“To the glory of God”. Each volume of the work of Australian Poet, Les Murray, opened with these words.
On Friday I will attend, along with a significant number of Australia’s literati, the funeral of Australian poet, Les Murray.
Les Murray is generally believed by those who are expert in such things, to have been worthy of being awarded a Nobel Prize for literature.
“We have lost a giant of literature. A beautiful, humble, funny, courageous, generous and gentle titan of Australian letters. Les Murray’s words were a gift to us all. If only he’d won the Nobel – the last accolade due to him. Vale my dear, dear friend,”.Nikki Gemmell, Australian Author.
It is also believed by those who knew him that such a prestigious prize might have been of little personal consequence to the man.
If you have known his poetry and followed the outpouring sense of loss from the Australian and international literary communities, you will know that a great loss has been felt with his death.
Les Murray, arguably Australia’s best-known poet, was many things. To some, he was Australia’s greatest wordsmith. To others, he was a controversial figure who took issue with so-called academic poetry, multiculturalism and anything he regarded as left-wing. Many have pointed out that despite his railings against the “elite”, Murray’s poetry is at times dense, complex and multilayered.
“He’s a paradoxical figure, that’s the reality of it,” says longtime friend Geoffrey Lehmann. The Bard of Bunyah, as Murray was known, died at a New South Wales nursing home earlier this week. He was 80 years old. Broede Carmody, SMH, May 4, 2019.
Typical of Murray, the funeral will be held in a small, relatively nondescript Catholic Church (St Bernadette’s) in a village that most of his Australian and international fans would not otherwise have known existed – Krambach.
I am a part time resident of Murray’s home ”town” of Bunyah → Turn right off the Pacific Highway just before the Coolongolook Cemetery and travel thirteen kilometres (only three on dirt) and know he and his extended family are still “big” in that part of the world.
“Bunyah has been my refuge and home place all my life. This book concentrates on the smallest habitats of community, the scattered village and the lone house, where space makes the isolated dwelling into an illusory distant city ruled by its family and their laws.”
That is not why I write about him today, but because of what he went through in his life, particularly in his school days.
Les was different, physically, socially and was emotionally awkward. He paid the price for this in the school yard. Perhaps this is what gave him such an insight into the lives of those who are downtrodden, reviled and live off the main highways of life.
“Murray ran wild for a year or two and then went to Taree High School where, a large boy with a huge brain and few social skills, he was variously ignored and bullied savagely. This had a deep effect and gave him a lifelong aversion to mobs and bullies.” Les Murray: The leading poet of his generation and possibly of this country’s history, Michael Duffy
Few of those who tormented him could have realised the potential that dwelt within – Poet, editor, linguist, commentator.
Imagine if these qualities had been beaten out of his life by the cruelty of those who dared to pick on someone different, from the safety of being “normal”.
While I have enjoyed Les’ poetry, the greatest impact his life has had on me is to make me wonder how many other persons with the spark of greatness, hidden under a cloak of awkwardness, have been hounded into silence or even an early grave because they were “different”.
Sometimes in our world being different is dangerous.
Sometimes being different seems to bring out the worst in those who feel safe, marginalising those least likely to be able to fight back.
On reflection of his life, I hope that those students in our St Columba community who sometimes wonder why they have to be punished by others for being themselves, feel that they have a safe place here and are valued for who they are.
Hopefully, at St Columba, being different is less dangerous than in other places. That would be good.
The Meaning of Existence
Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.
Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.
Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School