Les Murray grew up on his grandfather's small dairy farm in the close-knit Presbyterian community of Bunyah and attended area schools before matriculating to Sydney University in 1957. Pursuing his interest in modern poetry, Murray edited university magazines and submitted poetry to a number of periodicals. Despite discontinuing his studies in 1960 he continued to write and publish poetry and maintained contact with university friends such as Geoffrey Lehmann and Bob Ellis.
In 1961 Murray hitch-hiked around Australia, returning to Sydney in 1962 when he married Valerie Gina Morelli. He moved to Canberra in 1963 and worked as a translator of Western European Languages at the Australian National University until 1967. After travelling in Europe, Murray returned to Sydney in 1969, completed his B.A. degree and published his first solo book of verse. After a brief period in the public service in 1971, Murray decided to become a freelance writer. In 1972, Murray was part of a group of activists who launched the Australian Commonwealth Party.
Les Murray served as editor of Poetry Australia (1973-1979), poetry editor of Angus and Robertson (1976-1990) and literary editor of Quadrant from 1990 to 2018. He received numerous grants and fellowships and held appointments as writer-in-residence at several universities as well as working as a reviewer and columnist for newspapers and journals.
Les Murray received international recognition unprecedented for an Australian poet and his work has been widely published in Europe and North America and translated into a number of other languages. He is a prolific writer whose oeuvre comprises a wide range of literary forms including lyric and narrative poetry, song cycles, verse novels , essays, social commentary and literary criticism. His poetry is impressive for its technical brilliance, its remarkable linguistic inventiveness and its exploration of rich and diverse themes. His commitment to bush values, which often portrays the city as corrupt, continues a tradition that descends from the nationalism of the 1890s. Consistent preoccupations in his work are a pride in his Gaelic, pioneering ancestry, deeply-held Christian beliefs, respect and affection for the Australian character, particularly in its laconic 'quality of sprawl', the importance of the land as a spirit country and the dignity and wisdom of the ordinary person - reflected in the titles of some of his published volumes (The Peasant Mandarin, The Weatherboard Cathedral, The Vernacular Republic) and captured in poems such as 'The Mitchells'. A nationalist and republican, he sees his writing as helping to define, in cultural and spiritual terms, what it means to be Australian (Peter Alexander, Encyclopedia of World Biography. New York: McGraw Hill, 1992).
In 1974 Murray secured a forty acre selection block just a few miles from where he spent his boyhood. He moved there with his family in 1986; The Idyll Wheel reflects his sense of joyful renewal at this return to what he describes as the 'country ...[of my] mind' ('Evening Alone at Bunyah'). Murray continued to live in Bunyah until his death in 2019.
Les Murray was made an honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1999. He received an honorary D. Litt. from the University of New England and was a member of the Order of Australia. He was also the patron of the Mildura Writers Festival.