Australian Catholic University has awarded an honorary doctorate to Les Murray in recognition of his contribution to Australian literature and to contemporary poetry.
The award was bestowed at a graduation ceremony in Sydney on 24 May.
Leslie Allan Murray is one of the greatest contemporary English-language poets. Born in 1938, he grew up in the district of Bunyah, on the Mid-North Coast. In 1957, he began an arts degree at the University of Sydney on a Commonwealth scholarship, proving even then to be an outstanding poet.
He developed a strong interest in languages, and in the mid-1960s worked as a translator at the Australian National University. He published his first book of poetry in 1965, a joint collection with Geoffrey Lehmann, The Ilex Tree. It was an immediate critical success, winning the Grace Leven Prize.
In the early 1970s Les gave up what he described as his “respectable cover occupations” to embrace poetry as a full-time career. This period saw his emergence as a significant figure in Australian literature, publishing numerous volumes of verse and prose. From 1973-80, Les was editor of Poetry Australia, and from the late 1970s until 1990 he was poetry reader for publishers Angus and Robertson.
For many overseas critics and academics he is the voice of Australia, and his poetry has been published in 16 languages. He was described by the Irish poet and critic Dennis O’Driscoll as “a poet with a panoptic vision of – and for – Australia, he has not only enhanced the literary standing of his country but has also contributed to the shaping of its destiny”.
In 1989 Les’ contribution to Australian literature was recognised with an Order of Australia. He has been the recipient of many awards including prestigious international poetry prizes: the Petrarch Prize (1995), the T S Eliot Award (1997), the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry (1998), the Mondello Prize (2004), and a Prix des Trois-Rivières (2014).
A convert to Catholicism in his late teens, Murray has contributed significantly to the formation, articulation and study of the sacred in Australia. He is rare among Australian writers in declaring his faith publicly, and dedicates his books to ‘the glory of God’.
Les has openly spoken and written about his battle with depression, contributing to a more frank discussion of ‘the black dog’ in the wider community and offering insight and hope to those who have encountered despair.