Murray was an occasionally controversial figure in the Australian literary scene. He edited poetry for the conservative magazine Quadrant, rallied against what he described as academic poetry and was once asked by former prime minister John Howard to write a preamble for the constitution.
However, Lehmann said it is too simplistic to label Murray a conservative. Instead, he said the poet had an allegiance to the rural working class that cut across party lines.
«He was the first person I came across to realise that there was a divergence – a break – occurring between what you might call the working-class left and the progressive, ‘small L’ liberals typified by, say, the Greens,» he said. «He always regarded the left as elitist and himself as belonging to the true working class.»
Fellow poet John Kinsella also shares a strong admiration for the late bush bard, despite not always sharing his political views.
«I have the complete opposite politics to Les in many ways, but at the same time I always respected him for the fact he stood up for outsiders, people who were different,» he said. «People say far too often that he was a poet of the right and I’m a poet of the left, what do you have in common? Well, we’re people. And we had a great love of the land.»
Murray has left behind around 30 collections of poetry, along with a string of literary honours (and an Order of Australia). This massive output – along with his willingness to tackle everyday themes – helped inspire generations of budding writers.
«You may not always agree with how he saw things … [but] you’re always conscious that Les has taken a look,» Kinsella said. «I look at this vast body of work and think, fantastic. There’s some we’ll love more than others and some we’ll like less. But that’s life. A poet’s life can’t be reduced to a few poems.»
Murray gave bestselling Australian author Nikki Gemmell her first break aged 19, cementing what would become a long-running friendship. He wrote to her about one of her stories: «If you’ve made this up, you’re a genius.»
«Of course I hadn’t – it was the story of my father, grandfather and great grandfather,» Gemmell recalls. «Les loved that even more. He gave me the gift of confidence as a writer; he was extraordinarily generous to others learning their craft.»
Poet Omar Sakr, who will soon launch his second collection The Lost Arabs, said he first stumbled across Murray’s work while at university.
«His poems about depression had a huge impact on me, displaying the kind of fraught and vulnerable masculinity I’ve always embodied but so rarely saw as permissible in Australian culture,» he said.
Chrissy Sharp, chief executive officer of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, paid tribute to Murray on Tuesday evening.
«He was an extraordinary man, often controversial, famously scratchy, and he wove words like no one else could,» she said. «Probably our greatest poet ever, we will not see his like again.»
Kinsella hopes people will continue to engage with Murray’s work – stanzas darting between drought, depression and grief – for years to come.
«I think he is unique and his legacy is unique, but it’s also part of an incredible opening up of Australian literature from the late 1960s onwards,» he said. «He was right at the forefront of taking Australian poetry to the world.»
Broede Carmody is an entertainment reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald