Poet Les Murray awarded Honorary Doctorate

Published: Thursday 26th May 2016

Australian poet Les Murray was recently awarded an honorary doctorate for his contribution to Australian literature and to contemporary poetry in English.

The citation read:

"Leslie Allan Murray is one of the world’s greatest contemporary English-language poets. Born in 1938, he grew up in the district of Bunyah, in central New South Wales. In 1957, Murray commenced an arts degree at the University of Sydney on a Commonwealth scholarship, proving even then to be an outstanding poet.

He developed a strong interest in languages, and in the mid-1960s worked as a translator at the Australian National University. He continued to write and in 1965 published his first book of poetry, a joint collection with Geoffrey Lehmann, The Ilex Tree. The work was an immediate critical success, and won the Grace Leven Prize for that year.

After a period of travel in Europe with his family, Murray returned to Sydney, and in the early 1970s gave up what he described as his “respectable cover occupations” to embrace poetry as a full-time career. This period saw his emergence as a significant figure on the Australian literary scene, publishing numerous volumes of verse, poems, sonnets and prose. From 1973 until 1980, Murray was editor of Poetry Australia, and from the late 1970s until 1990 he was poetry reader for publishers Angus and Robertson.

Irish poet and critic Dennis O’Driscoll captured the range of Murray’s contributions to Australian society when he described him as “a poet with a panoptic vision of—and for—Australia, he has not only enhanced the literary standing of his country but has also contributed to the shaping of its destiny: influencing its arts policy, proposing a design for its flag, drafting its vote of allegiance, celebrating its indigenous plants and creatures, urging fellow Australians to shake off what he regards as their colonial mind-set and to allow their country to mature into a republic.”

From the early 1980s Murray’s prolific output of poetry continued and he began to attain a greater international profile. For many overseas critics and academics he is the voice of Australia, and his poetry has been published in 11 languages.

In the mid-1980s, Murray and his family left Sydney to live at Bunyah, and in 1989 his contribution to Australian literature was recognised with an Order of Australia. He has been the recipient of a plethora of awards including prestigious international poetry prizes the Petrarch Prize (1995), the T. S. Eliot Award (1997), and the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry (1998).

Murray has openly spoken and written about his battle with depression, contributing to a more frank discussion of ‘the black dog’ in the wider community and offering insight and hope to those who have encountered despair.

A convert to Catholicism in his late teens, Murray has contributed significantly to the formation, articulation and study of the sacred in Australia. He is rare among Australian writers in declaring his faith publicly, and dedicates his books to ‘the glory of God’.

While a likely contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Murray wears his eminence lightly. In his poem The Instrument, Murray wrote: "Why write poetry? For the weird unemployment./For the painless headaches, that must be tapped to strike/down along your writing arm at the accumulated moment./For the adjustments after, aligning facets in a verb/before the trance leaves you. For working always beyond/your own intelligence. For not needing to rise/and betray the poor to do it. For a non-devouring fame."

Murray lives in Bunyah still with his wife Valerie, and they have five children."