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Who was Judith Wright?

image of Judith WrightJudith Wright was a Queensland resident for more than 30 years. Born in New England in regional New South Wales, Judith settled in Brisbane as a young woman. She lived for a time at 100 Sydney Street, New Farm and worked as a statistician at the University of Queensland (a job she was completely untrained for) while she wrote the first of the poems that were to make her famous, among them Bullocky and The Moving Image.

In Brisbane she met and fell in love with philosopher Jack McKinney, and in 1945 they bought a small cottage on Mount Tamborine. They later moved to a nearby house which they named ‘Calanthe’, after a white orchid which blooms on the mountain in December. They shared 20 happy years together on Tamborine, until Jack’s death in 1966.

During the 1950s and 60s Judith’s fame as a poet grew, although she also wrote children’s stories, books of criticism, and Generations Of Men - a novel about her grandparents who were early settlers in Queensland’s Dawson Valley. She wrote most of her works in the mountains of southern Queensland.

Judith’s deep love of the Australian landscape, and her growing distress at the devastation of that landscape by white Australians, led her to help form the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in the mid-1960s, an early and powerful conservation group. She fought to conserve the Great Barrier Reef, when its ecology was threatened by oil drilling, and campaigned against sand mining on Fraser Island. Along with her deep awareness of environmental issues, Judith became an ardent supporter of the Aboriginal land rights movement.

In 1975 Judith moved south, to Braidwood in New South Wales and soon after she and Nugget Coombs helped form the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, an organisation dedicated to helping spread the word about the need for land rights and a treaty among white Australians. Judith continued to fight both for the environment and for Aboriginal land rights until her death in June 2000 at the age of 85. Shortly before her passing she attended a march in Canberra for reconciliation between white Australians and Indigenous people, full of hope that the tide might at last be turning.

Judith Wright has been called ‘the conscience of the nation’ for her commitment to the environment and Aboriginal land rights. Nevertheless, it is for her poetry that she is best remembered, poetry which has helped shape Australia’s perception of itself as much as her tireless battles have helped to save it.