By Fiona CappNon-fictionAllen & Unwin

My Blood’s Country

Fiona Capp’s pedigree as a critically acclaimed novelist shines through in this exquisitely rendered memoir. My Blood’s Country is part tribute to Judith Wright – her poetry, her activism and her generosity – and part tribute to the Australian landscapes she loved and immortalised in her work.

Capp fell in love with Judith Wright’s poetry at the age of twelve, and began a decades-long correspondence with her, which grew into a genuine friendship, from the age of seventeen. In this lovely book, rich with images and anecdote, seeded with precise observation and astute analysis, Capp recalls her own friendship with Wright, shares fragments of Wright’s life and work, and travels Australia, visiting the places that were beloved (even sacred) to her hero and mentor.

My Blood’s Country reflects on the legacy of an iconic Australian literary figure, and on what Wright sensed long before the term ‘conservationist’ had been coined – that something had gone profoundly wrong with our attitude to the earth, with consequences that are now painfully visible.

Portrait of Fiona Capp

Fiona Capp

Fiona Capp trained as a journalist, has a PhD in English and has worked as a freelance writer and university tutor in English, journalism and novel writing. She is the internationally published author of three works of non-fiction including That Oceanic Feeling, a memoir about her love for the sea and surfing, which won the Australians Studying Abroad Travel Writing Prize and the Nita B Kibble Literary Award for women writers. She’s also written three novels - Night Surfing, Last of the Sane Days and Musk and Byrne.

Judges’ report

Judith Wright is remembered as much for her environmental activism as for her poetry. Both took landscape as their inspiration and impetus. Fiona Capp retraces the well-springs of Wright’s poetry and activism by visiting the landscapes in which she lived and worked. Capp shared a long-distance friendship with Wright, making this a very personal journey, in the course of which the author comes to better know the poet – her idol, mentor and friend – through her native places. Insightful, sensitive and heartfelt, My Blood’s Country draws the reader back to Capp’s own inspiration: the poetry of Judith Wright.

Extract

Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country is a memoir of a physical and personal journey. Fiona travels to three distinct Australian landscapes, all of which are pivotal to Judith Wright’s life as one of Australia’s foremost poets and later activist. While on her journey, Fiona records with great care her own observations, her own reactions, and occasional disappointments.

Born into a pastoralist family with property in the New England tablelands, Judith Wright drew on her surrounding to write her early poetry. Desperate to escape conservative rural society she later moved to a Queensland Capp describes as lush and flamboyant. In the 1960s, with husband Jack McKinney, they set up home on Mt Tambourine where on a clear day you can see as far as the then pristine Gold Coast beaches.

After Jack’s death she is uncharacteristically drawn to Canberra - Judith rarely wrote about cities and did not feel at home in them. At this point we learn of Judith’s long lasting but hidden relationship with ‘Nugget’ Coombs, another much admired Australian. Judith designed her last substantial residence - The Edge - in Mongarlowe, a small rural town now surrounded by state forest.

Fiona Capp delights in seeking out and finding Judith’s history. On Mt Tambourine, she forces open a locked gate to look at the remains of Judith’s garden. Here Fiona acknowledges the “folly of hoping to step into the perfectly preserved past”. Landscapes change with human interference, grand homesteads are sold or repossessed, houses are demolished, and gardens once tendered with love lose their shape.

What is constant, however, is Judith’s poetry - and her deep love for the natural world. As a conservationist Judith was a part of many landmark conservation campaigns, including the preservation of Fraser Island. Her awareness of Aboriginal injustices was awakened when she discovered the story of Niggers Leap, a place near the Wright’s homestead where Aborigines were forced to their death by pastoralists. From then on Wright sees her country in “a new and disturbing light”. She becomes aware that she has observed her own landscape though a “false innocence” which she spends a lifetime rectifying through her work as an Aboriginal rights activist.

This book is written with great warmth. It is familiar in that it encompasses things many of us have experienced: going on a road trip, finally seeing places long imagined, and searching out the often hidden locations where our literary heroes lived, worked or died.

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