Judith Wright, a respected Australian poet and writer on poetry and latterly better known as a conservationist and campaigner for aboriginal rights, died in Canberra on June 26, 2000 at the age of 85.Judith had  long enjoyed an international reputation as one of the finest poets of all time but with the death of her it has been said that Australia's conscience has lost its most powerful and eloquent voice.
Wright was born in 1915, in the New England region of northern New South Wales. Her family, wealthy pioneering pastoralists, were the descendants of, in Max Harris's words, “half pay military types, younger sons of the gentry, adventurers ... the pioneers, the frontier openers, inspired by an image of their own class, hauling their books and ambitions into the bush who tried to wring permanence out of a hostile recalcitrant environment.”

She began writing poetry at the age of six to please and cheer her ever-ailing mother. She was first educated at the home station (large farm) and then by relatives at another of the family properties. When her mother died she was taken in by one of her aunts.After her father remarried she was sent to New England Girls School as a boarder. She was then 14. Her sole consolation “and only thing I had to treasure was poetry and the knowledge that I was going to be a poet.”

Her work was deeply rooted in the landscape of her native Australia, 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

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.
At the age of 20s she became progressively deaf. she travelled in Britain and Europe between the years 1937 to 1938. 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 3,0 Wright met her lifelong partner, the unorthodox philosopher J.P. McKinney, 23 years her senior; they later married.
In 1946 her book The Moving Image was published. The poems have a lyrical and unforced beauty , as in the well known South of My Days Cycle

'South of My Days Cycle
I know it dark against stars, The high lean country
Full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep'
The next project was the three part The Generations of Men which traced and outlined the history of her family and the area. 'We live through our past,' she said and 'The trouble with our relationship with Australia is we still don't live there'
In her second book Woman to Man she introduced a distinctly female perspective as in these beautiful lines from The Maker, which celebrates her pregnancy with her daughter Meredith:

I hold the crimson fruit
and plumage of the palm;
flame- tree, that scarlet spirit,
in my soil takes root.

My days burn with the sun
my nights with moon and star,
since into myself I took
all the living things that are.

None of her following books were as enthusiastically received as these and she grew irritated by constant comparisons with her earlier work.The middle period of her writing saw essays on Australian poetry and the books The Gateway, Two Fires , Birds, Five Senses and The Other Half.She begins to tackle some of the issues of the day, mainly the Vietnam War.
In Christmas Ballad, a poem expressing horror at war, we see her exasperation boiling over.

Now, Son, we'll send you home.
With the hair brushed over the crack in your head
you look as good as you ever did.
You're the luckiest bloke was ever born.
Home he came and on the wharf
in her best bri-nylon stood his wife.
Darling you look well, she said;
only the children ran and hid.

Her next book, Alive, published in early 70s here we saw her move from issues like the Vietnam War to questions of society and the forces that are exerted on people. In Tableau is a story of a man staggering in panic and despair, being ignored by the passing crowd.

As a literary critic Wright enjoyed a high reputation, and edited several collections of Australian verse. She was a friend of the Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal, whose work Wright helped to get published.
Wright received several awards, including the Grace Leven Prize (1950), the Australia-Britannica Award (1964), the Robert Frost Memorial Award (1977), the Australian World Prize (1984), the Queen's Medal for Poetry (1992). She had honorary degrees from several universities. In 1973-74 she was a member of the Australia Council.


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