Judith Wright: Celebrating a Centenary
“I’m glad you like Phantom Dwelling,” Judith Wright (McKinney) wrote to her friend and biographer, Shirley Walker, in 1990, “which is the last book I’m likely to write, of poetry at any rate. Prose, in final vain attempts to get recognition for Aboriginal rights and for environmental rescue, occupy me these days, but I don’t think poems written in one’s seventies are worth much anyway.”1
In some ways, these lines reveal the competing interests of Judith Wright – poet, environmentalist and social activist. Wright’s first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published in 1946 while she was working at The University of Queensland as a statistician.2 As her career developed, Wright’s poetry often appeared in publications such as Bulletin and Overland.
Wright’s love of nature and the bush, which inspired so much of her work, also motivated her to establish the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland in the 1960s. This active group campaigned to save regions of natural beauty across the state, from Cooloola to The Great Barrier Reef. “It was ironic that the conservation society I helped found and of which I was president from 1962-76 – The Wildlife Preservation Society – was, for most of my term of office, more concerned with the problems of the sea than the land,” wrote Wright in her article The Reef’s Defenders in 1980.3 Handwritten greeting cards from Judith Wright to fellow co-founder of the WPSQ, Kathleen McArthur are also held in the Fryer collection.
Wright was also a passionate advocate of Aboriginal land rights. In 1979 she and Nugget Coombs helped to set up the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, serving as a voice for persuading non-Aboriginal Australians to form a treaty, while recognising the injustices Indigenous Australians faced. The Fryer Library holds Wright’s book, We Call for a Treaty as well as material relating to the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, which folded in 1983.
On 31st May, Judith Arundell Wright would be 100 years old. Her legacy continues in the environmental protection work of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and the ongoing advocacy for the acknowledgement of Aboriginal people and history. Wright’s poetry, which made her a prominent figure in Australian literature, also exists in many publications. The University of Queensland Press Collection in contains manuscripts, correspondence and cover design artwork from a selection of Wright’s UQP publications. Drafts, copies and criticism of her earlier poems as well as Wright’s letters to Shirley Walker are also available from the Fryer Library.
The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts was established in 2001 in her honour.
1. Wright, Judith. Letter to Shirley Walker, 29 July 1990, Shirley Walker Collection, UQFL372, Box 1, Folder 1, Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.
2. Thompson, John. “Poetry in Australia: Judith Wright.” Southerly 27.1 (1967): 35-44. Informit Literature and Culture Collection. Web. 22 May 2015.
3. Wright, Judith. “The Reef’s Defenders.” The National Times December 14-20 (1980): 11-12. Print. Shirley Walker Collection. UQFL372, Box 1, Folder 1, Fryer Library, The University of Queensland Library.