, 1941), the iconic Australian characters remained the man from Snowy River, Mulga Bill and the drover’s wife: examples of endurance, of efforts to prevail against isolation, unforgiving terrain, drought and flood.
Judith Wright’s (Angus and Robertson), first published in 1994, would reflect a different world with expanded, subtler concerns.
Wright’s intense focus on the natural environment is reminiscent of some early nineteenth century Romantic poetry; for instance, Shelley’s ‘Ode to a skylark’, where the bird’s song is not just nature at work but an emblem of hope and liberty.
But rather than just contemplation, her preoccupation with nature led to an enduring engagement with environmental activism and conservation efforts.
‘The cicadas’ is remarkable in the way it juxtaposes the threat of death with the relentless urge to create life using the life cycle of the cicada.
The insect labours to find the light, to be a ‘wild singer’ like the dingo. 72) is a re-sensitising, an agonising exposure to hurt. 99), a repurposing of old folk-tale tropes – gun, sword, evil-omened blackbird – hints at Wright’s burgeoning interest in myth and legend.Mountains jumped in his way, rocks rolled down on him, and the old crow cried, ‘You’ll soon be dead.’ And the rain came down like mattocks.But he only said I can climb mountains, I can dodge rocks, I can shoot an old crow any day, and he went on over the paddocks.‘Northern River’ is ‘my river’, Wright claims, home of birds, the vine, the lilies, and native as well as imported farmed animals.It inspires rapt recall: the river speaks in the silence, and my heart will also be quiet. 6) ‘Country town’ moves into history, with bearded shepherds – some ex-convicts – homesick for England, singing round the fire.I met Judith Wright in the 1970s, among the stacks and catalogue files of the National Library of Australia.I asked what she was researching, and she replied that having written (Oxford University Press, 1959) about her family’s history in the Dawson Valley, she was setting the balance right by researching the concurrent presence of Indigenous people there.Its struggle from the ‘motherly-enclosing’ ground, reaches toward ecstatic vision and the creative, participating joy of the poet: This is the wild light that our dreams foretold while unaware we prepared these eye sand wings – while in our sleep we learned the song the world sings. The poem follows a blacksmith’s boy, with his black dog and a black hat on his head, as he confronts all threats and comes home with the rainbow over his shoulder instead of a gun.Sing now, my brothers, climb to that intolerable gold. A promise of hope (as in the Biblical story of the rainbow after Noah’s flood), rather than the intention to kill.With an assurance uncommon in first-book poets, she announces issues by-passed by most of writers, that preoccupied the poet all her life.Wright’s country is not just a site for heroism or misery.