Judith Wright

Judith Arundell Wright (31 May 191526 June 2000) was an Australian poet, environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights.


Judith Wright was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, the eldest child of Phillip Wright and his first wife Ethel, but spent most of her formative years in Brisbane and Sydney. 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. At the beginning of World War II she returned to her father's station to help during the shortage of labour caused by conscription. It is possibly during this period that she developed her attachment to the land and its people which would inform her work throughout her life.

Wright's first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published soon afterwards 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. In 1950 she moved to Mount Tamborine, in Queensland, with the novelist and abstract philosopher Jack McKinney, their daughter Meredith was born in the same year. They married in 1962, although he was only to live until 1966. Later in life, she moved to the NSW town of Braidwood.

With David Fleay, Kathleen McArthur and Brian Clouston, she 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 1992.

Poet and critic

Judith Wright was the author of several most illuminating collections of poetry, including The Moving Image, Woman to Man, The Gateway, The Two Fires, Birds, The Other Half, and Shadow.

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 I. She deals with the relationship between settlers, Indigenous Australians and the bush, amongst other themes. Wright's aesthetic centers 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.

Wright was also an acclaimed critic of Australian poetry.


In 2003, the National Library of Australia published an expanded edition of Wright's collection titled Birds. Most of these poems were written in the 1950s when she was living in the glass house Mountains 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". 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". 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".

Environmentalist and social activist

Wright was well known for her environmentalist 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.

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".

She attended a march in Canberra for reconciliation between white Australians and the Aboriginal people shortly before her death at the age of 85.



In June 2006 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced that the new federal electorate in Queensland to be created at the 2007 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". 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 may be linked to disgraced former Queensland Labor MP Keith Wright.

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, Canberra will be named "Wright". There is already a street in the Canberra suburb of Franklin named after her.



  • The Moving Image (1946)
  • Woman to Man (1949)
  • The Gateway (1953)
  • The Two Fires (1955)
  • Australian Bird Poems (1961)
  • Birds: Poems (1962)
  • Five Senses: Selected Poems (1963)
  • Selected Poems (1963)
  • Tentacles: A tribute to those lovely things (1964)

  • 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)

Literary Criticism

  • William Baylebridge and the modern problem (Canberra University College, 1955)
  • Charles Harpur (1963)
  • Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (1965)
  • Henry Lawson (1967)
  • Collected Poems (1971)
  • Because I was Invited (1975)
  • Going on Talking (1991) ISBN 0947333436

Other Works

  • The Generations of Men (1959) ISBN 1-875892-16-8
  • The Coral Battleground (1977)
  • The Cry for the Dead (1981)
  • We Call for a Treaty (1985)
  • Born of the Conquerors: Selected Essays (1991) ISBN 9780-85575-217-0
  • 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 9780642276254
  • Portrait of a friendship: the letters of Barbara Blackman and Judith Wright, 1950-2000, edited by Bryony Cosgrove (Miegunyah Press, 2007) ISBN: 9780522853551 0522853552 Review

Further reading

  • Brady, Veronica (1998) South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright, Angus & Robertson ISBN 0207188572

External links



Listed here are print references cited in the article.

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