Prolific Australian poet, critic, and short-story writer, who published
more than 50 books. Wright was an uncompromising environmentalist
and social activist campaigning for Aboriginal land rights. She
believed that the poet should be concerned with national and social
problems. At the age of 85, just before her death, she attended
a march in Canberra for reconciliation with Aboriginal people.
Rhyme, my old cymbal,
I don't clash you as often,
or trust your old promises
music and unison.
I used to love Keats, Blake;
now I try haiku
for its honed brevities,
its inclusive silences.
(from 'Brevity' in Notes at Edge)
Judith Arundell Wright was born near Armidale, New South Wales,
into an old and wealthy pastoral family. Wright was raised on her
family's sheep station. After her mother died in 1927, she was educated
under her grandmother's supervision. At the age of 14 she was sent
to New England Girls' Scool, where she found consolation from poetry
and decided to become a poet. In 1934 she entered Sydney University.
Wright studied philosophy, history, psychology and English, without
taking a degree.
When Wright was in her 20s, she started to become progressively
deaf. Between 1937 and 1938 Wright travelled in Britain and Europe.
She then worked as a secretary-stenographer and clerk until 1944.
From 1944 to 1948 she was a university statistician at the University
of Queensland, St. Lucia. At the age of 30 Wright met her lifelong
partner, the unorthodox philosopher J.P. McKinney, 23 years her
senior; they later married.
Most of Wright's poetry was written in the mountains of southern
Queensland. Protesting the policy of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Premier
of Queensland, Wright left her home state in the mid-1970s, and
settled in a remote property near the heritage town of Braidwood,
south of Canberra, where she wrote many of her nature poems.
During her career as a writer, Wright did not reject hackwork,
and she wrote school plays for Australian Broadcasting Commission
and children's books. In addition she lectured part-time at various
Australian universities. In 1975 she collected her addresses and
speeches in Because I was Invited. Wright was appointed a
foundation fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and
an emeritus professorship of the Literature Board of the Arts Council
of Australia. Wright's memoir, Half a Lifetime, covers her
life until the 1960s, and was published in 2000. Wright died of
a heart attack in Canberra on June 26 at the age of 85. Her ashes
were scattered around the mountain cemetery of Tamborine Mountain.
Wright owned a strip of rainforest nearby, which she donated to
the state so it could be preserved as a national park.
Wright started to publish poems in the late 1930s in literary journals.
As a poet she made her debut with The Moving Image (1946),
in which she revealed her technical excellence. Most of the poems
were written in wartime - in 'The Trains' Wright takes the threat
of the war in the Pacific as her subject. The main theme in the
volume is the poet's awareness of time, death, and evil on a universal
scale. With her following collections Wright gained a reputation
as a new voice in literature with a distinctly female perspective.
The title poem from Woman to Man (1949) deals with the sexual
act from a woman's point of view. 'The Maker' paralles the creation
of a poem with the creation of a child. Several of her early poems
such as 'Bullocky' and 'Woman to Man' became standard anthology
pieces. The death of her husband in 1966 and her increasing anxiety
about the destruction of the natural environment introduced more
pessimistic undercurrents in her work.
I praise the scoring drought, the flying dust
the drying creek, the furious animal,
that they oppose us still;
that we are ruined by the thing we kill.
(from 'Australia 1970')
Wright's poetry was inspired by the various regions in which she
lived: New England, New South Wales, the subtropical rainforests
of Tamborine Mountain, Queensland, and the plains of the southern
highlands near Braidwood. A new period in Wright's life began in
the mid-1950s: "The two threads of my life, the love of the land
itself and the deep unease over the fate of its original people,
were beginning to twine together, and the rest of my life would
be influenced by that connection." In The Two Faces (1955)
she took Hiroshima as an example of man's power to destroy even
the cycles of nature. Wright's activism on conservation issues led
her to focus on the interaction between land and language. According
to Wright, "the true function of art and culture is to interpret
us to ourselves, and to relate us to the country and the society
in which we live." She began to believe that her mission was
to find words and poetic forms that would bridge the human experience
and the natural world, man and earth. For Wright alienation from
the land produced a crisis of language. She criticized the education
system for failing to teach students the pleasures of poetry, and
promoted the reading and writing of poetry in schools. Realistically
she also expressed doubts about the power of poetry to change the
scheme of things.
