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Mary Elizabeth Fullerton's parents, Robert from Belfast and Eliza (nee Leathers) from Suffolk, met on the Ballarat goldfields. Fullerton and her siblings - 'the whole, wild, shy, little seven of us' described in her autobiographical Bark House Days (1921) - grew up in the bark house built by their father on his small holding at Glenmaggie, in Gippsland, Victoria.
Fullerton had a strict Presbyterian upbringing but she turned away from orthodox religion later, claiming to 'hate the cramping of creed...I prefer a certain vagueness' (Memoirs, Fullerton Papers Mitchell Library, p.74). Educated at home and at the local school until she was thirteen, Fullerton was an avid writer and reader who reputedly read Milton's Paradise Lost three times by the age of eleven. Other favourites were Burns, Shelley, Byron and the essayists Macaulay, Hazlitt and Lamb. She read the poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon (q.v.) and Henry Lawson (q.v.), describing Lawson as 'a Homer, a Chaucer in moleskins' (Memoirsp.125). In the 1870s, she read 'The Crimes and Trials of Victoria' in one of the Melbourne weeklies, thus developing a life-long interest in the psychology of crime.She was also an enthusiastic reader of the newly-established Bulletin.
Fullerton worked on the farm, continuing to educate herself at night. She remained sensitive about her lack of formal education, although her papers in the Mitchell Library record prizes won for her early poems and stories. Her biographer, Sylvia Martin (q.v.) has speculated that Fullerton's sense of inferiority may have been a reason for publishing later poetry under the pseudonym, 'E'. By the late 1890s, Fullerton was living in Prahran, Melbourne, later moving to Hawthorn. At the time of her first publication, Moods and Melodies (1908), her profession was listed on the electoral roll as 'journalist'.She was involved in the suffrage movement, the Victorian Socialist Party and the Women's Political Association. She opposed conscription and joined the Women Against War organisation during the Second World War.
It is possible that the poet of the Bulletin and Birth known as M.E.F. is Fullerton.
In 1922, Fullerton moved to England where she lived with Mabel Singleton (q.v.), whom she had met through the Women's Political Association in 1909. She also began a twenty year correspondence with Miles Franklin (q.v.). The letters of the 1940s provide insight to the writers' views on the Second World War. Franklin, trying to attract a publisher for Fullerton's later poetry, commented in her letters on the claims of Tom Inglis Moore (q.v.) that Fullerton's poems were similar to those of Emily Dickinson. Franklin's own opinion was that 'Mary's contemporaries in Australia were too conventional and mediocre to discern her worth; she was too retiring to push her own case.' (Jill Roe, editor, My Congenials: Miles Franklin and Friends in Letters Vol Two 1939-1954, 1993, p. 158).