Colwell of Katoomba, a Methodist cleric, who offers the following description of the “authoress”: “she has a great love of nature, and can see the Hand of God in it all; also the many lessons God desires to teach us through His beautiful gifts.”

In case these words are missed, the poet’s verse preface sets the reader straight:

If these simple Thoughts should but succeed
In cheering someone in his need,
Or lighting up some shadowed way,
’Twill more than Gold my work repay.
Then will my long-cherished dream come true;
The grey of life be changed to blue.
Then will I know ’twas not in vain
I captured Thoughts for others’ gain,
And placed them in a Pamphlet small,
Just tender words to comfort All.
I trust that those who care to look
Will read God’s Love within this Book.

The booklet contains 64 poems, and references to God are threaded throughout, with many poems based on stories or passages from the bible. That said, not all are preachy. One titled “Youth and Age” has a timeless quality. Seemingly addressed to the poet’s daughter, “my darling of long ago”, it describes the toll life’s hardships take on the ageing daughter, with the fading of her hair from gold to silver. The poem, which also refers to loved ones lost to death, ends with:

Her lips have a half-sad smile,
For our trials have been not a few.
There are those lost just awhile
Who are waiting above the blue.

I thank God I have her still,
While her dear hand in mine I hold;
In travelling down life’s hill
I love silver better than gold.

The theme of loss reappears in the poem, “Bereavement”, which begins:

A mother watched her baby like a blossom fade and die,
And from her sad and breaking heart arose this bitter cry––
“Oh God, if Thou were merciful, Thou wouldst have spared my child.
Now life is but a joyless thing!” she cried in accents wild.

It’s an interesting and touching subject, but the words of a passing shepherd, who seeks to comfort the mother by rationalising her loss, are less than convincing, as is his analogy of a ewe following her “lambkin” across the river. He suggests the child’s death will make the mother’s own death that much easier when it comes, as she knows she will be reunited with her child. From a secular perspective, it isn’t much consolation.

The best of the religious poems, in my view, is “Tempest Tossed”, which to me hints not at faith and belief, but the poet’s doubt, even suicidal despair.

Tempest Tossed
I feel like a bird with a broken wing,
Or a harp that has lost its sweetest string,
Or a ship afloat on an angry sea,
That is battered and bruised relentlessly.

Oh, if that Power that can govern the tide
Would pilot my boat through these waters wide,
And bind up the bruise on my broken wing,
And mend my harp with another new string.

Oh, then would my pen a sweet melody sing,
Through my heart a peal of joy-bells would ring;
I would know that God had answered my prayer,
And in mercy had chosen my life to spare.

But if a soft breeze from that heavenly shore
Should say through its whisperings: ‘Never-more,’
I will know my Lord has thought ’twould be best
That I should find peace in eternal rest.

Another poem, “Loneliness”, also hints that the consolations of faith aren’t sufficient to counteract “our loss, and pain, and grief”.

Only towards the end of the volume do poems appear that have a recognisably Australian content, chiefly, “The selector” and “Memories of drought”. Even a poem like “Norfolk Island” displays scarcely any local colour. An exception is “A letter in verse (to my Son in Innisfail)” which gives a sense of place with the descriptive phrase: “torn by cyclone and storm”. The majority of the poems, however, could have been set anywhere.

Of the poems published in the Echo, only one was reprinted from Gems of the mountain, The seasons” (1921), but again it’s pretty generic. “Memories of the city” (1923) gives us the most down-to-earth descriptions, creating a vivid picture of Sydney in the poet’s day, although even then Brackenreg can’t help moralising:

Memories of the City
I took a trip to the City;
That City in which I was born;
But, alas! there reigned such confusion,
My nerves seemed all tingling and torn.
The trains, the trams, and the motors,
The lorries, and waggons, and drays,
The cabs, and sulkies, and hand-carts
Seemed to fill my soul with amaze.

The young lads selling their papers,
As they made their way through the throng,
Or recklessly mounted the tram cars
Which so frequently came along.
As the crowd passed by I pondered,
For some looked so bright, and so fair,
While others looked downcast and weary,
With faces all wrinkled with care.

Sometimes I would see a “Sister”
Looking gentle, and kind, and sweet;
Bent on some errand of mercy,
That she “Poverty’s” needs might meet.
The City’s heart has its passions,
Its tragedies, follies, and crimes,
Its vanities, pleasures, and fashions
Which speak of degenerate times.

Still it’s a city worthy knowing,
With its parks, and gardens so gay,
And its harbour, so full of beauty,
With its ships in such grand array.
May-be you are slightly puzzled,
And would ask whence the City hails
’Tis an old time place called “Sydney,”
In our beautiful “New South Wales.”

Whether Brackenreg’s later booklets depart significantly from the religious emphasis of her first is at this stage unknown. A reference to Jewels from the hills in 1924 is suggestive. It quotes the introduction by another cleric, Rev. R O Oakley: “The thoughts of the authoress seem to roam from the rush and din of the city and its restless crowd to the quiet and sublimity of our glorious Blue Mountains, where she has resided so long.” Was that “rush and din” from “Memories of the City”, suggesting it was reprinted from Jewels? Or did the volume contain other poems which also fit that lively description? It’d be interesting to find out.

The Editor of the Echo clearly admired Brackenreg’s work. In his reply to “Tess” he states of the poet:

For years she has been an ardent lover of the Blue Mountains, seeing a story — and a beautiful one — in every sight, and a message in every wild flower.

That may be so, but I see scant evidence of local beauty in her poems.

So what of “Love’s aspirations”, the poem that haunted “Tess” and made her ask, “Who is M.L.B., by the way? Is she young (I think so) or old? In any case I love her verse in the ‘Echo’.” Loved it sufficiently to want to emulate her poem with one her own and, as a consequence, pique my interest one hundred years later. Is the poem worth remembering? I think so.

Love’s Aspirations
Were I the Wind, close at your feet
I’d scatter perfumed blossoms sweet,
And make your life a dream complete.
Were I the Wind.

Were I the Sun, I’d kiss your cheek,
And dry your tears if you should weep,
And hate the time when night would come,
Were I the Sun.

Were I the Moon, I’d throw my rays,
With all their mellow, golden haze,
Right on the carpet of your room,
Were I the Moon.

Were I a Star, I’d shine for you
From out my canopy of blue;
And guard and guide you from afar,
Were I a Star.

Were I a King, upon my throne,
I’d give my crown your heart to own,
For you such priceless gifts I’d bring,
Were I a King.

But I hold neither wealth nor fame,
I only bear an honest name,
But, sweetheart, I would work for you
And prove so true.



“A love wish” (correspondence, poem), Blue Mountain Echo, 17 Oct 1924: 3. accessed 21/02/24

Brackenreg, Minnie L, “Love’s aspiration”, Blue Mountain Echo, 18 Jul 1924: 8;, accessed 21/02/24

“Family notices”, Sydney morning herald, 23 Jun 936: 10.; accessed 21/02/24

“George Brackenreg”, Wikipedia entry: accessed 21/02/24

Minnie L Brackenreg, AustLit entry: Accessible via library membership; accessed 21/02/24

“Myee”, (M. L Brackenreg), Gems of the Blue Mountains, Burwood, 1922; via SLVIC digital collection: accessed 21/02/24

NSW birth records: 400/1858, 16735/1879, 20033/1881, 5970/1883, 6917/1886, 6878/1888, 17004/1891, 25601/1897, 17301/1899; marriage record: 3678/1878; death records: 3514/1886, 6502/1892, 7934/1899 and 9951/1936.

“Puck’s girdle”, Sydney morning herald, 26 July 1911: 5. Accessed 21/02/24

Elizabeth Lhuede has a PhD in Australian Poetry from Macquarie University. In 2012, she instigated the Australian Women Writers Challenge, as a contribution to overcoming gender bias in the reviewing of works by Australian women. More recently she has focused on bringing to light the life and works of forgotten Australian women writers.