Travels with John Hunter

Murray, Les

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-27-2000


The poem's title refers to John Hunter Hospital, where Les Murray lay near death for three weeks as a result of a liver condition. He "turned yellow as the moon / and slid inside a CAT-scan wheel," then found himself emerging from a "time warp" of unconsciousness 20 days later. Murray reports that he is "the only poet whose liver / damage hadn't been self-inflicted."

He goes on to explain what had happened to make his liver rehearse "the private office of the grave." When he was over the crisis, he signed a "Dutch contract," presumably an advance directive of some sort. Surprisingly, surviving his bout of acute liver failure seemed to cure his other problem, "the Black Dog, depression." The poem ends with a paean of gratitude for "the project of seeing conscious life / rescued from death." [80 lines]


Les Murray is probably Australia's most widely known poet, both at home and on the international scene. In 1998 the federal government commissioned him to write a new preamble to Australia's Constitution, one that would both articulate Australian values and celebrate the fact that Aboriginal people were the custodians of the continent before Europeans arrived.

The government rejected much of Murray's draft preamble, and he later dissociated himself from the project. Voters in a November 1999 referendum rejected a watered-down preamble that had been offered by the government.

"Travels with John Hunter" presents the poet's version of events surrounding his almost-fatal 1996 illness. Conscious and Verbal, the title of the collection from which the poem comes, is a quotation from a hospital announcement regarding Les Murray's status after he emerged from a three-week coma.

Primary Source

Conscious and Verbal


Duffy & Snellgrove

Place Published

Sydney, Australia