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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Murphy, Hugh Joseph (1917–1995)

by Patricia Clarke

This article was published online in 2019

This is a shared entry with Kevin Peter Murphy

Hugh Joseph Murphy (1917–1995) and Kevin Peter Murphy (1913–1969), journalists and public servants, were born at Carlton, Melbourne: Hugh on 22 March 1917, and Kevin on 9 January 1913. They were the two surviving sons of Irish-born Matthew Murphy, journalist, and his Victorian-born wife Margaret Jane, née Purves. Their father was a foundation member of the Australian Journalists’ Association, a sports writer with the Melbourne Herald, and the sporting editor of the Weekly Times. The brothers were educated at St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne, where Kevin studied humanities (BA, 1949), and Hugh pursued a course in journalism.

From 1933 Kevin worked on the editorial staff of the Herald. In January 1942 he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces but in March took leave without pay to join the Department of Information’s (DOI) Melbourne editorial staff. On 4 April, at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Forrest, Canberra, he married Bernadette Marie Veronica Carroll. She was the daughter of Jim Carroll, the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s (ABC) pioneer Melbourne racecaller from the early 1930s. Kevin was appointed editor in the DOI’s Canberra office in 1944, and then chief publicity officer; in 1948 he became director-general. After the department was reduced in status to the Australian News and Information Bureau (ANIB) within the Department of the Interior, he was appointed director of the bureau’s London office for four years. When he returned to Canberra in 1954 he resumed as director of ANIB. His wife died in 1959 and, on 24 May 1962, at St Christopher’s Cathedral, Canberra, he married Sheila Moon. He was chairman of the Australian National Film Board (1948–50:1963–69), and a member of the Australian Road Safety Council (1962–69).

Described by a colleague as ‘one of the finest and most distinguished journalists’ whose relegation from departmental head was ‘a cruel blow’ (McKernan 1978), Kevin was regarded by (Sir) Richard Kingsland, his permanent head after 1963, as ‘an extremely good journalist, but he had a biting tongue’ and a ‘chip on his shoulder’ (Kingsland 2010, 164). He enhanced ANIB’s effectiveness through increased representation overseas, targeted media campaigns, films designed to implement government policies on European immigration, and promotion of the Colombo Plan. Kevin was a member of the high-level Department of External Affairs overseas planning committee.

He was widely known in official, diplomatic and sporting circles. As well as being a member of the Canberra Club, his interests included lawn bowls, swimming, tennis, and Australian Rules football. He died suddenly in Canberra on 12 May 1969, survived by his wife and their daughter, and was cremated. Two sons of his first marriage, Paul and Justin, became well-known ABC journalists and broadcasters.

Hugh Murphy began contributing to the Melbourne Herald as a stringer while a student at the University of Melbourne. Having served (August 1940–January 1942) with the Melbourne University Regiment, he was discharged to join the wartime DOI. He was press relations officer (March 1942–September 1943) to Edward (Eddie) John Ward, minister for labour and national service. On 25 April 1942, at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, North Fitzroy, Melbourne, he married Eileen Elizabeth Cummins, a stenographer. In July 1944 he was posted to DOI’s New York office for three years.

On his return to Australia Hugh was seconded to the Department of Immigration. Placed in charge of the publicity section, he was responsible for organising departmental media coverage in Australia and overseas, scripting films to attract overseas migrants, and liaising with community and government organisations for major events such as citizenship conventions and the arrival of the one-hundred-thousandth post-war migrant. Described as a ‘powerful publicity force behind the founding of Australia’s post-war immigration program’ (Canberra Times 1995, 5), he became public relations officer at the Australian embassy in West Germany (1955–60) providing immigration publicity for several European countries.

Returning to Australia, Hugh was a journalist in ANIB before twice becoming director of the bureau’s office in London (1964–68: 1972–75). There he was responsible for Australian public relations in Britain. His wife died in London in January 1968 and in the following year he married Elizabeth Marian Manning, a former staff training officer with Qantas Airways Ltd. Back in Australia, he was editor at ANIB’s head office. Passionate about all sports, he was a supporter of Carlton football club and a fan of Canberra Raiders rugby league club. ‘A warm, charming and humorous man’ (Canberra Times 1995, 5), he died in Canberra on 17 May 1995 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and by the daughter and son of his first marriage.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘News, Information Director Dies.’ 13 May 1969, 3
  • Canberra Times. ‘A Powerful Force behind Australian Immigration.’ 22 May 1995, 5
  • Clarke, Patricia. ‘Government Propaganda in the 1950s: The Role of the News and Information Bureau.’ Media Australia International, no. 139 (May 2011): 64–72
  • Kingsland, Richard. Into the Midst of Things. Canberra: Air Power Development Centre, 2010. Accessed 8 August 2019. http://airpower.airforce.gov.au/APDC/media/PDF-Files/Historical%20Publications/HIST20-Into-the-Midst-of-Things-The-Autobiography-of-Sir-Richard-Kingsland.pdf. Copy held on ADB file
  • McKernan, Thomas James. Interview by Mel Pratt, 6 February 1978. Transcript. Mel Pratt Collection. National Library of Australia
  • National Archives of Australia. CP815/7/1, Personal Papers of Hugh Murphy
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q112207, Murphy, Hugh
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q141213, Murphy, Kevin

Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Murphy, Hugh Joseph (1917–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murphy-hugh-joseph-27651/text35164, published online 2019, accessed online 31 October 2020.

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