Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Isla Victoria Murphy (1913–1967)

by Maree Reid

This article was published:

Isla Victoria Murphy (1913-1967), lawyer and army officer, was born on 17 July 1913 at St Kilda, Melbourne, eldest of ten children of Victorian-born parents Thomas Murphy, medical practitioner, and his wife Victoria Sarah, née Noonan. Educated at the Presentation convent school, Windsor, where she was dux, and at the University of Melbourne (B.A. Hons, 1933; LL.B., 1934; M.A., 1935), Isla was admitted to the Bar on 1 May 1936. She practised with her uncle's firm, Luke Murphy & Co., and was hailed as 'the best man in the office'. During these years she also served on the Victorian committee of the St Joan's Social and Political Alliance, an international organization committed to an active role in society for lay Catholic women. Eager to contribute to the war effort, she joined the Australian Women's Army Service on 21 November 1941.

One of the twenty-nine women chosen by the controller Sybil Irving to form the nucleus of the service, Murphy attended the first A.W.A.S. officers' course, held at Yarra Junction. With the rank of captain (January 1942), she was second-in-command to Major M. K. Deasey at A.W.A.S. headquarters, Southern Command, Melbourne. Interviewing and enlisting recruits was one of her main responsibilities. On 1 March 1943 she was promoted major and appointed deputy assistant adjutant-general (women's services) at Land Headquarters. There she played a key role in drafting A.W.A.S. regulations. In September 1944 she replaced Kathleen Best as assistant adjutant-general (women's services) and was made temporary lieutenant colonel (substantive in September 1945). Murphy was responsible 'for advice and staff duties in all matters of policy in the administration of the Women's Services'; her subordinates included officers from the Australian Army Nursing Service and the Australian Army Medical Women's Service.

As a member of officer pre-selection boards, Murphy frequently travelled interstate. In January 1946 she accompanied Colonel Irving on a tour to inspect A.W.A.S. personnel serving at First Army headquarters, Lae, New Guinea. Murphy assisted with the rehabilitation of servicewomen before transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 7 September 1946. With the intention of resuming her legal career, she attended a refresher course at the University of Melbourne, where she met Horace Arthur Wimpole, a 38-year-old solicitor; he had served with the 8th Division, Australian Imperial Force, and been a prisoner of war. They were married on 16 September 1947 at St Mary's Catholic Church, East St Kilda. An intellectually-gifted, generous, compassionate and dedicated woman, Isla devoted most of her time to caring for her husband (whose health had been impaired by his prisoner-of-war experience) and raising their two children.

In 1957-60 Mrs Wimpole was vice-president of the Lyceum Club. As acting-president in 1959, she supervised the club's move from Flinders Lane to Ridgway Place, off Collins Street. An increase in the number of members in the late 1940s had necessitated changes to the club's articles of association and she helped to revise the constitution. Survived by her husband, daughter and son, she died of cancer on 4 January 1967 at Toorak and was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. M. Gillison, A History of the Lyceum Club (Melb, 1975)
  • L. Ollif, Women in Khaki (Syd, 1981)
  • P. Adam-Smith, Australian Women at War (Melb, 1984)
  • S. Kennedy, Faith and Feminism (Syd, 1985)
  • L. Ollif, Colonel Best and her Soldiers (Syd, 1985)
  • D. Martin (ed), Backing Up the Boys (Bandiana, Vic, 1988)
  • A. Howard, You'll be Sorry! (Syd, 1990)
  • AWM 54, item 88/1/1, pt 9 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Maree Reid, 'Murphy, Isla Victoria (1913–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 5 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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