Around this time last year I wrote to Les Murray, Australia’s greatest contemporary poet, to ask if he would sit for me. His reply was quick and came to me by a postcard from his On Bunyah collection of poems.
“Dear Ray, how could I refuse a portraitist from the Krambach side of Burrell Creek who wants to paint me? You are welcome to try! Hurry, though, I turn 80 this year.”
There was an urgency in his messages and yet, he continued to reply by postcard to arrange the logistics. When I asked if he had computer so we could email about our arrangements he simply said, “We do have a computer – and we are taken by your simple portraits in their colours and shades.”
The last postcard was in June 2018, we had arranged a date and he said “I’ll be 10 days into my 80th year, but my wrinkles don’t seem to be developing too fast.”
It was the last I heard from him. When I drove to Burrell Creek on the arranged date on October, he was already in hospital.
Hoping he’d recover, I started a large canvas of him with brown paddocks, a black dog being jettisoned from the sky. I always thought I’d finish it with him.
I feel incredibly sad with his death. Not just for the loss of a great man, a loss to the world of words but also a loss of a country boy standing their ground, carving out territory on their own ground. Ever since high school when he wrote the back cover copy for our anthology, We are the future, I’ve felt an invisible thread between us – and even in death it’s not broken, his voice, through his poetry will live with all of us.
I will finish the portrait.