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Madoline (Nina) Murdoch (1890–1976)

by Suzanne Edgar

This article was published:

Madoline Murdoch (1890-1976), by John Longstaff

Madoline Murdoch (1890-1976), by John Longstaff

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2268336

Madoline (Nina) Murdoch (1890-1976), writer, was born on 19 October 1890 at North Carlton, Melbourne, third daughter of Victorian-born parents John Andrew Murdoch, law clerk, and his wife Rebecca, née Murphy. The family moved to Woodburn, New South Wales, where Nina grew up. She conveyed her love for the bush in lyric poetry which she began writing while at Sydney Girls' High School in 1904-07. After leaving school she herself taught at Sydney Boys' Preparatory School. In 1913 she won the Bulletin prize for a sonnet about Canberra. She met journalist Adam McCay, who encouraged her to work on the Sydney Sun where she was trained by Monty Grover and became one of the first women general reporters. In 1915 she published a book of verse, Songs of the Open Air.

On 19 December 1917 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Church Hill, Nina married James Duncan Mackay Brown, an ex-teacher and journalist who had lost an arm. She was part of the literary and journalistic coterie clustering round the Bulletin. Some of them, including her friend Rose Scott, farewelled the Browns at a luncheon before they moved to Melbourne: Nina was dark, attractive and vivacious 'in her powder-blue costume, edged with lamb's wool, her marmot furs and little pointed velvet toque'.

They worked on the Sun News-Pictorial, Nina often using the pen-name 'Manin'. An independent woman, in 1927 she travelled alone in England and Europe, developing a lifelong obsession that she expressed in travel books, beginning with Seventh Heaven, a Joyous Discovery of Europe (1930). A novel, Miss Emily in Black Lace (1930), was the first in a series of three pot-boilers. By 1934 Seventh Heaven reached its fifth edition; it abounded in ecstatic enthusiasm for European art, antiquity and graciousness.

In Melbourne in 1930 Nina and other married women were retrenched from the Herald because of the Depression. She gave travel talks on the wireless and, from the inception of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1932, managed Children's Corner at 3LO. She formulated the idea for, and as 'Pat' began running, the Argonauts' Club. Its pledge epitomized her style: 'I vow to stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful; to seek adventure, and having discovered aught of wonder or delight, of merriment or loveliness, to share it freely with my comrades'. Members were known by the name of a Greek ship and their number in its crew; their original contributions were read over the air. It was novel children's programming that introduced cultural content to an area previously dominated by bunnies, kookaburras and birthday calls; but some thought it too highbrow. Brown moved to Adelaide to work for News Ltd in 1933 and Nina followed next year, so having to leave the A.B.C. The club ceased, but was revived along similar lines in 1941 and ran very successfully till 1972.

Nina was in Europe in 1934-35 and wrote She Travelled Alone in Spain (1935). On her way home she journeyed down the Amazon. She was abroad again in 1937. She loved the Austrian Tyrol, but wrote for the Australian press warning against Nazism. Murdoch published two more travel books and undertook war work and some broadcasting in Adelaide before returning to Victoria about 1942. She was a member of the Lyceum Club, the Incorporated Society of Authors (London) and the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

In 1948 her last book appeared, Portrait in Youth, the only biography of John Longstaff. She enjoyed walking, boating, Russian ballet and good films; but looking after her mother, who was blind and lived to 105, and her asthmatic husband who died in 1957, left her little time: 'You can't hold a pen in one hand and an egg-beater in another', she commented. Nina Murdoch died childless on 16 April 1976, and was cremated, after spending her last years in an Anglican nursing home at Camberwell.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Thomas, Broadcast and be Damned (Melb, 1980)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Australasian Journalist, Apr 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Feb 1936, 5 Apr 1938
  • Bulletin, 8 May 1976
  • Angus and Robertson papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Mackaness papers (National Library of Australia)
  • SP 1572 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Murdoch, Madoline (Nina) (1890–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Madoline Murdoch (1890-1976), by John Longstaff

Madoline Murdoch (1890-1976), by John Longstaff

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2268336