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Dame passes on

The Australian
Sunday, December 09, 2012

DAME Elisabeth Murdoch has died, aged 103.

She passed away peacefully at her home Cruden Farm in Langwarrin.

The renowned community leader, charity worker, philanthropist and ma­triarch of Australia's greatest media family will be mourned by countless thousands of Australians whose lives she has touched.

She was the wife of Sir Keith Murdoch and mother of four children, including Rupert Murdoch.

Dame Elisabeth leaves behind three children — Rupert, Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones.

Her eldest daughter, Helen Handbury, died in 2004. She is also survived by 77 living direct descendants, including five great-great grandchildren as well as other members of her large extended family.

Dame Elisabeth devoted her life to helping others. She said it was the most important thing in life and the most rewarding.

"Be optimistic — and always think of other people before yourself," she said in an interview to mark her 100th birthday. Born on February 8, 1909, in Melbourne, she went to school at St Catherine's in Toorak before being sent to board at Clyde at Mt Macedon.

As Elisabeth Greene, aged 18, she featured as a debutante in Table Talk magazine, which was pu­b­lished by the Herald and Weekly Times Limited.

The photograph caught the eye of Keith Murdoch, influential editor and newspaperman and, at 42, one of Melbourne's most eligible bachelors.

Dame Elisabeth was cherished by the community. After a fairytale romance they married on June 6, 1928, and they would have 24 years together before his death. As a wedding present, Keith Murdoch gave his bride Cruden Farm, set on 54 hectares at Langwarrin.

Over the years it became both the family home and an internationally famous garden which Dame Elisabeth opened to the public to raise millions of dollars for charity.

She constantly supported her husband and he became chairman of the Herald and Weekly Times Limited in 1942.

Lady Elisabeth, as she was then known, threw herself into the work of the Royal Children's Hospital after the sudden death of Sir Keith in 1952.

Widowed at 43 and left to raise four children, she commuted to Melbourne almost daily from Cruden Farm to head the planning committee to relocate and build a new children's hospital at Parkville.

Her interest in the arts grew alongside his as he became president of the board of trustees which ran the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library and the Museum until he put them into separate administrations.

Dame Elisabeth was the first woman trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria; chair of the committee which established the Victorian Tapestry Workshop; trustee and prime mover behind the establishment of the regional McLelland Gallery and a benefactor of organisations ranging from the Australian Ballet and Opera Australia to the Bell Theatre Company.

She was known to have helped at least 100 organisations directly. But she also helped thousands of individuals, either with advice or by using her considerable influence and contacts.

Her greatest monuments are the Royal Children's Hospital and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. She was created a Dame the day the Queen opened the hospital.

Altogether, Dame Elisabeth would serve the hospital for 33 years, retiring as president. She was known ever since as the children's friend.

Her interest in the hospital never waned and she turned up at every Good Friday Appeal to greet volunteers and thank them for their efforts.

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