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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Friendship’s rhyme and reason

‘I will have no one to sit up with till 3am drinking rum and telling yarns’, grumbled Judith Wright in a 1971 letter to Barbara Blackman, upon learning of Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s plans to leave Brisbane.

1Judith Wright with Barbara Blackman, c. 1956 Charles Blackman. © Charles Blackman/Copyright Agency, 2020. 2Aboriginal poet Mrs. Kath Walker [Oodgeroo Noonucca] & her "Shadow sister" Judith Wright-McKinney. Press preview of the film "Shadow Sister" a film biography of aboriginal poet Kath Walker, N.B.E., 20 July 1977 Sydney Morning Herald © Sydney Morning Herald.

Barbara Blackman and Judith Wright, both poets, met in a Brisbane literary group. Barbara experienced poor sight from her early twenties, while Judith experienced hearing loss from her mid-twenties. From 1950, they kept up a lively and intimate correspondence that would span five decades. In one 1975 missive, Barbara mused: ‘Life is full of firsts and lasts – some we are aware of, some not.’ Twenty-five years later at the National Portrait Gallery, the presentation of Barbara’s husband Charles Blackman’s portrait of Judith with her husband and daughter – The Family – would be the setting for their last meeting. Their letters narrate other important relationships of Australian literary history, including, from the late 1960s, Wright’s close friendship with poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (first known as Kath Walker). In a 1989 speech at Griffith University, Oodgeroo read Judith’s poem dedicated to herself, Two Dreamtimes, introducing it as being by ‘the greatest poet of her generation’. It begins:
‘Kathy, my sister with the torn heart,
I don’t know how to thank you …’

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.