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    Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (Cruden Farm), 1995, courtesy of National Library of Australia.
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  • Faith, Hope and Charity Australian Women and Imperial Honours: 1901-1989
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Murdoch, Elisabeth Joy (1909 - 2012)

Dame, AC, DBE

Born
February 1909
Armadale, Victoria, Australia
Died
5 December 2012
Langwarrin, Victoria, Australia
Occupation
Philanthropist
Alternative Names
  • Green, Elisabeth (maiden name)

Summary

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was widely regarded as the 'queen of Australia's philanthropic community'. She was Patron of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, Victoria and supported 110 charitable organisations annually.

Details

The daughter of Rupert and Marie Green, Elisabeth Murdoch was educated at St Catherine's School, Toorak and Clyde School, Woodend. Rupert was the wool expert of the New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Agency, and was well known in racing circles as a starter for the VRC and VATC. Marie - or Bairnie as she was known - was twice president of the Alexandra Club and once of the Victoria League. Years later, Dame Elisabeth would recall that 'that was very much my mother's milieu. She really was so very much attached to the English part of her heritage'. At the age of nineteen, Elisabeth was courted by Keith Murdoch, then in his early forties, and the pair were married in 1928. They had four children: Helen (later Handbury), Anne (later Kantor), Rupert, and Janet (later Calvert-Jones).

While still a schoolgirl, Elisabeth had begun knitting woollen singlets for babies at Melbourne's Children's Hospital, and by virtue of knitting the greatest number, was given a tour of the institution. She was 'devastated by what she saw', and here the seed was sewn for later philanthropic activity. After school she volunteered one day a week at the Lady Northcote Kindergarten, another eye-opener. After her marriage, Elisabeth's voluntary work became a central part of her life. Through Keith she had become very friendly with Mr and Mrs Henry Gullett and, in 1933, was 'enlisted' by Lady Gullett onto the committee of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and by Lady Latham onto the management committee of the Royal Children's Hospital. She maintains today that 'of course I had that opportunity because Lady Latham and her husband knew Keith' and wished to have the support of his Herald and Sun publications.

Elisabeth dedicated her life to philanthropic activity. Asked why, years later, she claims that she felt so blessed in life that she was obliged to do the work 'as a sort of thanksgiving'. Her own philanthropic work, she insists, was inspired by Keith's and she says: 'All the wonderful life I've had stemmed, I suppose, from my marriage, so I'm very conscious that I never would have made much of a markā€¦ unless I'd married Keith and had the opportunities which he gave me and his position gave me.' Sir Keith, as he became, passed away in 1952. Lady Murdoch went on to serve as president of the Royal Children's Hospital management committee from 1954 to 1965, and was known for her personal touch in fundraising endeavours, hand-writing letters of thanks to each major donor. In 1963, Elisabeth Murdoch was appointed Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

1968 saw Dame Elisabeth become the first woman on the Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria. She held the position for eight years. In 1976 she co-founded the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, and served as its Chairman from 1986-88. Dame Elisabeth's philanthropic activities continued throughout her varied career, and in 1984 she was a founding member of the Murdoch Institute (known today as the Murdoch Children's Research Institute). An honorary fellow of the Australian Institute of Landscape Architecture, she funded and helped to establish the Elisabeth Murdoch Chair of Landscape Architecture and the Australian Garden History Society. In 1968 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Melbourne in acknowledgement of her contributions to research, the arts and philanthropy. Trinity College installed her as a Fellow in November 2000.

In July 2006, BRW magazine wrote that 'the 97-year-old mother of Rupert Murdoch is widely regarded as queen of Australia's philanthropic community'. Today Dame Elisabeth supports 110 charities annually. Her philanthropic activities are too numerous to be listed here, but she has concentrated her efforts most particularly on: the Tapestry Workshop; the McClelland Art Gallery; the Advisory Council for Children with Impaired Hearing; Noah's Ark Toy Library; the RSPCA; the Royal Botanic Gardens; the Maud Gibson Gardens Trust; the Chair of Landscape Architecture (Melbourne Uni); the Murdoch Research Institute; and Taralye, an oral language centre for deaf children.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch lived at Cruden Farm, Langwarrin until she died, in December 2012.

Sources used to compile this entry: Lemon, Barbara, 'In Her Gift: Activism and Altruism in Australian Women's Philanthropy, 1880-2005', PhD thesis, School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne, 2008; Monks, John 1929-, Elisabeth Murdoch: Two Lives, Macmillan, Chippendale, NSW, 1994, 338 pp; http://www.trinity.unimelb.edu.au/development/trinitytoday/summer01/res-gazette04.shtml (accessed 2002-04-10); 'Top 50 Benefactors', Business Review Weekly, 29 June 2006.

Related entries

Membership

Archival resources

National Library of Australia

  • Interview with Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, 20 February 1995, ORAL TRC 3194; Farquharson, John; National Library of Australia. Details

State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection

  • Murdoch, Elisabeth, Dame, 1909- [Papers], 1972; State Library of Victoria, Australian Manuscripts Collection. Details

Digital resources

Title
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch (Cruden Farm)
Type
Image
Date
1995
Source
National Library of Australia

Details

Anne Heywood and Barbara Lemon

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0366b.htm

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