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James Murray Gosper (1903–1997)

by Tim Robinson

This article was published online in 2023

Murray Gosper, n.d.

Murray Gosper, n.d.

University of Sydney Archives

James Murray Gosper (1903–1997), engineer, administrator, and volunteer committee member, was born on 23 September 1903 at Woollahra, Sydney, only son and first of two children of New South Wales-born parents Sydney Ernest Marsden Gosper, mercantile clerk, and his wife Petronella, née Murray. The large Gosper family stemmed from the convict Thomas Roker Gosper, who had arrived in 1790. Murray attended Sydney Grammar School (1916–23), winning an exhibition to study engineering at the University of Sydney (BE, 1932). His academic progress at university was not good, a result of his extracurricular activities. An active office-bearer in a range of student bodies, his work in the Undergraduates’ Association brought lasting changes to student life and politics at Sydney. While he was president of the association in 1929, Honi Soit was created as the official newspaper to publicise a student festival. With the aid of the vice-chancellor, Robert Strachan Wallace, he obtained the university senate’s approval for ‘Festival Week,’ in the tradition of the banned ‘Commem’ (oration of benefactors). Festival Week finished with media indignation amid claims of the desecration of the Cenotaph in Martin Place.

Disappointed by the public scandal, Gosper focused on establishing a single body representing all students, alongside the existing associations for men and women undergraduates and evening students. The Students’ Representative Council was established in 1929, and he became its first president; it was to become an important force at the university. His student life was not all committees: involved in revues and representing the university in athletics and rifle shooting, he won three Blues for the latter. After graduating he was a Sports Union vice-president (1932–33), and was involved in restructuring the appointments board and establishing the Graduates Association. On 30 April 1936 he married Evelyn Mary Mitchell in the chapel of St Paul’s College. The inaugural honorary secretary of the standing committee of convocation (1939), in 1950 he would advise his alma mater on public relations and its future direction.

In later life Gosper would be active in other universities. He had a thirty-three-year connection with the University of New South Wales, including nineteen years on its council ending in 1981. In 1952 he had been appointed to a committee examining the creation of a building science degree, and he also promoted the school of building, helped raise funds for a chair in building in 1972, and was a board member of International House (chairman 1968–71) and of Unisearch Ltd, which the council of the University of New South Wales had established in 1959 to assist with industrial research and development problems. A member of Macquarie University convocation for almost thirty years, he served on the council of the New South Wales Institute of Technology, the New South Wales Technical Education Advisory Council, three Sydney hospital boards, and the Federal council of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia.

Gosper’s engineering career had commenced as a student assistant in 1930 with the civil engineer J. J. C. Bradfield on the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. During the early 1930s he worked for Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd as an engineer on plant extension. In 1939 he became the first director of the Timber Development Association of Australia (New South Wales branch), representing it on the New South Wales Building Regulation Advisory Committee, and in a deputation to the State government on the use of timber for war aircraft. During World War II he represented the Sydney division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, on the New South Wales State advisory council of the Department of Information. He recommended a series of national radio addresses on ‘Munitions of War’ and delivered the first: ‘Timber in the War Effort.’

While director of development and trade extension with heavy equipment maker Tutt Bryant Ltd, in 1951 Gosper became honorary secretary of the just-formed Australian Institute of Builders (later Building). His employer supported the appointment by providing space and office support. He was functionally the executive officer of the AIB, a title he gained in September 1956, by which time he was a part-time employee, moving to full time when funds allowed in 1961. Becoming Federal executive director in 1958, he was also secretary of the Australian Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors, which he ran from the AIB premises. The AIB became an active and influential body in building and construction, holding seminars and conferences, establishing professional standards, and successfully pressing for university courses. He gave particular attention to standards and education, remaining on the institute’s board of examiners for many years after his retirement in 1972.

As a student at university Gosper had been popular, described as ‘ever cheerful, even-tempered, and as straight as a die’ (University of Sydney 1931, 22). His offices, achievements, and awards throughout his life reflected an ability to work with others to achieve change. In a profile published in 1939 his ‘hobby’ was described as ‘framing and amending the constitutions of the innumerable clubs and societies with which he is associated’ (Construction 1939, 5). His work and energy led him into related fields, and he became a member of the Local Government Appeals Tribunal and inaugural president of the New South Wales chapter of the Institute of Arbitrators Australia. He was a fellow of many professional bodies—including the Faculty of Building (London), the Institute of Arbitrators Australia, and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators—and an honorary fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. Appointed OBE in 1965 and AM in 1981, he received a University of Sydney alumni award in 1993 and an Advance Australia award in 1995. Predeceased by his wife and their only son, he died on 28 June 1997 at Wahroonga, and was cremated. Gosper Lane at the University of Sydney was named for him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Construction. ‘Personalities in the Building Industry.’ 14 June 1939, 5
  • Gosper, Murray. Interview by Ursula Bygott, 15 November 1977. University of Sydney Archives
  • Sydnean. ‘Murray Gosper AM OBE 1903–1997.’ No. 397 (1997): 457–58
  • Turney, Clifford, Ursula Bygott, and Peter Chippendale. Australia’s First: A History of the University of Sydney. Vol. 1, 1850–1939. Sydney: University of Sydney in association with Hale & Iremonger, 1991
  • Tyler, Peter J. To Provide a Joint Conscience: A Jubilee History of the Australian Institute of Building 1951–2001. Turner, ACT: Australian Institute of Building, 2001
  • University of Sydney. Engineering Year Book. Sydney: Engineering Undergraduates Association, 1931
  • University of Sydney Archives. G1/1, Minutes of the Senate
  • University of Sydney Archives. G3/206, Minutes of the Standing Committee of Convocation
  • University of Sydney Archives. P70, Personal Archives of James Murray Gosper
  • University of Sydney Archives. S8, Minutes of the Students Representative Council

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tim Robinson, 'Gosper, James Murray (1903–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gosper-james-murray-32433/text40225, published online 2023, accessed online 27 February 2024.

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