Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Judith Wright's search for an escape

Formative years: Judith Wright's favourite home was her mother’s family property, Thalgarrah. This, the fourth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands, is the second on poet and writer Judith Wright
In some ways, the first part of poet and writer Judith Wright’s life can be described as a search for escape, escape from the confines of New England, escape from the narrowness of Sydney, escape from the roles and limitations imposed on women.

It can also be thought of as a search for happiness and meaning in often difficult and confusing personal circumstances. During this period she formed those views expressed in her writing that would make her one of Australia’s most prominent literary figures.

Judith was born on 13 May 1915, the first child of Phillip Arundell (PA) Wright and Ethel Mabel Wright nee Bigg.

The fact that Judith was first born is important, for she was born into a world where girls could not inherit. Expected to marry, they received money but could not inherit the land. This would become a tragedy for Judith when, at the end of her life, the beloved properties were lost.

The first part of Judith’s life revolved around station life and multiple homes belonging to family members. Her favourite was her mother’s family home, Thalgarrah.

Thalgarrah was more open than the dark Wallamumbi, set in nice grounds. I also think that the girl was spoiled, loved. Describing it, Judith referred to her mother’s country, an almost identical term used by writer Maslyn Williams as the title of his memoir.

Life at Wallamumbi revolved around Inside and Outside. Inside was the relatively formal life of the homestead and family, Outside the life of the working property.

Initially Judith’s life centered on the Inside, including the Girls, the domestic staff who provided a welcome relief to the greater formality of the homestead itself. Later, Judith would some to love the outside, the broader station.

Judith’s mum became ill with a debilitating disease that finally rendered her a total invalid.

The girl seems to have been bookish from an early age, teaching herself to read from the books around the house. As her mum became sicker, Judith retreated into he books, creating a world of imagination.

Later, Judith would have a sense of guilt about this retreat. She would still go to her mum to read her poems, to tell her about her writing, but didn’t know how to manage her mother’s illness.

Ethel died in 1927. Husband P A was distraught from previous worry and at the loss of his wife. On 21 November 1928 he re-married.

Judith did not get on with her step mother, Dora Isabella Temperley, marking another divide in her life. 
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 July 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here  2017here 2018 

No comments: