Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 32 [69]

Judith Wright

I’m not a religious person, but my culture, like it or not, is shot through with the Judeo- Christian tradition and sometimes the furniture is appealing. I have always liked the concept of the Feast of Epiphany, which occurs on this day (January 6th), and associated it with poetry, to which epiphany – that sudden glimpse into the heart of something – is so central. Judith Wright’s poetry offers us, again and again, such glimpses, though if I were to take one, as exemplary – pluck it out of the air – it would be this, from her wonderful late poem sequence ‘Notes at Edge’:

River Bend

 

What killed that kangaroo-doe, slender skeleton

tumbled above the water with her long shanks

cleaned white as moonlight?

Pad-tracks in sand where something drank fresh blood.

 

Last night a dog howled somewhere,

a hungry ghost in need of sacrifice.

 

Down by that bend, they say, the last old woman,

thin, black and muttering grief,

foraged for mussels, all her people gone.

 

The swollen winter river

curves over stone, a wild perpetual voice.

Judith Wright (1915-2000), sometimes dubbed ‘the conscience of the nation’, was one of the major Australian poets of the mid and late twentieth century, a pioneer environmentalist and land rights activist. One of the founders of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, she fought to protect Cooloolah, Fraser Island and the Great Barrier reef. With H.C (‘Nugget’) Coombs, she co-authored We Call for a Treaty (1985) and helped found the Aboriginal Treaty Commission. Her poetry earned her the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, amongst many other awards. In 1975 she moved from Queensland to a property, ‘Edge’, part of the Half Moon wildlife refuge, at Mongarlowe, near Braidwood, NSW.

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