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Murray, Sir Brian Stewart (1921–1991)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published online in 2014

Sir Brian Murry, by Richard Crompton, 1985

Sir Brian Murry, by Richard Crompton, 1985

Monash University archives, 1923

Sir Brian Stewart Murray (1921–1991), naval officer and governor, was born on 26 December 1921 at Glenhuntly, Melbourne, second of five children of Victorian-born Alan Stewart Murray, surveyor and valuer, and his Egyptian-born wife Lily Astria, née Fenton. Educated at Hampton High School, Brian entered the Royal Australian Navy as a special entry cadet midshipman in 1939, and was posted immediately to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, England. During World War II he served in RAN ships in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, and in the North Sea. In January 1945 he was a lieutenant on board the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, when kamikaze aircraft attacked the ship at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. After the war Murray qualified as a navigating and air direction officer before exchange service with the Royal Navy in the Far East.

Tall, handsome, socially adept, and an all-round sportsman, Murray was marked out early as a potential leader. In 1952, as a lieutenant commander aboard HMAS Sydney, he was mentioned in despatches for his service in Korean waters. On 15 October his captain, H. J. Buchanan, described him as an ‘outstanding’ officer, who possessed ‘a forceful character tempered with sound common sense’ (NAA A3978). He was promoted to commander in 1955 and by 1958 he was executive officer of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, whose captain, O. H. Becher, described him as ‘amongst the real stars in the R.A.N.’ (NAA A3978). During 1958-59 he attended the Royal Staff College, Greenwich, England. Promoted to captain on 30 June 1961, he commanded the frigates HMAS Queenborough (1961-62) and HMAS Parramatta (1963). From 20 December 1962 he was an honorary aide-de-camp to the governor-general.

Murray had married Elizabeth Amy Malcolmson on 10 September 1954 at Kew, Melbourne. She died in January 1962, three months after the birth of their third child. The demands of office and responsibility for three young children during sea commands weighed heavily. On 29 January 1965 he married Susan Hill-Douglas at St Jude’s Church of England, Bowral, New South Wales, but in 1966 he successfully petitioned for an annulment on the grounds the union was not consummated. He later described the marriage as ‘a terrible mistake’ (Barker 1991, 13).

Following two years as director of plans at Navy Office, Canberra, Murray completed the 1966 course at the Imperial Defence College, London. The next year he commanded the fleet oiler HMAS Supply. At this time, Rear Admiral (Sir) Richard Peek believed that Murray’s ‘intensely ambitious’ character might lead him ‘to use almost any means of attaining his aim’ (NAA A3978). From 1968 he was services attaché at the Australian embassy in Tokyo. On his return in 1970 he commanded HMAS Sydney, which transported troops to Vietnam. Rear Admiral (Sir) David Stevenson, who knew Murray well, observed in 1971 that he had become ‘a somewhat remote character’ and noted a ‘lack of positiveness’ in his work (NAA A3978).

From February 1971 to January 1974 Murray was director, joint policy, Department of Defence, also serving as a naval aide-de-camp to the Queen. On 12 April 1973 in Melbourne he married Janette Paris, a schoolteacher and former Sacre Coeur nun. Stevenson wrote in 1976 that the death of Murray’s first wife and his ‘most unfortunate second marriage’ had ‘affected his career markedly. His present marriage has been a great success and his service improved accordingly’ (NAA A3978). He was naval officer-in-charge, Victoria (1974-75), and, promoted to rear admiral, served with distinction as deputy chief of naval staff from November 1975 until his retirement on 31 August 1978. He was appointed AO in 1978.

The Murrays purchased land at Murrumbateman, New South Wales, intending to breed thoroughbred horses, but they also established a winery, Doonkuna, which was well reputed for the quality of its table wines. Late in 1981 Murray was chosen by the Thompson Liberal government to succeed Sir Henry Winneke as governor of Victoria. He was appointed KCMG in February 1982 and sworn in on 1 March. Provision was made for the governor’s salary—which had not been increased for fourteen years—to be doubled from May 1982.

