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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1774

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (18:55): I join the member for Dunkley in expressing sadness at the passing of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, but also recognition of a life well lived, a life lived to the full and a life that achieved so much not only for the local community but also for the community of Victoria and for the people of Australia. Her family can be rightly proud. Although from humble beginnings, she really made the most of the opportunities that she had. Like the member for Dunkley, I share the distinction of having been a local member for the Langwarrin area, albeit for a shorter time than him—just one term. I have to admit that in that time I did not meet Dame Elisabeth. I am also confident that she never voted for me, so I stand here to acknowledge someone of views politically different to mine but whose absolute commitment to her community was extremely well known.

I also grew up as a Frankston boy and lived in Karingal, not far down the road from Langwarrin and Cruden Farm. Even as a young man, I knew it was a famous place. The member for Dunkley mentioned the situation about the McClelland Gallery, which was just up the road from where I lived at that time, and it is also a great reminder of and a tribute to Dame Elisabeth and her commitment to the local area. As a local member, I often drove at that time and since past Cruden Farm and realised I was passing a place of special significance not only to the local community but also to Australia.

When you try to encapsulate a life such as this, it is basically all words and is hard to do it justice. Sometimes, to try to do that you fall flat—I certainly know that I will—but I would like to pick a few things that have been said by others, and some things that were said by Dame Elisabeth herself, that say so much about the nature of the lady—and she was a lady—and the nature of the mark that she left on the community of which she was part.

One story that I found fascinating was that in the time after 1975 there was an active discussion at cabinet level about Dame Elisabeth possibly becoming Australia's Governor-General. I quote from an article:

Years later, when told of these cabinet discussions, Dame Elisabeth reacted indignantly. "I am astounded. How could anyone even suggest I should be governor-general of Australia?" she said, completely rejecting the widely held view that she would have been a splendid choice at such a crucial time in Australia's history. Dame Elisabeth's final say on the matter was: "I'm ashamed when they invite me to be included in Who's Who and ask me to write down my academic degrees and qualifications and I can write down nothing except home duties. Never in a million years would I have said yes to any suggestion that I become governor-general."

I stand here today and say I wish she had said yes, although I know that at the time the Governor-General who was appointed served in that role with great distinction, as have, frankly, those who have followed on since then. But it says much about the lady herself that her response was that she was not worthy. Yet she filled her life with so many worthy acts and so many worthy ideals. For example, and I quote:

For 33 years she was a member of the committee of the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne—and president for the last 12 years before her retirement. The driving force behind the site and construction of the great new hospital in beautiful Royal Park, Dame Elisabeth even took on Victoria's legendary premier Henry Bolte—and won—when he was urging a less favourable site. Then there were her years as trustee of Victoria's National Gallery, her support for the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and her hidden life as one of Australia's most generous philanthropists, helping people and organisations with millions of dollars distributed through the Elisabeth Murdoch Trust.

Young artists and musicians were given the chance to study overseas because of her generosity, which also spread to support for talented prison artists serving long sentences.

Dame Elisabeth was also a founder of Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute; the first woman appointed to the Council of Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, as I mentioned; and President of the Royal Children's Hospital from 1954 to 1965. The CEO of the Royal Children's Hospital, Christine Kilpatrick, said Dame Elisabeth was the driving force behind the establishment of the Royal Children's Hospital at the Royal Park site in the sixties and was a passionate supporter of the hospital's work. Murdoch Children's Research Institute Chairman, Leigh Clifford AO, said Dame Elisabeth's vision and commitment had saved thousands of children's lives and improved the health of many who are living with rare and common childhood conditions.

The member for Dunkley mentioned the McClelland Gallery. Robert Lindsay, Director of the McClelland Gallery Sculpture Park in Langwarrin, said Dame Elisabeth was committed to the gallery for more than four decades. He said:

She had the vision, energy and passion for this gallery as well as helped with financial support.

She was an incredible person, who led by example. If she decided something was important, she would go ahead and do it.

Dame Elisabeth was patron of more than 100 charities and continuously supported local causes and individuals on the peninsula. Tim Harper, Principal of Elisabeth Murdoch College in Langwarrin, paid tribute to Dame Elisabeth and her incredible generosity of spirit:

I consider myself very fortunate to have had multiple opportunities to meet with Dame Elisabeth.

She was always friendly and open and a tremendous person. Words can't describe how generous and community minded she was.

Mr Harper said he always felt inspired when walking away from a conversation with her.

So we hear, from those comments, those involvements, those commitments and those ideals, that this was a lady who had much to be proud of, who was at the same time was self-effacing and modest but also a person of strongly held views. She was someone who could be very proud of what she achieved in her time on this earth. It was a long time, but she had a good time, and the things that she did will live on long after her passing. Her family should be proud, as are all Australians, of someone who lived her life in a way that was of great credit to herself and her family and also those around her.