Judith Wright Biography

(Poet, Environmentalist, Campaigner for Aboriginal Land Rights)

Birthday: May 31, 1915 (Gemini)

Born In: Armidale, Australia

Judith Wright was an Australian poet, literary critic, and short-story writer with over 50 published books. She was also a much-respected environmentalist and an aboriginal land rights activist. Her literary works often focused on the themes of environment and the relationship between humans and the environment. The daughter of a prominent pastoralist and philanthropist, she was fortunate to receive a good education, a privilege available only to a few young women of her time. After completing her education, she began working at the University of Queensland. She had also started publishing her works by then. Over the years, she gained much prominence as a poet and short-story writer and received several accolades, including the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, for her literary contributions to society. She always harbored a deep interest in environment and conservation and was a founding member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland. She was well known for actively supporting the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. She was involved in the aboriginal land rights movement as well and was a good friend of aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal. She was married to abstract philosopher Jack McKinney and had one daughter.

Quick Facts

Australian Celebrities Born In May

Died At Age: 85


Spouse/Ex-: Jack McKinney (m. 1962–1966)

father: Phillip Wright

mother: Ethel Wright

children: Meredith McKinney

Born Country: Australia

Quotes By Judith Wright Poets

Died on: June 25, 2000

place of death: Canberra, Australia

Ideology: Environmentalists

More Facts

education: University of Sydney

awards: 1994 - Poetry Award for Collected Poems
- Christopher Brennan Award

Childhood & Early Life

Judith Arundell Wright was born on 31 May 1915 in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia. Her father was Phillip Arundell Wright, a pastoralist and philanthropist, who would serve as the second Chancellor of the University of New England from 1960 until 1970. Her mother was Ethel, Phillip’s first wife.

Her mother died in 1927, and Judith was then raised by her aunt and grandmother. Her father remarried in 1929, and the same year, she was sent to New England Girls' School. There, she sought solace in poetry and developed an undying love for the genre.

She joined Sydney University in 1934 and studied history, philosophy, English, and psychology. In the late 1930s, she began to publish her poems in literary journals. 

She travelled to Britain and Europe in 1937 and 1938. Despite having a keen interest in education, she did not complete her degree and returned to her father’s place when World War II began.

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Judith Wright began her career working as a secretary-stenographer and clerk during the World War II period. In 1944, she took up a job as a university statistician at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia.

In 1946, her first book of poetry, The Moving Image, was published. During this time, she also collaborated with Clem Christesen, the editor of the literary magazine Meanjin. The first issue of this magazine was published in late 1947.

In 1949, she began lecturing part-time at various Australian universities. She continued to write and publish alongside her teaching career. In the ensuing years, she published several collections of poetry, including Woman to Man (1949), The Gateway (1953), The Two Fires (1955), and Australian Bird Poems (1961).

In 1966, she published the poetry collection The Other Half. The same year, she also published a collection of short stories, The Nature of Love. 

In 1967, she was appointed an honors tutor in English at the University of Queensland at Brisbane.

Alive: Poems 1971–72 (1973), Fourth Quarter and Other Poems (1976), Train Journey (1978), and The Double Tree: Selected Poems 1942–76 (1978) were some of her works published in the 1970s.

Her later poetry collections include Phantom Dwelling (1985), The Flame Tree (1993), and Bullocky (1993). 

Besides poetry, she also published other literary works, such as The Generations of Men (1959), Range the Mountains High (1962), The Nature of Love (1966), The Coral Battleground (1977), The Cry for the Dead (1981), and We Call for a Treaty (1985). 

Her repertoire also includes children’s books and school plays for the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

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Judith Wright cared deeply about the environment and actively campaigned to support nature conservation. When the ecology of the Great Barrier Reef was threatened by oil drilling, she fought for its conservation. She also protested against sand mining on Fraser Island.

She advocated for the aboriginal land rights movement for years and attended a march for reconciliation between non-indigenous Australians and the aboriginal people shortly before her death.

She was a founding member of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, a non-profit organization engaged in conservation work. She served as its president from 1964 to 1976.

In her works The Coral Battleground (1977) and In The Cry for the Dead (1981), she talked about environmental destruction, the treatment of aborigines, and campaigns to protect nature from human beings’ greed. 

She was friends with aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal and helped to get her work published.

Major Works

In 1962, Judith Wright published what would become one of her most popular works: Birds: Poems. The collection contained poems written in the 1950s when she was living on Tamborine Mountain. The poems reflected the joys and pains that are inseparable from the lives of both humans and birds. The National Library of Australia published an expanded edition of Birds in 2003.

Family & Personal Life

When Judith Wright was 30, she met the novelist and abstract philosopher Jack McKinney and began a relationship with him. They had a daughter, Meredith McKinney, in 1950. After several years of being together, they got married in 1962. Sadly, Jack died in 1966, leaving Judith bereft in grief.

She later started a relationship with economist and public servant H. C. "Nugget" Coombs. This relationship lasted 25 years.

She had started to lose her hearing in her mid-20s and was completely deaf by 1992.

She died of a heart attack on 25 June 2000. She was 85 years old.

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