Celebrated Australian poet Les Murray dies aged 80

Australian Associated Press

Australian literary giant Les Murray has died on the NSW Mid-North Coast aged 80.

Murray is one of the nation's most celebrated poets, winning many literary awards including the Grace Level Prize, the Petrarch Prize and the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize.

In 1999 he was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Les Murray reads from one of his books at his property at Bunyah, 50 kilometres south of Taree in New South Wales in 1996. Source: Fairfax Media via Getty Images
Les Murray reads from one of his books at his property at Bunyah, 50 kilometres south of Taree in New South Wales in 1996. Source: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Murray was born in Nabiac on the state's mid north coast and grew up on a hard scrabble dairy farm in Bunyah. His time in the Australian bush and Bunyah specifically featured prominently in his poetry.

His mother died from an ectopic pregnancy when he was 12.

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According to The Steel, one of his angriest and most moving poems, her death may have been avoided if the local doctor hadn't initially refused to authorise an ambulance.

Despite an interrupted schooling, he made it to Sydney University where he didn't quite finish a degree. He dropped out for a time with a nervous breakdown. He hung out with other future writers like Geoffrey Lehmann and Clive James, wrote poetry and read voraciously.

Les Murray was one of the nation's most celebrated poets. Source: Getty Images
Les Murray was one of the nation's most celebrated poets. Source: Getty Images

He was also a natural linguist, which enabled him to get a job as a translator at the Australian National University.

In 1962 he married Valerie Morelli, becoming a Catholic in the process. They had five children.

Murray published his first book of poetry, which was a joint collection with Lehmann in 1965.

He took his family to Britain and Europe in 1967 for two years and on his return to Sydney finally completed his arts degree while having his first sole-authored collection, The Weatherboard Cathedral, published.

Murray was editor of Poetry Australia from 1973 until 1980.

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News of Murray’s death on Monday evening quickly prompted an outpouring of tributes to the late poet and his writing.

“To sit with Les Murray in Bunyah, was to sit with a king. Poetry fell out of his mouth, like rice at a Chinese restaurant. He noticed every word, and every bird that landed, flew past.... He was nature. His genius is indescribable,” Australian actor and director Rhys Muldoon wrote.

Another Twitter user posted: “So incredibly sad about Les Murray. I met him with my dad a few years back and he was such a lovely, lovely man. And An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow is one of my top five poems of all time. Such an unfathomable loss. Just read these words. Go well and go gently, great man.”

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