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Judith Wright

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Title: Judith Wright  
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Subject: Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Australian literature, Les Murray (poet), Douglas Stewart (poet), 1964 in poetry
Collection: 1915 Births, 2000 Deaths, 20Th-Century Australian Poets, 20Th-Century Poets, 20Th-Century Women Writers, Australian Environmentalists, Australian Human Rights Activists, Australian Literary Critics, Australian Nature Writers, Australian People of Cornish Descent, Australian Poets, Australian Women Poets, Deaf Poets, Deaf Writers, People from Armidale, New South Wales, People from Brisbane, People from New England (New South Wales), Women Critics, Women Science Writers, Writers from Brisbane, Writers from Queensland
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Judith Wright

Judith Wright
Born Judith Arundell Wright
(1915-05-31)31 May 1915
Armidale, New South Wales
Died 25 June 2000(2000-06-25) (aged 85)
Canberra, ACT, Australia
Occupation Poet
Spouse(s) Jack McKinney
Children Meredith McKinney
Awards Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry (1991)

Judith Arundell Wright (31 May 1915 – 25 June 2000) was an Australian poet, environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights.[1]


  • Biography 1
  • Poet and critic 2
    • Birds 2.1
  • Environmentalist and social activist 3
  • Awards 4
  • Recognition 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • Poetry 6.1
      • Collections 6.1.1
      • List of poems 6.1.2
    • Literary criticism 6.2
    • Other works 6.3
    • Letters 6.4
  • Further reading 7
  • Notes 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Judith Wright was born in Armidale, New South Wales the eldest child of Phillip Wright and his first wife Ethel, she spent most of her formative years in Brisbane and Sydney.[2] Wright was of Cornish ancestry.[3] After the early death of her mother, she lived with her aunt and then boarded at New England Girls' School after her father's remarriage in 1929. After graduating, Wright studied philosophy, English, Psychology and history at the University of Sydney.[2][4] At the beginning of World War II she returned to her father's station to help during the shortage of labour caused by the war.

Wright's first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published in 1946 while she was working at the University of Queensland as a research officer. At this time she also worked with Clem Christesen on the literary magazine Meanjin.[4] In 1950 she moved to Mount Tamborine, Queensland, with the novelist and abstract philosopher Jack McKinney. Their daughter Meredith was born in the same year. They married in 1962, although Jack was to live only until 1966.[5]

In 1966, she published 'The Nature of Love', her first collection of short stories, through Sun Press, Melbourne. "Set mainly in Queensland, their range is marvellous - from youth to age, from the seashore to the bush..." (quote from the back cover). These include such classics as 'The Vineyard Woman', 'Eighty Acres', 'The Dugong', 'The Weeping Fig' and 'The Nature of Love', all first published in The Bulletin.

'Eighty Acres' is particularly interesting, as it deals with a well-intentioned young white woman's discovery that she and her husband have just bought the eighty acres of riverfront left, in dubious circumstances, to the local aboriginal people.

For the last three decades of her life, she lived near the New South Wales town of Braidwood.[6]

With David Fleay, Kathleen McArthur and Brian Clouston, Judith Wright was a founding member and, from 1964 to 1976, President, of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She was the second Australian to receive the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, in 1991.[4]

In "In the Garden",[7] Fiona Capp revealed the story of the 25-year secret love affair between two of Australia's most well-known and well-loved public figures, "the famous poet-cum-activist" Judith Wright and "the distinguished yet down-to-earth statesman" H. C. "Nugget" Coombs.[8] She had moved to the Braidwood area in order to be closer to Coombs, who was based in Canberra.

She started to lose her hearing in her mid-20s, and became completely deaf by 1992.[7]

Poet and critic

Judith Wright was the author of several collections of poetry, including The Moving Image, Woman to Man, The Gateway, The Two Fires, Birds, The Other Half, Magpies, Shadow, Hunting Snake and much much more. She was a lover of nature too.

Her work is noted for a keen focus on the Australian environment, which began to gain prominence in Australian art in the years following World War II. She deals with the relationship between settlers, Indigenous Australians and the bush, among other themes. Wright's aesthetic centres on the relationship between mankind and the environment, which she views as the catalyst for poetic creation. Her images characteristically draw from the Australian flora and fauna, yet contain a mythic substrata that probes at the poetic process, limitations of language, and the correspondence between inner existence and objective reality.

