Biography of Judith Wright

Judith Wright
Judith Wright.jpg
Judith Arundell Wright

(1915-05-31)31 May 1915
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia
Died25 June 2000(2000-06-25) (aged 85)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
OccupationPoet, Author
Spouse(s)Jack McKinney
ChildrenMeredith McKinney
AwardsQueen'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. She was a recipient of the Christopher Brennan Award.



      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. Wright was of Cornish ancestry. 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 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. Then, she had also worked with Clem Christesen on the literary magazine Meanjin, the first edition of which was published in late 1947. 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, but Jack was to live only until 1966.

      In 1966, she published The Nature of Love, her first collection of short stories, through Sun Press, Melbourne. Set mainly in Queensland, they include 'The Ant-lion', 'The Vineyard Woman', 'Eighty Acres', 'The Dugong', 'The Weeping Fig' and 'The Nature of Love', all first published in The Bulletin. Wright was nominated for the 1967 Nobel Prize for Literature.

      With David Fleay, Kathleen McArthur and Brian Clouston, 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.

      For the last three decades of her life, she lived near the New South Wales town of Braidwood. Allegedly, she had moved to the Braidwood area to be closer to H. C. Coombs, her lover of 25 years, who was based in Canberra.

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

      Judith Wright died in Canberra on 25 June 2000, aged 85.

      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, among others.

      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 several languages, including Italian, Japanese and Russian.


      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 on Tamborine Mountain in southeast Queensland. Meredith 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 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.

      Wright 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". Shortly before her death, she attended a march in Canberra for reconciliation between non-indigenous Australians and the Aboriginal people.


      • 1976 - Christopher Brennan Award
      • 1991 - Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
      • 1994 - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Poetry Award for Collected Poems

      In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, Judith Wright was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for her role as an "Influential Artists".


      The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Art in Fortitude Valley, Australia

      In June 2006 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) announced that the new federal electorate in Queensland, which was to be created at the 2007 federal election, would be named Wright in honor of her accomplishments 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 Wright may be linked to disgraced former Queensland ALP 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 Fortitude Valley, Brisbane is named after her.

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




      • Wright, Judith (1946). The moving image. Melbourne: Meanjin cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:block;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:block;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
      • Woman to Man (1949)
      • Woman to Child (1949)
      • The Old Prison (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. ISBN 978-0-642-10774-9.
      • Five Senses: Selected Poems (1963)
      • Selected Poems (1963)
      • Tentacles: A tribute to those lovely things (1964)
      • Sportsfield
      • City Sunrise (1964)
      • The Other Half (1966)
      • The Nature Of Love(1966)
      • Collected Poems (1971)
      • 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 (1993)
      • Collected poems, 1942-1985, Angus & Robertson, 1994, ISBN 978-0-207-18135-1
      • The Surfer

      List of poems



      First published

      Reprinted/collected in

      At Cooloolah


      Wright, Judith (7 July 1954). "At Cooloolah". The Bulletin. 75 (3882).

      The Two Fires (1955)

      For my daughter


      Wright, Judith (Summer 1956–1957). "For my daughter". Quadrant. 1 (1): 34.

      Five Senses : Selected Poems (1963)

      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.
      • 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
      • 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)
      • Witnesses of spring: unpublished poems of Shaw Neilson, edited by Judith Wright, with poems selected by Judith Wright and Val Vallis, from material selected by Ruth Harrison (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. ISBN 978-0-85575-217-0.
      • 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 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

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