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Inside Teaching : October 2010
Inside Teaching | October 2010 MY BEST TEACHER 18 STEVE HOLDEN talks with LES MURRAY about his best teachers, and learns much more than he expected. Les Murray My best teacher Sit down to talk with Australia’s pre-eminent, award-winning, internationally acclaimed and prolific poet Les Murray and you expect to hear from ‘one of the leading poets of his generation,’ as John Tranter has described him, Australia’s great literary statesman and the author of close to 30 volumes of poetry and two verse novels. There’s plenty otherwise, though, that I didn’t expect to find. There’s the child who struggled through school as a result of autism and depression, whose demons, in Murray’s words, ‘stay with you: when I’m really sick I’m 16 again and none of the good things have ever happened.’ There’s the child who was bullied. ‘The worst was the bullying by the opposite sex. There was nothing I could do about it. It contributed to the depressive illness that was latent in me anyway. Mind you, the kids who bullied me grew out of it at age 17, and I think I started tormenting them.’ There’s the child for whom school was a sometimes occasional experience. Murray didn’t attend school until he was nine. As he explains, ‘In the 1930s there was a bit of a drought of babies’ – he was born in 1938 in Nabiac on the New South Wales north coast – ‘and there wasn’t much call for a school. Bulby Brush Public School closed during the Second World War and reopened in 1948, so I just didn’t go to school. ‘I just taught myself to read from golden syrup tins and the newspaper. My first words were probably “golden syrup.” The war news was interesting.’ As he told Dan Chiasson, writing in ‘Fire down below’ in the New Yorker, he took special delight, when he was three, in the phrase,