Her poems have been translated into Italian, Japanese and Russian.


In 2003, the National Library of Australia published an expanded edition of Wright's collection titled Birds.[9] Most of these poems were written in the 1950s when she was living on Tamborine Mountain in southeast Queensland. McKinney, Wright's daughter, writes that they were written at "a precious and dearly-won time of warmth and bounty to counterbalance at last what felt, in contrast, the chilly dearth and difficulty of her earlier years".[10] McKinney goes on to say that "many of these poems have a newly relaxed, almost conversational tone and rhythm, an often humorous ease and an intimacy of voice that surely reflects the new intimacies and joys of her life".[11] Despite the joy reflected in the poems, however, they also acknowledge "the experiences of cruelty, pain and death that are inseparable from the lives of birds as of humans ... and [turn] a sorrowing a clear-sighted gaze on the terrible damage we have done and continue to do to our world, even as we love it".[11]

Environmentalist and social activist

Wright was well known for her campaigning in support of the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. With some friends, she helped found one of the earliest nature conservation movements.[11]

She was also an impassioned advocate for the Aboriginal land rights movement. Tom Shapcott, reviewing With Love and Fury, her posthumous collection of selected letters published in 2007, comments that her letter on this topic to the Australian Prime Minister John Howard was "almost brutal in its scorn".[12] Shortly before her death, she attended a march in Canberra for reconciliation between non-indigenous Australians and the Aboriginal people.[1]

Judith Wright died in Canberra on 25 June 2000, aged 85.[13][14][15][16][17]



In June 2006 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced that the new federal electorate in Queensland to be created at the 2007 federal election would be named Wright in honour of her life as a "poet and in the areas of arts, conservation and indigenous affairs in Queensland and Australia".[19] However, in September 2006 the AEC announced it would name the seat after John Flynn, the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, due to numerous objections from people fearing the name Wright may be linked to disgraced former Queensland Labor MP Keith Wright. Under the 2009 redistribution of Queensland, a new seat in southeast Queensland was created and named in Wright's honour; it was first contested in 2010.

The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley is named after her.

On 2 January 2008, it was announced that a future suburb in the district of Molonglo Valley, Canberra will be named "Wright". There is already a street in the Canberra suburb of Franklin named after her. Another of the Molonglo Valley suburbs is to be named after Wright's lover, "Nugget" Coombs.[20]




  • Wright, Judith (1946). The moving image. Melbourne: Meanjin Press. 
  • Woman to Man (1949)
  • Woman to Child (1949)
  • — (1953). The moving image (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Meanjin Press. 
  • The Gateway (1953)
  • Hunting Snake (1964)
  • Bora Ring (1946)
  • The Two Fires (1955)
  • Australian Bird Poems (1961)
  • Birds: Poems, Angus and Robertson, 1962; Birds: Poems. National Library Australia. 2003. [21] 
  • Five Senses: Selected Poems (1963)
  • Selected Poems (1963)
  • Tentacles: A tribute to those lovely things (1964)
  • Sportsfield
  • City Sunrise (1964)
  • The Other Half (1966)
  • Alive: Poems 1971-72 (1973)
  • Fourth Quarter and Other Poems (1976)
  • Train Journey (1978)
  • The Double Tree: Selected Poems 1942-76 (1978)
  • Phantom Dwelling (1985)
  • A Human Pattern: Selected Poems (1990) ISBN 1-875892-17-6
  • The Flame Tree (1993)
  • Bullocky
  • Collected poems, 1942-1985, Angus & Robertson, 1994, ISBN 978-0-207-18135-1

List of poems

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected in
For my daughter 1956 Wright, Judith (Summer 1956–1957). "For my daughter".  

