Vale Les Murray

April 29, 2019
Written by: Nat Ord

I’ve never been good with words. I’m not a good writer and never seem to get out what I want to say so when I meet people who are good with words I have great admiration for them.  

In June 2018 I was gifted the opportunity to photograph and spend time with one of the greatest contemporary poets and Australia’s most prolific and needless to say, I was in awe.

I travelled to Les and Valerie Murray’s home in Bunyah, NSW with Stuart Baker (Survivors of Suicide) and filmmaker Helen Newman to collect Les and bring him to Albury so he could read his work at the 2018 Survivors of Suicide Winter Solstice event. Stuart had organised for me to have some time photographing Les and his wife Valerie who is also a writer.

Les and I chatted in the sitting area outside his study. I fumbled with my camera gear but Les was unperturbed. We moved into his study where books lined two sides of the room from floor to ceiling. I noticed how the colours in the jumper Valerie had knitted for him mirrored the colours of the book although the stripes were perpendicular. He sat at his desk where he wrote his work on a typewriter. I didn’t direct Les other than asking him to look at camera. He was chatting to Stuart who stood in the corner of the room, his facial expressions almost as prolific as his poems.

After the shoot we drove the ten hours to Albury stopping for dinner at a pub on the Hume Highway where I asked Les to sign his books I’d brought with me. The next night in the freezing cold Les read several of his poems to over 1000 people at the Winter Solstice event. We were in the presence of something special and rare and I can’t find the words to describe it.

Today Les Murray died at the age of 80. It’s a weird feeling to have captured a portrait of someone and learn of their passing. I feel extremely grateful and fortunate for the opportunity to photograph Les and to read his words.

Vale Les Murray.

Portrait of poet Les Murray sitting in a chair in his home in Bunyah, NSW

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