Judith Wright (1915-2000) was one of Australia’s finest poets, as well as a pioneering environmentalist and Aboriginal land rights activist.
Born to a pastoralist family in New England, near Armidale, New South Wales, she went to Sydney University where she studied English Literature, Psychology and Philosophy. When World War II broke out, she returned to help her father run his property, then in 1945 she moved to Brisbane where she began to write poetry in earnest while helping Clem Christesen with his new literary magazine Meanjin.
In 1947 she and her partner, philosopher and playwright Jack McKinney, bought a cottage in the isolated community of Tamborine Mountain near Brisbane, where they settled to write, and in 1950 their daughter Meredith was born. Jack died in 1966. In 1975 Judith moved to a new home outside Braidwood, in south east New South Wales. Her final three years were spent in Canberra, where she died on 25 June, 2000.
Judith’s first volume of poetry, The Moving Image (1946), immediately established her as an important new poet. It was followed by eight more volumes, culminating in Phantom Dwelling (1985). Most of these poems are now available in her collected Poems (HarperCollins). She also published a book of literary criticism, Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, the story of her pioneer grandparents, The Generations of Men, as well as children’s books and collections of essays. Later, in The Cry for the Dead, she retold the pioneering story of her grandparents from the point of view of its effect on the environment and indigenous inhabitants. Her last prose work was the autobiography Half a Lifetime.
In 1962, increasingly concerned by environmental destruction, Judith and three friends founded the influential Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She worked tirelessly as its president until her move to Braidwood in 1975. Notable among her successful campaigns were the battle to save the Great Barrier Reef from oil drilling, and Fraser Island from mineral sand mining. (Both these areas were subsequently granted National Park and later World Heritage status.)
With the move to Braidwood, Judith’s focus turned to the need for land rights for indigenous Australians. With HC (Nugget) Coombs and others, she founded the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, which pressed for a legally recognized treaty to establish a foundation for land rights claims. Profound deafness increasingly limited her activity in old age, but she continued to campaign for the environment and Aboriginal rights: a mere week before she died, she was marching with others in Canberra on a freezing day in solidarity with Aboriginal Reconciliation.
FOR THE POETRY OF JUDITH WRIGHT, VISIT: