A significant literary figure in Melbourne in the 19th century, George Gordon McCrae was the eldest son of Georgiana Huntly McCrae and the father of Hugh McCrae and Dorothy Frances McCrae (qq.v.). He arrived in Victoria with his mother and the rest of his family in 1841 to join his father who had come to Australia in 1839. The family lived at Arthur's Seat on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, where a private tutor, Mr John McLure, was engaged for the education of the McCrae children. George Gordon McCrae's early years are referred to in his book Recollections of Melbourne and Port Phillip Bay in the Early Forties (1987; originally published in the Victorian Historical Magazine 1911-12), and in Georgiana's Journal : Melbourne a Hundred Years Ago (1934), edited by Hugh McCrae. At the age of about 17, George Gordon McCrae joined a surveying party in Macedon, Victoria, as a probationer. Later he worked with a merchant and as a bank clerk in Melbourne before joining the Victorian Public Service on 1 January 1854. In 1871 he married Augusta Helen Brown and together they had six children. McCrae continued in the public service until retiring with a pension in 1893; at that time he was Head of the Crown Law Department.
A poet, artist, and writer of serial fiction, McCrae cultivated the acquaintances of the leading literary figures of the Australian scene, including Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Richard Henry Horne and Marcus Clarke. He was a founding member of the Yorick Club, the centre of Melbourne literary life in the 1860s and 1870s. He wrote two of the earliest poems written in Australia on Aboriginal themes, Mamba (the Bright Eyed) : An Aboriginal Reminiscence (1867) and The Story of Balladeadro (1867). Patrick Morgan in Shadow and Shine : An Anthology of Gippsland Literature (1988) notes that McCrae was sympathetic to indigenous culture and recognised the indigenous connection to the land, although his poems adhered to the common 19th-century theme of the passing of the Aborigines. McCrae also contributed poems, stories and articles to the Australasian and other journals. 'A Rosebud from the Garden of Taj' was published as a serial in the Melbourne Review in 1883, and extracts from a long poem, 'Don Cesar' were printed in the Sydney Bulletin. In additon, he illustrated On the Cards, or, A Motley Pack by Garnet Walch (1875). McCrae wrote much material that remained unpublished including two dramas, translations from the works of Horace, and romances. He was also for many years a prominent member of the Royal Australasian Geographical Society.
According to the Dictionary of National Biography, McCrae possessed 'a gift for writing musical verse, often charming and at times rising into poetry. He was apparently quite incapable of self-criticism, and never realized how much his work might have gained by pruning and condensation'. The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994) quotes Henry Kendall's observation of McCrae as 'the highest poet in Australia' but concludes that McCrae's verse and prose was not popular with the average Australian reader.