In the early 1960s Wright helped to found the Wildlife Preservation
Society of Queensland. She fought to conserve the Great Barrier
Reef, when its ecology was threatened by oil drilling, and campaigned
against sand mining on Fraser Island. In her passionate poem 'Australia
1970' Wright expresses her feelings of disappointment and anger
upon seeing her wild country die, "like the eagle hawk, /
dangerous till the last breath's gone, clawing and / striking."
The Coral Battleground (1977) is her account of the campaign
to protect the "great water-gardens, lovely indeed as cherry
boughs and flowers under the once clear sea." In The Cry
for the Dead (1981) Wright examines the treatment of Aborigines
and the destruction of the environment by settlers in Central Queensland
from the 1840s to the 1920s.
As a literary critic Wright enjoyed a respectable reputation, and
edited several collections of Australian verse. She was a friend
of Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, whose work Wright helped
to get published. Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (1965),
is Wright's pioneering effort to reinterpret such early Australian
poets as Charles Harpur, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Henry Kendall.
Wright received several awards, including the Grace Leven Prize
(1950), the Aurtralia-Britannica Award (1964), the Robert Frost
Memorial Award (1977), the Australian World Prize (1984), and the
Queen's Medal for Poetry (1992). In addition she received honorary
degrees from several universities. In 1973-74 she became a member
of the Australia Council.
When I was a child I saw
a burning bird in a tree.
I see became I am,
I am became I see.
(from 'To a Child')
For further reading: South of my days: a biography of
Judith Wright by Veronica Brady (1998); Bridgings by R. Lucas
and L. McCredden (1996); Judith Wright by Jennifer Strauss (1995);
Flame and Shadow by Shirley Walker (1991); The Poetry of Judith
Wright by S. Walker (1980); Critical Essays on Judith Wright,
ed. by A.K. Thomson (1968) - For further information: -
Australian poet Judith Wright (1915-2000): an appreciation by
Tony Cornwell - Judith Wright by Joan Williams.
- Australian Bird Poems, 1940
- The Moving Image, 1946
Australian Poetry 1948, 1948
- Woman to Man, 1949
- The Gateway,
- William Baylebridge and the Modern Problem, 1955
A Book of Australian Verse, 1956 (revised edition in 1968)
New Land, New Langue, 1957
- Kings of the Dingoes, 1958
Generations of Men, 1959
- The Day the Mountains Played, 1960
- Australian Bird Poems, 1961
- Birds, 1962
- Range the Mountains
- Charles Harpur, 1963
- Country Towns, 1963
- Judith Wright, 1963 (introduction by the author)
- Shaw Neilson, 1963
- City Sunrise, 1964
- Preoccupations in
Australian Poetry, 1965
- The Other Half, 1966
- The Nature of
- The River and the Road, 1966
- Henry Lawson, 1967
- Birds, 1967 (with Annette Macarthur-Onslow)
- Poetry from Australia,
- Witness of Spring: Unpublished Poems by Shaw Neilson, 1970
- Collected Poems, 1971
- Alive, 1973
- Because I Was Invited,
- Half Dream, 1975
- Conservation: Choice or Compulsion?
- Fourth Quarter, and Other Poems, 1976
- Boundaries, 1976
- The Coral Battleground, 1977
- The Double Tree, 1978
Rainforest, Mangroves, Man, 1980
- The Cry for the Dead, 1981
- Journeys, 1982
- We Call for a Treaty, 1985
- Phantom Dwelling,
- Many Roads Meet Here, 1985
- Rainforest, 1987
- New Zealand
After Nuclear War, 1987 (with Wren Green and Tony Cairns)
Human Pattern, 1990
- Born of the Conquerors, 1991
- Magpie Summer,
- Going on Talking, 1992
- Through Broken Glass, 1992
Wright: Collected Poems 1942-1985, 1994
- The Flame Tree, 1994
- Going on Talking: Tales of a Great Aunt, 1998
- Half a Lifetime, 2000
This biography was written by Petri Liukkonen.
Adopt this Author
Would you like to adopt this author, or another, or write a new
biography of an author not included?
Click here to find out more.