Friday, September 26, 2014

South of My Days: Veronica Brady's beautiful biography of Judith Wright, Australia's finest poet

".....for Wright the truth of existence does not consist in reflection on commitment to it, but is to be found in the commitment itself: for her humanity and nature also are not and never have been something general, but are individual and singular. They demand personal response and commitment. That, I believe, is why her life has been so deeply involved with the pain of the world and of people but also why few have written so powerfully as she has done about the intensities and splendours of love, child-bearing and relationships with others and the living world around us.
Veronica Brady from an article on writing the life of Judith Wright

"Although strong in her denunciation of economic rationalist principles that were undermining the social fabric of Australian life in the eighties and nineties, she remained committed to a world of other possibilities--to see "what the human eye was meant to see /. . . knowing the human ends in the divine" (Vision). Integral to this vision is a profound respect for the sacred dimensions of ordinary life and ordinary Australians: "Living is a dailiness, a simple bread / that's worth the eating" (Grace). The ethical and gracious sense of human dignity is integral to her worldview. Artist and activist, poet and prophet, Judith Wright's images have become part of the fabric of our nation. She is the political poet dancing between the mystical experience and the demands of justice."
Gerard Hall on Judith Wright
Regular readers will know of my profound love and respect for the poetry of Australian poet Judith Wright who I believe is Australia's finest poet. 

Previous blog pieces on Judith Wright are here.

I am currently re-reading for the "umpteenth" time South of My Days  Veronica Brady's masterly biography of Judith Wright, published in 1998, just 2 years before her death. 

Brady does a wonderful job of telling the story of Judith Wright, considered by many to be Australia's finest poet.

I am always deeply moved by this book.

One reason is Judith Wright's profound and beautiful poetry which is quoted extensively in the book. Partly, it is also the inspirational life of Judith Wright- her social and environmental activism, her integrity, the dignity and humility with which she lived her life, her commitment to the ideals of justice and her uniquely Australian world view.

But my enjoyment of this book is also attributable to Veronica Brady, who in telling the life story of Judith Wright displays deep understanding, reverence and respect for the life and work of her subject.

It is particularly intriguing to re-read this book in light of Fiona Capp's book My Blood's Countrya memoir of her friendship with Judith Wright and a journey through the landscapes which inspired  Judith Wright. 

In Fiona Capp's book (and in earlier articles) she and the writer Nonnie Sharp wrote for the first time about the 25 year long relationship between Judith Wright and H.C. (Nugget) Coombs, which remained a secret to the public long after both their deaths.

In her biography, Veronica Brady choose not to reveal the exact nature of the relationship between Judith Wright and Nugget Coombs, clearly out of respect for Judith Wright's privacy and her wish to keep the relationship private.  Instead, Brady referred to their relationship as a long and close friendship.

In a recent article in the Australian journal Australian Historical Studies, the distinguished historian Jill Roe writes of the dilemma facing biographers like Veronica Brady, whose subjects are still alive. Roe writes:
Likewise many were surprised to learn of the depth and longevity of the recently revealed relationship between poet and environmentalist Judith Wright and ‘Nugget’ Coombs, which biographer Veronica Brady had described simply as a friendship in South of My Days, published in 1998, two years before Wright’s death. Maybe the time was not ripe to discuss such a delicate issue. In any event, it is a reminder that writing about a living person has its own problems. It is not just the subject’s reputation that must be considered, but the effect the treatment might have on the lives of significant others.
In her article Judith Wright's Biography: A Delicate Balance between Trespass and Honor Veronica Brady gives some insight into the challenges of telling the life story of such a public figure as Judith Wright.

1 comment:

Marilyn Beech said...

Now 86, and very frail, my dear friend Veronica Brady will be very touched and pleased when I tell her about your comments here. Veronica stopped using a computer about three years ago. Though email and the Internet are closed to her, she continues to read voraciously. Her room in a pleasant wing of a retirement home is full of books. Judith Wright's poetry is still often quoted, as is Dante's.

Just two boxes of correspondence and other documents were 'off limits' when Veronica was writing 'South of My Days', and she often talked about the difficulty of writing biography when the subject was still living, and when others - the Coombs family, Nugget's children, were living too.

I agree with you, it's a wonderful biography. Last year, in fact, at about the time you wrote this blog, I bought a very good, used copy of 'South of My Days' on eBay - for Veronica. She had given away her last copy! Seeing mine one day, she said, 'Do you think I might borrow that? It's a while since I've read it, and I'd be interested to see if I think the same now as I did then.'

She may have given that copy away, too.

All good wishes,

Marilyn Beech