Sir Brian soon found himself dealing with a new premier, John Cain junior, whose Australian Labor Party won the election of 3 April 1982. Their relationship was blighted from the outset when Cain rejected the Queen’s Birthday honours list drawn up by the previous government. Murray’s personal tastes and his style—‘imperious of bearing and resplendent in his navy whites and regalia’—jarred with Cain’s ascetic and ‘resolutely egalitarian’ character (Strangio 2006, 217). Murray described himself as ‘middle of the road’ in politics (Strangio 2006, 215), but to Cain he was a ‘shocking Tory’ (Strangio and Costar 2006, 336). Murray later recalled ‘continual harassment’ from the Premier, notably during Victoria’s 150th celebrations’ (Murray 1990). There was also a more fundamental source of anxiety for the government: Victorian Labor governments had never commanded the numbers in the Legislative Council, and Cain and his colleagues feared that in the event of a conflict with the Upper House, Murray might dismiss the government.

Early in August 1985 Murray told Cain that he and his wife had been offered free overseas travel on an ‘inaugural flight’ (Vic. LA 1985, 712). Cain later told the Legislative Assembly that he had ‘cautioned’ Murray against accepting free travel (Vic. LA 1985, 713); in 1987 Murray claimed that the premier had given him no clear advice on the subject. On 20 August 1985 the Murrays flew out of Australia with Continental Airlines for a privately funded overseas tripTheir itinerary included complimentary tickets on an inaugural flight between Houston and London. Some of their expenses for travel in the United States of America and Europe were met by the businessman Lindsay Fox, who was chairman of Continental’s international advisory board. Shortly before the departure of the governor and his wife, the media had reported a police investigation into the alleged acceptance by senior public servants and police officers of free or discounted air tickets. The investigation was sparked by the arrest of a Continental Airlines manager, Robert Tanfield, who was charged with thirty-two counts of fraud. While the Murrays were away, Cain learnt that the investigation had linked their names to the receipt of free air tickets.

When the governor returned, Cain sought further details about the trip, which Murray initially refused to provide. Murray also said that he would seek the advice of the leaders of the Liberal and National parties; he was told by Cain that this would be ‘quite improper’ (Strangio 2006, 221). Cain had received advice that Murray’s acceptance of the gift of tickets and ‘other largesse’ (Clarke and Willox 1987, 1) during the trip breached conventions relating to the conduct of governors, and that his position was untenable. He advised the governor to ‘reflect’ on his position (Vic. LA 1985, 714). During the crisis, the Victorian government was in close touch with the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Hawke federal government also became involved, warning that two impending royal visits would not take place if Murray remained in office.

Murray resigned on 3 October 1985; by way of settlement he received a full pension and other payments. In a statement, Sir Brian wrote that he had accepted the invitation for the inaugural flight ‘in the belief that there was nothing untoward in doing so,’ but that his ‘overriding concern is, and always has been, to preserve the integrity of the office of Governor’ (Age 1985, 1). Two weeks later, the Bulletin published a story suggesting that Cain had acted because he was aware of regular contacts between the governor, the Liberal leader, Jeff Kennett, and the National Party leader, Peter Ross-Edwards, and feared that Kennett and Ross-Edwards were plotting to block supply. In 1987 Ross-Edwards, Kennett, and Murray were each awarded substantial damages as a result of separate libel actions against the Bulletin. Survived by his wife and the two daughters and son of his first marriage, Murray died of cancer on 4 June 1991 at Murrumbateman. He was cremated after a state funeral with full naval honours at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘Governor Murray Quits.’ 4 October 1985, 1
  • Clarke, Simon, and Innes Willox. ‘Cain Says Murray Set Himself Up.’ Age (Melbourne), 8 December 1987, 1
  • Barker, Geoffrey. ‘Author of His Own Downfall: Sir Brian Murray, 1921-91.’ Age (Melbourne), 6 June 1991, 13
  • Murray, Brian. Interview by Heather Rusden, 20 June 1990, 19 October 1990. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • National Archives of Australia (NAA). A6769, Murray B S
  • National Archives of Australia. A3978, Murray B S
  • Strangio, Paul. ‘A Constitutional Crisis Averted? The Demise of Governor Sir Brian Murray.’ Victorian Historical Journal, 77, no. 2 (November 2006): 212-228
  • Strangio, Paul, and Brian Costar. The Victorian Premiers 1856–2006. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press, 2006
  • Twomey, Anne. The Chameleon Crown: The Queen and Her Australian Governors. Annandale, NSW: The Federation Press, 2006
  • Victoria. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 3 October 1985, 711–29
  • Victoria. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 16 October 1985, 890–92, 903–34
  • Victoria. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 6 June 1991, 3073–89

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Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Murray, Sir Brian Stewart (1921–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murray-sir-brian-stewart-17502/text29191, published online 2014, accessed online 15 December 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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