Rupert Murdoch has eulogised his mother at her memorial service in Melbourne’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died on December 5, aged 103.
In a service that referred frequently to the actual and metaphorical import of Dame Elisabeth’s love of flowers and gardening, her 81 year old son described his mother as “an exquisite garden that is a life lived always in full bloom”.
Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett also spoke at the service.
- Listen to Rupert Murdoch’s eulogy – text below (10m)
- Watch Rupert Murdoch’s eulogy
- Listen to Jeff Kennett’s eulogy (9m)
- Listen to Victorian Governor Alex Chernov (2m)
- Listen to Governor-General Quentin Bryce (2m)
- Listen to the sermon (11m)
- Listen to the singing of ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful’
Eulogy for Dame Elisabeth Murdoch by her son, Rupert.
Slightly more than a century ago, Queen Victoria signed the act that gave birth to the free nation of Australia. Soon after, Elisabeth Joy Greene was born.
In many ways she grew up with this nation: through its youthful beginnings, the hardship of war, all the way to the vibrant society we behold today. In her spirit and her energy, she embodied the finest qualities of this nation.
Today I wish to speak to the extraordinary accomplishments of this exceptional woman. On its own, that would be a formidable task. It is made even more daunting by the obligation of a grateful son: to do justice to a mother whose love gave me more than I could ever hope to repay.
The many different faces in these pews today reflect Mum’s varied interests and initiatives. Some of you knew her through her philanthropy — indeed, over 100 charities she helped are represented here today. Some of you knew her through her patronage of the arts. Some of you, like me, knew her as Mum . . . or Granny or Great-Granny.
However you came to know her, what you remember is the strength of character that defined Elisabeth Murdoch’s life. It was formed by the credo she learned so many decades ago at the Clyde School: We are judged by our acts.
In a moment, I will speak more about those acts. But Mum would never forgive me if I did not begin by acknowledging a truth she repeated constantly throughout her long life.
“The most satisfying thing I ever did,” she always said, “was to marry my husband.”
That was my father, Keith Murdoch. My father and mother met when she was 19 and he was 42. The marriage lasted 24 years, until my father’s death, 60 years ago.
On their 10th anniversary, my father put it this way in a note to her: “It is an amazing piece of luck for me that you were just you, because I could not have been happy with anyone else.”
Mum lived entirely for him. I know it’s not fashionable to say that these days. But Mum was never a person to let fashion get in the way of what she loved. She always made it clear that he would come first.
People who do not know that about my mother do not understand her at all. There is a reason she never remarried. To her last breath, this beautiful woman never considered herself as anything but absolutely in love with my father.
We children were part of that love. My father was late to marriage but had longed for children his whole life. Because he was older and in uncertain health, he was inclined to indulge us. So Mum took it upon herself to be the family disciplinarian.
Let me just say that Mum assumed that role with none of the angst or self-doubt that consumes so many modern parents. I still remember the good smacking I got for pulling my big sister Helen’s pigtails.
For Mum, love wasn’t something soft or mushy. It’s strong and reliable, something that brings you comfort and peace when you are lonely or troubled.
When you have it — as we had it — you know you have the greatest comfort you will ever find in this life.
In short, Mum gave a successful but shy man a life of happiness that other men can only envy. She did the same for her children. She knew we started out with many advantages in life. But the greatest advantage was the one she gave us all: We knew that we were loved.
With Mum, it was OK to stumble. She just wanted to make sure we understood the gravity of our actions and the impact our choices had on others.
It was that steadiness, and that confidence she had about the long road of life, that defined her.
From a very young age, we knew that Mum’s sense of obligation and purpose meant that we would not be the only ones who made demands on her. In some ways, we knew that she also belonged to Australia and that she would always put the needs of the less fortunate before her own.
It started with the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Most of you can see her imprint in the big things, such as giving and raising the money. But I see Mum in the quiet little details others might not know about. For example, there was her insistence that the hospital architect lower the windows in their new building so the bed-ridden children could see out more easily.
That was Mum’s way, doing good by stealth.
Whether she was raising money for scientific research or responding to a desperate appeal for assistance, Mum answered every call.
I mean that literally. Each night she went to bed with papers and pleas from the many people and causes seeking her help. Come morning, she would sit with her fountain pen at the kitchen table and write personal notes to all those who had written to her.
Mum brought that same spirit to her support for the arts. From the National Gallery of Victoria to the Victorian Tapestry Workshop to the McClelland Gallery, she delighted in bringing beauty alive by ensuring that talented but neglected artists had the wherewithal they needed to express themselves.
Recently she summed up her work this way: “Looking back, I sometimes wish I had done things better, but I don’t think I have lost many opportunities along the way.”
I don’t think so either.
Looking out before me at this great cathedral filled to the brim with friends and loved ones, I cannot help but think of Cruden Farm, the gardens my mother planted and nurtured so carefully and beautifully.
We are, each one of us, gardeners, cultivators of our own life, of our family and of our society. And we are, each one of us, fashioned by the country from which we come, a country whose own character was captured by Dorothea Mackellar:
An opal-hearted country, A wilful, lavish land – All you who have not loved her, You will not understand. . .
This wilful, lavish land produced my mother, a woman who was determined to assist the truly vulnerable among us. She was also determined in her devotion to my father and visceral in her love of family.
Among the many beautiful flowers that grow at Cruden Farm is the Elisabeth Murdoch Rose. When asked about it once, Mum described her rose this way: “Tough as old boots, just like me.”
Boots, perhaps; but Mum has left footprints that stretch across a century, a continent and a society.
Her unmatched generosity of spirit has left an enduring impression on all who encountered her and she has left an eternally grateful family, who stand humble before her, admiring an exquisite garden that is a life lived always in full bloom.