What to Expect
Sometimes the image or perception of something is stronger than the actual reality. Perhaps that has been the case with Australia and the arts. The first thought that comes to many people’s mind when they think of this incredible island is that it is far away and therefore isolated from all that is cultural and sophisticated. Nothing could be further from the truth and today, despite a reputation for being brash or unrefined, we see that Australians are at the forefront of many artistic genres and contribute magnificently to the field of poetry. With that in mind we will highlight some of the more noteworthy of Australians both past and present to get a feel for how they contribute both on a local and international level.
No consideration of Australian poetry would be complete without looking at the contribution of the indigenous people, the Australian Aboriginals. Oodgeroo Noonuccal, also known as Kath Walker, was born in 1920 and died in 1993. She was a political activist and poet, becoming one of the most respected and progressive writers of her time and was the first writer of Aboriginal descent to have her work published. Her life as an Aboriginal woman fueled her writing as did her advocacy for the welfare of the indigenous people and this can be seen in her most well-known books, The Dawn is at Hand: Poems and My People: A Kath Walker collection.
Interestingly the voice of women writers plays a significant role in the development of Australian poetry, as reflected by the work of another notable artist, Judith Wright who was born in 1915 and died in 2000. Through much of the nation’s historic struggles and conflicts she provided a voice for the rights of indigenous people and women and contributed greatly to development of a more sensitive and inclusive environment for all. Among her most acclaimed work are the poems The Moving Image and Bullocky.
Born in 1938 the poet Les Murray represents the straight-talking voice of Australia and although his work was often deemed controversial, he is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading poets. Having published over thirty volumes of poetry, he is certainly as prolific a writer as he is talented!
Lionel Fogarty, born in 1958, is an indigenous writer and activist who uses his poetry to be a voice for his people. His interesting use of the native language throughout his work lends a unique quality to his writing but he succeeds in speaking to all Australians whilst remaining true to his concerns and passionate advocacy for the Aboriginal people.
Gwen Harwood was an Australian poet who, as a feminist, captured much of the mood of suburban women who faced the challenges of motherhood and identity. Her well known poem Suburban Sonnet was among the more than 300 poems she penned in her career, mainly giving voice to the feelings of females and, in particular, feminists like herself. The variety and talent that is evident in this small sample of work speaks to the fact that Australia truly has and continues to produce poetic excellence.