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Les Murray

Murray in 2004
Murray in 2004
Born (1938-10-17)17 October 1938
Nabiac, New South Wales, Australia
Died 29 April 2019(2019-04-29) (aged 80)
Taree, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation Poet
Education Taree High School
Alma mater University of Sydney
Genre Poetry
Valerie Morelli
(m. 1962)
Children 5

Leslie Allan Murray AO (17 October 1938 – 29 April 2019) was an Australian poet, anthologist, and critic. His career spanned over 40 years and he published nearly 30 volumes of poetry as well as two verse novels and collections of his prose writings.

Translations of Murray's poetry have been published in 11 languages: French, German, Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Hindi, Russian, and Dutch. Murray's poetry won many awards and he is regarded as "the leading Australian poet of his generation". He was rated in 1997 by the National Trust of Australia as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures.

Life and career

Les Murray was born in Nabiac, New South Wales and grew up in nearby Bunyah. He attended primary and early high school in Nabiac and then Taree High School. At age 18, while watching mayflies along the river, Murray decided to become a poet.

In 1957 Murray entered the University of Sydney in the Faculty of Arts and joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve to obtain a small income. In 1961 The Bulletin published one of Murray's poems. He developed an interest in ancient and modern languages, and eventually qualified to become a professional translator at the Australian National University (where he was employed from 1963 to 1967). During his studies he met other poets and writers such as Geoffrey Lehmann, Bob Ellis, Clive James and Lex Banning as well as future political journalists Laurie Oakes and Mungo McCallum Jr. Between times, he hitch-hiked around Australia. Murray lived for several months at a Sydney Push household at Milsons Point, where he read Virgil's Eclogues at the suggestion of his host, Brian Jenkins.

Murray returned to undergraduate studies in the 1960s. He converted to Roman Catholicism when he married Budapest-born fellow-student Valerie Morelli in 1962. His poetry frequently refers to Catholic themes. The couple lived in Wales and Scotland and travelled in Europe for over a year in the late 1960s. They had five children together.

In 1971, Murray resigned from his "respectable cover occupations" of translator and public servant in Canberra (1970) to write poetry full-time. The family returned to Sydney, but Murray, planning to return to his home at Bunyah, managed to buy back part of the lost family home in 1975 and to visit there intermittently until 1985 when he and his family returned to live there permanently.

Murray died on 29 April 2019 at a Taree, New South Wales nursing home at the age of 80.

Literary career

Murray had a long career in poetry and literary journalism in Australia. When he was 38 years old, his Selected Poems was published by Angus & Robertson, signifying his emergence as a leading poet. The Murray biographer Peter Alexander has written that "all Murray’s volumes are uneven, though as Bruce Clunies Ross would remark, 'There's "less good" and "good", but it's very hard to find really inferior Murray'."

When Murray was a student at the University of Sydney he was the editor of Hermes, with Geoffrey Lehmann (1962). Murray edited the magazine Poetry Australia (1973–79). During his tenure as poetry editor for Angus & Robertson (1976–90) he was responsible for publishing the first book of poetry by Philip Hodgins. In 1991 Murray became literary editor of Quadrant. He edited several anthologies, including the Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry. First published in 1986, a second edition was published in 1991. It interprets religion loosely and includes the work of many of poets, such A. D. Hope, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Kevin Hart, Bruce Dawe, and himself. The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse was most recently re-issued in 1996.

Murray described himself, perhaps half-jokingly, as the last of the "Jindyworobaks", an Australian literary movement whose white members sought to promote indigenous Australian ideas and customs, particularly in poetry. Though not a member, he was influenced by their work, something that is frequently discussed by Murray critics and scholars in relation to his themes and sensibilities.

In 2007, Dan Chiasson wrote in The New Yorker that Murray was "now routinely mentioned among the three or four leading English-language poets". Murray was talked of as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Murray retired as literary editor of Quadrant in late 2018 for health reasons.


Murray published around 30 volumes of poetry and is often called Australia's bush-bard. The academic David McCooey described Murray in 2002 as "a traditional poet whose work is radically original". His poetry is rich and diverse, while also exhibiting "an obvious unity and wholeness" based on "his consistent commitment to the ideals and values of what he sees as the real Australia".

While admiring Murray's linguistic skill and poetic achievement, poet John Tranter, in 1977, also expressed uneasiness about some aspects of his work. Tranter praises Murray's "good humour" and concludes that "For all my disagreements, and many of them are profound, I found the Vernacular Republic full of rich and complex poetry."

American reviewer Albert Mobilio writes in his review of Learning Human: Selected Poems that Murray revived the traditional ballad form. In 2003, Australian poet Peter Porter, reviewing Murray's New Collected Poems, makes a somewhat similar paradoxical assessment of Murray:

Themes and subjects

Twelve years after Murray's induced birth, his mother miscarried another child. She died after the doctor failed to call an ambulance. Literary critic Lawrence Bourke writes that "Murray, linking his birth to her death, traces his poetic vocation from these traumatic events, seeing in them the relegation of the rural poor by urban élites. Dispossession, relegation, and independence become major preoccupations of his poetry". Beyond this, though, his poetry is generally seen to have a nationalistic bent. Of his literary journalism, Bourke writes that "In a lively, frequently polemic prose style he promotes republicanism, patronage, Gaelic bardic poetry, warrior virtu, mysticism, and Aboriginal models, and attacks modernism and feminism."