Literary criticism

  • William Baylebridge and the modern problem (Canberra University College, 1955)
  • Charles Harpur (1963)
  • Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (1965)
  • Wright, Judith (1967). Henry Lawson. Great Australians. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 
  • Collected Poems (1971)
  • Because I was Invited (1975)
  • Going on Talking (1991) ISBN 0-947333-43-6

Other works

  • Kings of the Dingoes (1958) Oxford University Press, Melbourne[22]
  • The Generations of Men (1959) ISBN 1-875892-16-8
  • Range the Mountains High (1962)
  • The Nature of Love (1966) Sun Books, Melbourne
  • The Battle of the Biosphere ('Outlook' Magazine article 1970)
  • The Coral Battleground (1977)
  • The Cry for the Dead (1981)
  • We Call for a Treaty (1985)
  • Born of the Conquerors: Selected Essays. Aboriginal Studies Press. 1991.  
  • Half a Lifetime (Text, 2001) ISBN 1-876485-78-7 Review


  • The Equal Heart and Mind: Letters between Judith Wright and Jack McKinney. Edited by Patricia Clarke and Meredith McKinney (UQP, 2004) ISBN 0-7022-3441-9
  • With Love and Fury: Selected letters of Judith Wright, edited by Patricia Clarke and Meredith McKinney (National Library of Australia, 2006) ISBN 978-0-642-27625-4
  • Portrait of a friendship: the letters of Barbara Blackman and Judith Wright, 1950-2000, edited by Bryony Cosgrove (Miegunyah Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-522-85355-1, ISBN 0-522-85355-2Review

Further reading

  • Brady, Veronica (1998) South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright, Angus & Robertson ISBN 0-207-18857-2


Listed here are print references cited in the article.

  • McKinney, Meredith (2004) "Birds", National Library of Australia News, XIV (6): 7-10, March 2004

See also

Judith Wright Calanthe Award
List of Australian poets
Australian poetry


  1. ^ a b Petri Liukkonen. "Judith Wright 1915-200". Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Cornwell, Tony (31 August 2000). "Australian poet Judith Wright (1950): An appreciation".  
  3. ^ James Jupp (2001). The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins. Cambridge University Press.  
  4. ^ a b c Heywood, Anne (11 September 2001). "Wright, Judith Arundell (1915 - 2000)".  
  5. ^ Wright, Judith (2000). "McKinney, Jack Philip (1891 - 1966)".  
  6. ^ The Two Fires Festival
  7. ^ a b Fiona Capp, "In the Garden"
  8. ^ Sydney Morning Herald
  9. ^ McKinney (2004) p.7
  10. ^ McKinney (2004) p.8-9
  11. ^ a b c McKinney (2004) p.9
  12. ^ , 10 March 2007Sydney Morning HeraldTom Shapcott, Book Review, "With Love and Fury: selected letters of Juhf 284 hey ahey 398rf dith Wright",
  13. ^ National Library of Australia: Papers of Judith Wright; Retrieved 5 August 2013
  14. ^ House of Representatives, Statements by Members, 26 June 2000; Retrieved 5 August 2013
  15. ^ Senate, Adjournment, 27 June 2000; Retrieved 5 August 2013
  16. ^ Gerard HALL, Judith Wright (1915-2000): Australian Poet & Prophet, Published in National Outlook (November 2000); Retrieved 5 August 2013
  17. ^ The Guardian, Obituary, 29 June 2000; Retrieved 5 August 2013
  18. ^ "1994 Human Rights Medal and Awards".  
  19. ^ "Proposal for Queensland Federal Electoral Redistribution".  
  20. ^ Canberra Times, 3 January 2008
  21. ^
  22. ^ "1958, English, Book, Illustrated edition: Kings of the dingoes / Judith Wright ; Illustrated by Barbara Albiston.". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 14 October 2015. 

External links

  • Poems at
  • Vale Judith Wright Interview at Radio National
  • Gardening at the 'Edge': Judith Wright's desert garden, Mongarlowe, New South Wales by Katie Holmes
  • Judith Wright's Biography: A Delicate Balance between Trespass and Honour by Veronica Brady
  • Uncertain Possession: The Politics and Poetry of Judith Wright by Gig Ryan
  • The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts Website
  • Two Fires: Festival of Arts and Activism Celebration of Judith Wright's legacy
  • Special Issue 2007JASALSue King-Smith 'Ancestral Echoes: Spectres of the Past in Judith Wright's Poetry'
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