Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Blight, Frederick John (1913–1995)

by Stephany Evans Steggall

This article was published online in 2019

John Blight, by Alec Bolton, 1984

John Blight, by Alec Bolton, 1984

National Library of Australia, 14261015

Frederick John (Jack) Blight (1913–1995), poet and accountant, was born on 30 July 1913 at Unley, Adelaide, second of five surviving children of South Australian-born parents Frederick Percival Blight, land agent, and his wife Hazel May, née Triggs. When Jack was a baby, the family moved to Brisbane. His father prospered as a stock and station agent. Jack attended Taringa State School and, from 1928 to 1931, Brisbane State High School, where he began writing Wordsworthian verse. He loved the countryside and ‘tried to paint the Australian bush in words, in comparison to the setting of the English landscape’ (Blight 1978).

About 1932 the family shifted to a rural property, Summerlands, at Harrisville, west of Brisbane. Working on the farm was an unhappy experience for Blight, often alone and feeling isolated. His unpublished, autobiographical novel, ‘Down Stream,’ depicted his life through the experiences of the central character, Oscar Hamileinan. He also worked in his father’s orchard at Grantham, in the Lockyer Valley. After Frederick lost his real property in the Depression, Jack joined the swagmen on the road, finding occasional work. In 1939, having studied accountancy with Hemingway & Robertson, he obtained a job as a tax accountant at Bundaberg.

That year the Bulletin published Blight’s poem ‘The Old Pianist’; he would use the title for his first collection, published in 1945. The magazine accepted more of his work and he acknowledged Douglas Stewart, the literary editor, as his mentor, later telling him: ‘I know that I, myself, would never have written even as well as I have, if it had not been for your sensitive and keen selection of my publishable work’ (Blight 1961). Back in Brisbane by 1942, he attended meetings of the group around Meanjin Papers, meeting Val Vallis and Judith Wright, who both became influential in his writing. Modern Times, a journal published (1947–50) by his brother Malcolm, featured several of his poems, including ‘The Mermaid.’

Early in World War II, Blight served at Enoggera with the Citizen Military Forces, before being released in 1942 for employment as an investigation officer on the staff of the Commonwealth prices commissioner. On 18 April that year at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Coorparoo, he married Beverley Madeline D’Arcy-Irvine, a clerk-typist; they set up house at Bardon. His official duties took him to Cairns and, briefly, to Canberra, after which he returned to Brisbane. He was one of four commissioners whom the Queensland government appointed to inquire (1949–50) into the price and quality of timber produced and sold in the State.

For six years from 1950 he was the cost accountant with Wilson Hart & Co. Pty Ltd, a timber business at Maryborough. Afterwards, he part-owned sawmills in the district and led a busy working life, while also writing poetry and playing golf. Leaving his firm in 1968, he obtained work with the State Stores Board in Brisbane and settled at 34 Greenway Street, Grange, later the subject of a poem.

As a means of getting to know contemporary poets and of enhancing his chances of securing a place among them, Blight had begun keeping scrapbooks of every serious poem published in Australia. He corresponded with a number of his peers, including Wright, Bruce Beaver, and David Malouf. To Wright, he often enclosed poems for her assessment and occasionally one just for her: ‘The Letter’ begins:

Better one thin frail line of friendship in a letter
lonely as a lost white glove, than never
knowing your whereabouts … (Blight 1992, 101)

Fascinated by the natural environment, Blight particularly loved the sea and enjoyed surfing, cruising local waters, and holidaying at the beach. He became known as a poet of the sea, although stressing that, in his poems with that setting: ‘The sea and its littoral are the place of the poems. The subject is surely an examination of life, especially an examination of human life and habit in relation to the life of other creatures’ (Blight 1965). He chose the sonnet form as the best means of conveying, in compressed thought, one clearly identified subject. Wright told him that A Beachcomber’s Diary (1963), his next collection after The Two Suns Met (1954), was ‘packed with succinct meditation’; she wrote a poem, ‘For Jack Blight,’ in appreciation. Generations of schoolchildren studied his ‘Death of a Whale.’ Malouf singled out ‘The Beachcomber’ as Blight’s ‘oblique self-portrait’ (NAA C1573).

Two more volumes of sea sonnets, My Beachcombing Days (1968) and Holiday Sea Sonnets (1985), followed. Between them, Blight wrote poems about social and political topics, published in several books. The recipient of a Myer award (1964), the Dame Mary Gilmore medal (1965), the Patrick White prize (1976), the Grace Leven poetry prize (1976), and the Christopher Brennan award (1980), he was appointed AM (1987) for his services to literature and education.

Blight attributed his ‘short stumpy stature’ and ‘sometimes laconic sense of humour’ to his Cornish ancestry (Blight 1978). In 1973 he retired, after which the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts (Australia Council) supported his writing through its guaranteed-income scheme and (from 1984) an emeritus fellowship. He deposited his papers, including more than eight hundred letters and the manuscripts of over four thousand poems, in the Fryer Library, University of Queensland. Although he hoped to die in the sea, his life ended in St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, Brisbane, on 12 May 1995; he was buried in the Pinnaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley. His wife and their two daughters survived him. An obituarist described him as ‘one of Australia’s most distinguished poets’ (Reid 1995, 64).

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Blight, John. Letter to Douglas Stewart, 20 October 1961. John Blight Papers, UQFL70, box 7. Fryer Library, University of Queensland
  • Blight, John. ‘The Shaping of a Contemporary Poet.’ Commonwealth Literary Fund Lecture, 15 June 1965. Transcript. John Blight Papers, UQFL70, box 12. Fryer Library, University of Queensland
  • Blight, John. Interview by Hazel de Berg, 27 February 1978. Transcript. John Blight Papers, UQFL70, box 17. Fryer Library, University of Queensland
  • Blight, John. John Blight, Selected Poems 1939–1990. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1992
  • Duwell, Martin. ‘Introduction.’ In John Blight, Selected Poems 1939–1990, by John Blight, xv–xxiv. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1992
  • Fryer Library, University of Queensland. UQFL70, Blight, John. Papers (1915–1984
  • National Archives of Australia. C1573, T2, box 4
  • Reid, Barrett. ‘John Blight.’ Overland 140 (1995): 64
  • Steggall, Stephany. ‘John Blight: An Australian Poet Corresponding and Conversing in the Community of Writers, the Community of the Natural World and the Community of the Public Sphere.’ MPhil thesis, University of Queensland, 2002

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stephany Evans Steggall, 'Blight, Frederick John (1913–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blight-frederick-john-21569/text31799, published online 2019, accessed online 20 August 2019.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019