Judith WRIGHT McKINNEY
1935 - 1936
Poet and Writer
JUDITH WRIGHT was described in a 1972 ABC broadcast by fellow poet, A.D. Hope, as ‘Australia’s leading conservationist’ and was one of Australia’s greatest lyricists. She drew richly for her poetry, literally and figuratively, on her ‘blood’s country’, her family’s pastoral property ‘Wallamumbi’ on the New England tablelands where she spent her early life. That and the vaster ancient land of her birth, which includes it, lay deeply within her ‘landscape of mind’.
While at College as an Arts student, Judith Wright was already aware of her vocation to become a poet. Judith worked from 1944-1948 at the University of Queensland where she met and fell in love with the philosopher and writer, J.P. McKinney whose ideas significantly influenced her own thought and researches. They had one child, their daughter Meredith.
Published in 1946, The Moving Image, Judith Wright’s first volume of poetry, drew praise from Douglas Stewart in his Bulletin review, for poems that ‘promise anything, everything, the world’. Successive volumes have traced Judith Wright’s spiritual autobiography and recorded her deepening sense of a poetic responsibility towards her land and its people, while she has sought to explore ‘the continuity of experience through time’. Deafness had beset her for years. Her autobiography, Half a Lifetime, was published in 1999, not long before her death in early 2001.
Judith Wright had been awarded doctorates of letters from the Universities of Queensland and New England. Her many accolades have included the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry (twice), 1965 Britannica Award for Literature, 1984 Asian World Prize for Poetry, 1991 NSW Premier’s Award for Poetry and in 1992 The Queen’s Medal for Poetry.
One of Judith Wright’s best known, loved and most frequently quoted poems ‘South of My Days’ evokes the New England landscape, framing a sardonic portrait of ‘old Dan’:
“Seventy years of stories he clutches round his bones,
Seventy summers are hived in him like honey.”
Throughout her long career as a poet, Judith Wright found unforgettable words and images to celebrate ‘old stories that still go walking in my sleep’, reaching delphically beyond the immediate and sensuous to an intimate timeless metaphysical realm where dissonances may be resolved.
(Edited extract), Robin Marsden (BROWN), Women’s College Journal, 2000