Judith Wright is listed as one of the 10 Australian Poets You Should Know for her reputation as ‘the conscience of the nation’. Wright was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967, and in addition to her poetry she wrote short stories, worked on literary magazines and was a literary critic. She was also an environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights.
Themes throughout her work include the Australian environment and the relationship between settlers, Indigenous Australians and the bush. Both sides of Wright’s family had links to the early colonial pastoralists.
Wright received many awards throughout her lifetime, and various memorials across the country are dedicated in her honour. This includes a federal electorate in Queensland, the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Fortitude Valley, and a suburb in the Molonglo Valley district in Canberra. There is a good overview of her life and times here, and she is one of three Australian poets celebrated in Poets Corner in Canberra.
The overarching themes and appeal of Wright’s poetry are captured in an article by Grace Patterson:
The themes portrayed in Wright’s work are a celebration of Australian landscapes and the efflorescence and splendour of Australian flora and fauna. Anyone who shares a passion and enthusiasm for Australia’s native wildlife and landscapes, particularly those of South-East Queensland, will undoubtedly fall victim to Wright’s simple, honest, naturalistic charm.
With her enduring love of the natural world, it is fitting that Wright is remembered in her home town of Armidale by a memorial of trees. There is a grove of eucalyptus nova-anglica located in Civic Park in celebration of Judith Wright’s life.
There are also excerpts of her poetry in a sculptured tree trunk and on a plaque on a rock from her birthplace.
South of my days’ circle, part of my blood’s country,
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite –
clean, lean, hungry country.
(from ‘South of my Days’)
You can read some of Wright’s poetry here. It has been a treat to revisit the work of one of my favourite Australian wordsmiths after coming across this memorial in northern New South Wales.
Have you rediscovered a favourite writer recently?
[Photo: memorial plaque in Civic Park, Armidale]