Writing Strange Letters in the Garden, with Love and Fury





gardens, Queensland, Kathleen McArthur , Judith Wright, writing, letter, women, environment


French feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous says, ‘the book is a letter on the run’ ( White Ink 177) and I too have taken the letters of two Australian women gardeners on the run to create my thesis. I grasped the letters between wildflower illustrator Kathleen McArthur and poet Judith Wright and ran with them. I held them close as I grappled to understand how contemporary Australian women’s digital garden stories might work to create conditions of community and worlds in common. In corresponding about their gardens, the poet and the artist developed a deep friendship that bloomed into a broader conservation ethic and action. Their letters and deep female friendship evolved into a question about how to live in harmony with the more-than human world. They would go on to play vital roles in the protection of places I hold dear: The Great Barrier Reef, K’gari (Fraser Island) and the Cooloola National Park. As I held these letters close and analysed my own thesis findings the world around me suffered increasing, human-caused, environmental catastrophe and I felt myself writing with both love and fury, much like Wright did. I began writing strange letters to Kathleen McArthur, alongside letters to my supervisor Professor Liz Mackinlay. Through these letters I searched for what gardens said and did and felt when they were turned into stories. What happens to garden boundaries in this time of environmental love and loss, and digital connection?

Author Biography

Renee Mickelburgh, University of Queensland

Renée Mickelburgh is a PhD candidate and tutor with the School of Communication and Arts at the University of Queensland (UQ). Her PhD engages with ecofeminist, feminist and affect theory to examine the way Australian women communicate everyday environmental issues through written, oral, and visual digital storytelling about their gardens. Her research was inspired by the letter-writing friendship of poet Judith Wright and wildflower illustrator Kathleen McArthur and their commitment to securing environmental protections of the Great Barrier Reef, K’gari (Fraser Island) and Cooloola. With a background in journalism and communications, Renée has a keen interest in understanding the ways digital storytelling is used as a communication tool for environmental and social justice advocacy. She is the recipient of Australian Garden History Society’s Nina Crone Award.