Les Murray, Australian poet, Died at 80

Leslie Allan Murray was born on October 17, 1938, and died on April 29, 2019; he was an Australian poet, anthologist and critic.

His career spanned over forty years, and he published nearly 30 volumes of poetry as well as two verse novels and collections of his prose writings.

Leslie poetry won numerous awards, and he is, regarded as “the leading Australian poet of his generation”. The National Trust of Australia rated him as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures.

He was born in Nabiac on the North Coast of New South Wales and grew up in the neighbouring district of Bunyah.


Leslie tended primary and early high school in Nabiac and then attended Taree High School. In 1957, Leslie began to study at the University of Sydney in the Faculty of Arts and joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve to obtain a small income.

Speaking about this time to Clive James he has said: “I was as soft-headed as you could imagine. I was hanging on to childhood because I hadn’t had much teenage.

My Mum died, and my father collapsed. I had to look after him. So I was off the chain, at last, I was in Sydney, and I didn’t quite know how to do adulthood or teenager.

I was coltish and foolish and childlike. I received the least distinguished degree Sydney ever issued. I don’t think anyone’s ever matched it.” He developed an interest in ancient and modern languages, which qualified him to become a professional translator at the Australian National University where he was, employed from 1963 to 1967.

Through his studies, Leslie met other poets and writers such as Geoffrey Lehmann, Bob Ellis, Clive James and Lex Banning as well as future political journalists Laurie Oakes and Mungo McCallum Jr. Between times, he hitch-hiked around Australia and lived briefly at a Sydney Push household at Milsons Point.

Leslie returned to undergraduate studies in the 1960s and became a Roman Catholic when he married Budapest-born fellow-student Valerie Morelli in 1962.

They lived in Wales and Scotland and travelled in Europe for over a year in the late 1960s. They have five children.

In 1971, Leslie retired from his “respectable cover occupations” of translator and public servant in Canberra (1970) to write poetry full-time. The family returned to Sydney, but Leslie, planning to return to his home at Bunyah, managed to buy back part of the lost family home in 1975 and to visit there intermittently until 1985 when he and his family returned to live there permanently.

Leslie Murray passed away on April 29, 2019, in his Taree, New South Wales nursing home, at the age of 80.