Sydney universities honour poet Les Murray

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Poet Les Murray, who once claimed to have received “the least distinguished degree” ever issued by Sydney University, has been honoured by staff and students at two Catholic tertiary education institutions in recent weeks.

The University of Notre Dame conferred the Degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa on the renowned poet during a ceremony at the university’s Broadway campus on 28 July.
Meanwhile, students at Campion College, a liberal arts college at Toongabbie, celebrated the esteemed poet’s work with An Afternoon With Les Murray on 8 August.

Les Murray visits the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Les Murray visits the Broadway campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Professor Celia Hammond, Notre Dame vice-chancellor, described Murray in her citation as “the outstanding poet of his generation”.

“His writing has helped define, in cultural and spiritual terms, what it means to be Australian,” she said.

Mr Murray starred that night, he shone, as he joined the ranks of past recipients, who include the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, and former Prime Minister John Howard.

“Les Murray has had an exceptionally distinguished literary career,” Prof Hammond said.  “He has made a very significant contribution to the Australian literary world, our society and beyond; he has had an enormous influence on our nation’s culture.  He is a most worthy recipient of Notre Dame’s highest award.”

The poet’s career spans five decades and more than 30 published collections, including his most celebrated work, Subhuman Redneck Poems, published in 1996.

The citation continued: “The late Peter Porter called Mr Murray ‘the custodian of Australia’s soul’. Joseph Brodsky widened the scope stating, ‘it would be as myopic to regard Mr Murray as an Australian poet as to call Yeats an Irishman. He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives’.”

Sam Rebecchi, of the Campion students’ association, said the audience of more than 60 students, faculty and alumni appreciated “being able to meet such a cherished part of Australian literature”.

Though he is a long-time friend of the college, it was Mr Murray’s first visit to Campion.

He recited some of his most popular works, after which students had the opportunity to meet the stellar star of Australian literature during a book signing.

Campion faculty made the most of the occasion by unveiling a portrait of the poet by Bob Baird, which was given to the college and now hangs in a tutorial room.

With an Australian literature course on offer at Campion, Mr Rebecchi said, the afternoon was “a chance to put a face to the name”.