News

The Bowerbird



20 February 2008

Australia's 'greatest living poet' Les Murray on his most recent visit to the Macquarie Dictionary offices in the bowels of Fisher Library. He was recently appointed visiting professor.
Australia's 'greatest living poet' Les Murray on his most recent visit to the Macquarie Dictionary offices in the bowels of Fisher Library. He was recently appointed visiting professor.

For more than ten years, Les Murray has been sending Sue Butler postcards, but he's not updating her about his travels.

Instead, he would write regularly about words. Murray is as obsessed with language as Butler herself. He is 'Australia's leading poet' and a Living National Treasure, and she is the publisher of the Macquarie Dictionary, based here at the University of Sydney.

Now, as the new visiting professor attached to Macquarie Dictionary, Les doesn't need to send notes anymore. One day a month he comes to Sydney and "spends the day immersed in words".

He admits he could talk about words constantly: colloquialisms are "good fun"; he'd like to know more about Americanisms; has a theory that country-spoken English is closely related to Aboriginal languages; and tells a story "about the man who was delighted to discover that he spoke prose all day long".

Les has been a "devoted contributor" to the Dictionary for many years according to Butler, "and it came up in discussion with the Dean of Arts that having Les attached to the University through the dictionary would be a good way of giving him the opportunity that he wanted to have input into the Macquarie on rural Australian English".

"He's a natural dictionary person," Butler says. "It's hard to describe them, but they have a bowerbird instinct for collecting words. He brings the words back with great triumph and lays them at my feet and says, 'I have a present for you'."

"There was a role here for me as a lexicographer," Murray agrees.


Contact: Elizabeth Heath

Phone: 02 9351 3168

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