In 2005, The Widower, a short film based on five poems by Murray, was released. It was directed by Kevin Lucas and written by singer-festival director, Lyndon Terracini, with music by Elena Kats-Chernin. Its cast included Chris Haywood and Frances Rings. The five poems used for the film are "Evening Alone at Bunyah", "Noonday Axeman", "The Widower in the Country", "Cowyard Gates" and "The Last Hellos".

Awards and nominations

  • 1984 – Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for The People's Other World
  • 1989 – Creative Arts Fellowship
  • 1989 – Officer of the Order of Australia for services to Australian literature
  • 1990 – Grace Leven Prize for Poetry for Dog Fox Field
  • 1993 – Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry for Translations from the Natural World
  • 1995 – Petrarca-Preis (Petrarch Prize)
  • 1996 – T. S. Eliot Prize for Subhuman Redneck Poems
  • 1997 – Rated by the National Trust of Australia as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures.
  • 1998 – Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry
  • 2001 – shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize for Learning Human
  • 2002 – shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize for Conscious & Verbal
  • 2005 – Premio Mondello, Italy for Fredy Neptune


Poetry collections

  • 1965: The Ilex Tree (with Geoffrey Lehmann), Canberra, ANU Press
  • 1969: The Weatherboard Cathedral, Sydney, Angus & Robertson
  • 1972: Poems Against Economics, Angus & Robertson
  • 1974: Lunch and Counter Lunch, Angus & Robertson
  • 1976: Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic, Angus & Robertson
  • 1977: Ethnic Radio, Angus & Robertson
  • 1982: Equanimities
  • 1982: The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961–1981, Angus & Robertson; Edinburgh, Canongate; New York, Persea Books, 1982 and (enlarged and revised edition) Angus & Robertson, 1988
  • 1983: Flowering Eucalypt in Autumn
  • 1983: The People's Otherworld, Angus & Robertson
  • 1986: Selected Poems, Carcanet Press
  • 1987: The Daylight Moon, Angus & Robertson, 1987; Carcanet Press 1988 and Persea Books, 1988
  • 1994: Collected Poems, Port Melbourne, William Heinemann Australia
  • 1989: The Idyll Wheel
  • 1990: Dog Fox Field Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1990; Carcanet Press, 1991 and New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993
  • 1991: Collected Poems, Angus & Robertson, 1991; Carcanet Press, 1991; London, Minerva, 1992 and (released as The Rabbiter's Bounty, Collected Poems), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991
  • 1992: Translations from the Natural World, Paddington: Isabella Press, 1992; Carcanet Press, 1993 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994
  • 1994: Collected Poems, Port Melbourne, William Heinemann Australia
  • 1996: Late Summer Fires
  • 1996: Selected Poems, Carcanet Press
  • 1996: Subhuman Redneck Poems
  • 1997: Killing the Black Dog, Black Inc Publishing
  • 1999: New Selected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove
  • 1999: Conscious and Verbal, Duffy & Snellgrove
  • 2000: An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow
  • 2001: Learning Human: New Selected Poems (Poetry pleiade), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Carcanet
  • 2002: Poems the Size of Photographs, Duffy & Snellgrove and Carcanet Press
  • 2002: New Collected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove; Carcanet Press, 2003
  • 2006: The Biplane Houses, Carcanet Press. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008
  • 2010: Taller When Prone, Black Inc Publishing
  • 2011: Killing the Black Dog: A Memoir of Depression, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 86 pp (autobiographical)
  • 2012: The Best 100 Poems of Les Murray, Black Inc Publishing
  • 2014: New Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • 2015: Waiting for the Past, Carcanet
  • 2015: The Tin Wash Dish, The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press
  • 2015: On Bunyah, Black Inc Publishing
  • 2018: Collected Poems, Black Inc Publishing
  • 2022: Continuous Creation: Last Poems, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Collections as editor

  • 1986: Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry (editor), Melbourne, Collins Dove, 1986 (new edition, 1991)
  • 1991: The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, Melbourne,Oxford University Press, 1986 and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991, 1999
  • 1994: Fivefathers, Five Australian Poets of the Pre-Academic Era, Carcanet Press
  • 2005: Hell and After, Four early English-language poets of Australia Carcanet
  • 2005: Best Australian Poems 2004, Melbourne, Black Inc.
  • 2012: The Quadrant Book of Poetry 2001–2010, Sydney, Quadrant Books

Verse novels

  • 1979: The Boys Who Stole the Funeral, Angus & Robertson, 1979, 1980 and Manchester, Carcanet, 1989
  • 1999: Fredy Neptune, Carcanet and Duffy & Snellgrove

Prose collections

  • 1978: The Peasant Mandarin, St. Lucia, UQP
  • 1984: Persistence in Folly: Selected Prose Writings, Angus & Robertson
  • 1984: The Australian Year: The Chronicle of our Seasons and Celebrations, Angus & Robertson
  • 1990: Blocks and Tackles, Angus & Robertson
  • 1992: The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose, Carcanet; Minerva, 1993
  • 1999: The Quality of Sprawl: Thoughts about Australia, Duffy & Snellgrove
  • 2000: A Working Forest, essays, Duffy & Snellgrove
  • 2002: The Full Dress, An Encounter with the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Les Murray para niños

  • List of Australian poets
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