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Australian Poetry Legend Les Murray Dies Aged 80

Australian literary legend Les Murray has died at age 80.

Murray's death was confirmed by his Australian publishers Black Inc on Monday.

"We mourn his boundless creativity, as well as his original vision. His poetry created a vernacular republic for Australia, a place where our language is preserved and renewed," a statement from the publishers said.

"On a personal note, we will cherish our dealings with him. Les was frequently hilarious and always his own man. He would talk with anyone, was endlessly curious and a figure of immense integrity and intelligence."

We celebrate his work and mourn his passing.

Murray was one of Australia's most recognised poets, having published nearly 30 volumes of work in his lifetime. He also wrote and published two verse novels.

Murray was born in 1938 in Nabiac, a village on the north coast of New South Wales and grew up with his family on a dairy farm in Bunyah. His parents were poor and so his childhood was without common comforts.

His poor rural upbringing would form the basis of much of his work.

In 1957 he moved south to Sydney to study modern languages at the University of Sydney. During his time at University, he worked on the editorial teams of student publications and converted to Roman Catholicism from the Presbyterianism of his parents. His strong Catholic beliefs can be seen in plenty of Murray's poetry.

'AImost everything they say is ritual,' he said of rural Australians in one of his best-known poems, 'The Mitchells.'

Les Murray
Les Murray reads some poetry from the book 'The Full Dres' in 2002. Image: AAP Images.

In 1960, Murray left university without a degree and became a translator at the Australian National University in Canberra. He married his wife Valerie in 1962.

While in Canberra his first volume of poems 'The llex Tree' (written with Geoffrey Lehmann) won the Grace Leven Prize for poetry on its publication in 1965.

"Les Murray’s first book, The Ilex Tree, was published in 1965. His last, Collected Poems, came out last year. From “An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow” to “Waiting for the Past”, his is an unequalled body of Australian writing," Black  Inc said in their statement.

After travelling in Europe and Britain for a year, Murray returned to Australia and in 1969 he graduated from the University of Sydney. He then worked full-time as a poet and writer. He fast became one of Australia's most influential literary critics and reviewers.

His poems have won many awards, including Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, Petrarca-Preis, Christopher Brennan Award. His work is unique for its diverse range and themes including questions of human existence, rural Australian lives, and Aboriginal Australians.

Les Murray and Queen Elizabeth
Les Murray with Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. Image: Getty Images.

Murray moved back to NSW's mid-north coast from Sydney in 1985 with his own family.

He is survived by his five children.

Contact Siobhan at skenna@networkten.com.au