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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bourchier, Murray Goulburn Madden (1925–1981)

by Garry Woodard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Murray Goulburn Madden Bourchier (1925-1981), diplomat, was born on 28 March 1925 at St Kilda, Melbourne, second of three children of Victorian-born parents (Sir) Murray William James Bourchier, grazier and politician, and his wife Minona Francis, née Madden. Sir Frank Madden was his grandfather; Sir John and Walter Madden were his great-uncles; and James Goodall Francis was his great-grandfather. Educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School and the Gordon Institute of Technology, young Murray enlisted in the Militia on 29 March 1943. He transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 25 April and saw active service with the 2/16th Battalion in Borneo in 1945 before being discharged on 18 October 1946. He was then six feet (183 cm) tall with auburn hair and blue eyes. Next year he entered the University of Melbourne (LL B, 1951). On 8 December 1951 at Holy Advent Church of England, Malvern, he married Charlotte Ray Francis, a nurse.

In January 1951 Bourchier had joined the Department of External Affairs. A colleague remembered him as `shy’ with `a rather abrupt way of speaking’ and a `quiet wit’. He studied Russian, but the hiatus in relations between Australia and the Soviet Union after the defection of the Petrovs in 1954 prevented him from serving in Moscow until 1965-68. In the meantime he served in London (1954-57) and in Colombo (1959-62), where he spent thirteen months as acting high commissioner and from which he was detached to act as high commissioner in Accra for two months. These responsible appointments in hardship posts marked his department’s confidence not only in himself, but in the resilience and adaptability of his wife Ray.

Bourchier’s first appointment as head of mission was to Seoul in 1971-75. It turned out to be a taxing assignment, calling on all his inner strengths of calmness and imperturbability. When Prime Minister Gough Whitlam suddenly decided to recognise the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea in 1973, the reaction of the president of the Republic of (South) Korea, Park Chung-hee, was sharp. Australia was the first of the sixteen countries that had provided forces to the United Nations during the Korean War to recognise the DPRK. Bourchier rode out the initial storm and loyally and effectively put the government’s case for dialogue with the North. Political relations, which the South Koreans had threatened to downgrade, and trade promotion were kept on an even keel.

Promoted to first assistant secretary in charge of the department’s legal and treaties division in 1976, Bourchier achieved his career ambition of being appointed ambassador to Moscow in 1977, succeeding Sir James Plimsoll. In his previous posting to Moscow, Bourchier had served as deputy to Australia’s leading Sovietologist John Rowland, but Australia’s role as a belligerent in the Vietnam War had limited what they could achieve. In 1977 bilateral relations were again under strain because of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s strongly anti-Soviet stance. It was to Bourchier’s credit that Fraser considered a visit to the Soviet Union before it was ruled out by the invasion of Afghanistan. Bourchier was also accredited to Mongolia and enjoyed visiting Ulan Bator. In 1979 he was medically evacuated to London, where he was found to be suffering from a brain tumour. He relinquished his post in August 1980.

A member of the Royal Automobile Club, London, Bourchier listed his recreations as literature and fishing. In 1981 he was appointed AO. He died of a cerebral tumour on 3 July that year in his home at Deakin, Canberra, and was cremated; his wife and their two daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Foreign Affairs Record, vol 48, no 8, 1977, p 434
  • Canberra Times, 5 July 1981, p 3
  • Corian, Apr 1982, p 83
  • series A6119, item 737 and series B883, item VX141174 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Garry Woodard, 'Bourchier, Murray Goulburn Madden (1925–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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