10 Australian Poets You Should Know

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Jessica Poulter

Famous for bush poetry predominantly, some of the most well known poets are iconic for their radicalism, poetic form, and style. Discover the top ten best Australian poets that you must know before traveling to a city as art-inspired and culture-heavy as Melbourne.

Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), 1920 – 1993

An Indigenous writer and political activist, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, also known as Kath Walker, was one of the most progressive and well respected poets of her time. She was the first Aboriginal writer in history to release a book of verse. Her advocacy for Indigenous welfare reflected in her poetic form as she wrote from her perspective as an Aboriginal Australian woman. Her best known works include ‘Municipal Gum’ (1960) and ‘A Song of Hope’ (1960), along with her books The Dawn is at Hand: Poems (1966) and My People: A Kath Walker collection (1970).

Judith Wright, 1915 – 2000

A poet who at the heart of all turmoil and adversity throughout Australian history, Judith Wright was known as the ‘conscience of the nation.’ Her outcry to see Aboriginal people equal to European Australians was groundbreaking. It was Judith’s passion which helped shape the Australian landscape to be a more hospitable place for both women and Indigenous people. Her most famous poems include ‘Bullocky’ and ‘The Moving Image.’

Henry Lawson, 1867 – 1922

For his short, sharp, and punchy bush poetry, Henry Lawson was said to be the raw version of Ernest Hemingway. A poet who dabbed his toe in journalism, he suffered psychological and artistic adversity throughout his life. His humanization of the Australian landscape was what made Lawson’s ballads so desirable. An iconic read is ‘The Drover’s Wife.’

Image courtesy of Lawson Collection, 1902

Banjo Paterson, 1864 – 1941

Everyone has heard of Banjo Paterson and his melodic poem, ‘Waltzing Matilda.’ If you do not know this song, it could be in your best interest to learn it before you attend a football match in Melbourne. This song is so well known that is has become part of the language of Australian contemporary culture. An iconic Australian bush poet and author, Andrew Barton Paterson, also known as ‘Banjo,’ has made his historic mark with his face etched on the Australian ten dollar note.

Australian poet Banjo Patterson

Peter Porter, 1929 – 2010

Peter was an Australian poet who had spent most of his time in England. He was well respected in the poetic realm, who received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and was the subject of a special issue of Poetry Review. His most valued piece of work was a stoic elegy, in loving memory to his deceased wife, ‘Non Piangere, Liu.’ His writings revolved around civilisation and the idea of age, loss and the value of art. He blended Australian and English cultures together to construct a unique theme of poetry.

Gig Ryan, born 1956

A contemporary Australian poet, Gig Ryan has made a name for herself in the poetic world by being the poetic editor at The Age newspaper since 2001. Even though she is English-born, her whole creative life has been made in Australia. She writes with satiric flair about social norms, using distinctive and punk language that is similar to the 1970s bourgeois underworld. At just 17 years old, she won a Victorian poetry prize, and had her first poems published soon after. She also won the Christopher Brennan life time achievement medal.

Les Murray, born 1938

A true Australian poet, Les Murray speaks in a straight-forward and laconic way through his radical poetic form. He is quite a controversial character with his resistance to transition into post-modernism in poetry, believing it creates absence in poetic form. A multi-award winner for poetry and a writer of over 30 poetic volumes, Les Murray is a leading Australian poet that everyone should know.

Gwen Harwood, 1920 – 1995

Regularly nominated for literary awards, Gwen was an Australian poet who spent most of her time living in Tasmania. She was a radical feminist, and an unconventional writer famous for her poem ‘Suburban Sonnet’, capturing themes of motherhood, female empowerment, and Tasmanian suburban landscape. She has written an incredible 386 poems, most of those speaking out to the Australian feminists and mothers.

Lionel Fogarty, Born 1958

Lionel Fogarty is an Indigenous poet and political activist. Through his poems, he is the voice of the Indigenous people, adopting native language sporadically. He speaks to all Australians, but is focused on the political rights of his people, engaging in south Queensland’s Land Rights and providing health services to Indigenous people. Lionel’s poetry collections include Kargun (1980), Yoogum Yoogum (1982) and Jagera (1990).

Dorothy Hewett, 1923 – 2002

Dorothy was a leading poet and feminist in Australia. She was a member of the Communist Party in which that time led her to abandon her Arts degree uncompleted and have six children with her husband. During these years, she was in no frame of mind to write. Once her artistic flair regained strength, she became one of the most progressive Australian poets of her time. Her major collections include Windmill Country (Overland, 1968), Rapunzel in Suburbia (Prism, 1975), Greenhouse (1979) and Alice in Wormland (1987).
This list was compiled with aid of Poetry Australia. The organization has curated a festival program for poetry lovers in each major city. A great and innovative event to get work seen and read by those in the poetic world.

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