Leslie Allan Murray was born at Nabiac, on the rural north coast of New South Wales, and brought up on a dairy farm in nearby Bunyah, a locale that often figures as the subject or backdrop for his poems. He attended school in the town of Taree and then, in 1957, went to the University of Sydney, where he stayed until 1960. Between 1959 and 1960, he served in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve. He and Valerie Morelli were married in 1962 (they would have several children), and Murray worked as a translator at the Australian National University in Canberra from 1963 to 1967. After a year in Europe, he returned to Sydney, graduated from the University of Sydney in 1969, and worked at a number of transient jobs before going to Canberra again, where he took a position in the Prime Minister’s Department in the Economic Development Branch.
Moving back to Sydney and refusing to work any longer in what he regarded as meaningless employment, Murray, in his own words, “Came Out as a flagrant full-time poet in 1971.” He thereafter supported himself solely on the basis of his literary work. In addition to the books he published and those he edited, Murray wrote book reviews, contributed to newspapers and magazines, advised the publishing firm Angus and Robertson, and gave poetry readings throughout Australia and abroad. Between 1973 and 1979, he served as editor of Poetry Australia.
Murray lived in Sydney until 1986 and then moved to a farm in Bunyah, near his boyhood home, with Valerie and the youngest of his five children. His celebrity expanded when he became the subject of a televised documentary in 1991, and he continued to win awards. Then, in the mid-1990’s, diabetes, depression, and a liver infection led in 1996, to a collapse. After two surgeries and weeks in the hospital, he emerged in time to take note that he had won the United Kingdom’s prestigious T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, arguably the most important award for poetry that nation bestows. He was too weak to travel to England to accept the award, but he did recover, his literary powers undiminished. His subsequent volumes confirmed his status as the most important voice in Australian poetry.