Rear Admiral Sir Brian Stewart Murray

Rear Admiral Sir Brian Stewart Murray was born at Glen Huntly, VIC on 26 December 1921 and was educated at Hampton High School, Melbourne.  He entered the RAN as a special entry Cadet Midshipman on 18 March 1939 and within a few days of his appointment as a seaman branch officer, was dispatched to England for training.  His initial officer training was conducted at the RN College Dartmouth during May – December 1939.  Murray was promoted to Midshipman in January 1940, joined his first ship, the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, in February and served in her until December 1940.  During this period the cruiser undertook convoy escort duties in Australian waters and also conducted searches for German raiders in the Indian Ocean.
Midshipman Murray broke his left arm in late December 1940 and was on medical leave for three months before serving briefly in the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia during April – June 1941.  During this period Australia operated in Australian and New Zealand waters with a short visit to Singapore.   Murray then proceeded, by troopship, to undertake further training courses in the United Kingdom during 1941-42 and was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant in September 1941.   Murray joined the N Class destroyer HMAS Nepal in April 1942 (commissioned in May 1942) and was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant in June of that year.
Nepal operated briefly in the Atlantic Ocean before deploying to the Indian Ocean to conduct convoy and fleet escort duties.  She took part in the Allied invasion and capture of Vichy French controlled Madagascar in September 1942.  In January 1943 Murray was promoted to Lieutenant. During April – May 1944, Nepal screened US and British aircraft carriers when they conducted raids on the Japanese held ports of Sabang and Surabaya in the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia).
Lieutenant Murray was transferred to HMAS Australia in September 1944.  He served in her during the heavy fighting of the Philippines campaign at Leyte Gulf (October 1944) and Lingayen Gulf (January 1945), where the cruiser suffered significant damage and heavy casualties due to repeated Kamikaze attacks.  Australia returned to Sydney for immediate repairs and in May 1945 proceeded to Plymouth, England, via the Panama Canal and New York, for a major refit.  Lieutenant Murray left Australia, which was still in refit, in November 1945 to undertake a fighter direction officer course at HMS Goldcrest and then a navigation conversion course at HMS Dryad in late 1946.
On completion of his training Lieutenant Murray served on exchange with the British Pacific Fleet and served in the aircraft carriers HM Ships Glory and Theseus in 1947. Murray then served, as navigator, in the sloop HMS Alacrity during the period November 1947 to June 1949 during which time the ship operated in Malayan waters during the early part of the Malayan Emergency.  He then undertook the navigation ‘dagger’ course at HMS Dryad, before returning to Australia in late 1949 and was posted to the Navigation School at HMAS Watson in Sydney.
Murray was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in late 1950 and joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in April 1951, serving in her in Korean waters from October 1951 until January 1952, during which time the carrier conducted offensive air operations against a variety of North Korean targets. He was subsequently awarded a Mention in Dispatches for his services as the assistant navigator.   In October 1952, Murray was posted to HMAS Lonsdale (Navy Office) for service in the Training and Staff Requirements Division.  While serving there Brian Murray married Elizabeth Amy Malcolmson at Kew, Victoria in 1954. They later had three children.
In August 1954 he took command of the Bay class (modified River class) frigate HMAS Condamine and the ship conducted post-Armistice patrol duties in Korean waters during March – July 1955.   Murray was promoted to Commander in June 1955 and remained as commanding officer of Condamine until August 1955.  He was then posted to the Naval Air Station, HMAS Albatross, at Nowra as the executive officer.
In March 1957, Commander Murray joined the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne as the executive officer.  During 1957/58 Melbourne undertook deployments to South East Asia, Japan, Hawaii and the South West Pacific.  Commander Murray departed Melbourne in August 1958 and travelled to the United Kingdom to undertake the Naval Staff Course.   On completion of this course he returned to Australia and was considered for the posts of Naval Attaché in Jakarta and Bangkok but was not appointed.   Instead he was posted, in May 1959, to the Department of Defence to be a member of the Services Integration Committee which commenced the long process which would eventually bring the three Services together into the Australian Defence Force.  Murray was made an acting Captain in November 1960 and confirmed in the rank the following June.
Captain Brian Murray became the commanding officer of the frigate HMAS Queenborough and commander of the 1st Frigate Squadron in July 1961.  He was also made Honorary Aide de Camp to the Governor General in 1962. Tragedy struck the Murray family in January 1962 when Elizabeth Murray died from Hodgkins Disease, at age 33, leaving Brian Murray with three young children to raise including the youngest, Catherine, who was only four months old.  Due to his sea-going commitments the children were left in the immediate care of other family members and friends.
During his time in command, Queenborough operated in Australian waters but with regular annual deployments to South East Asia as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve.  In January 1963 Queenborough was replaced, as the lead vessel of the 1st Frigate Squadron, by the new River class frigate HMAS Parramatta and Captain Murray assumed command of Parramatta until November 1963.  In March 1963 HMA Ships Parramatta, Yarra and Anzac provided the naval escort for the royal yacht Britannia during the visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II.  Later that year Parramatta took part in South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) exercises.
From November 1963 until December 1965 Captain Murray served at Navy Office, now located in Canberra, as the Director of Plans.  During 1966 he undertook studies at the Imperial Defence College in London before taking command of the oiler HMAS Supply in January 1967.  During his time in command Supply operated in Australian and South East Asian waters. In 1968-69 Murray served in Japan as the Australian Services Attaché (Defence Attaché), and as the Australian liaison officer in the UN Command Liaison Group, before returning to Australia and taking command of the fast troop transport (former aircraft carrier) HMAS Sydney in April 1970.  During his time in command of Sydney the ship undertook one voyage to Vietnam, in October – November 1970, when she took vehicles, stores and equipment to Vung Tau and returned to Australia with 450 men from the 8th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment. He relinquished command of Sydney in February 1971.
He was briefly married to Susan Hill-Douglas. Murray later stated that this was a ‘terrible mistake’ and the couple agreed to divorce. Ms Hill-Douglas later died in a car crash in Malta.
Murray was posted to the Department of Defence in early 1971 as the Director Joint Policy Staff with the rank of Commodore. In January 1974 he was appointed as the Naval Officer in Command Victoria (NOCVIC) based at HMAS Lonsdale.  During the period 1971-73 he was also an honorary Aide De Camp to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1973, Brian Murray married Janette Paris who was a school teacher and former sister in the Order of the Sacre Coeur in Sydney, France and New York (1957-1967) and vice principal of Sancta Sophia College at Sydney University in 1966.  Janette later taught at Fort Street Boys High School, in Tokyo teaching English, at Canberra Boys Grammar School and was also a research assistant in the philosophy department at the Australian National University.
Murray was promoted to Rear Admiral on 15 November 1975 and appointed as Deputy Chief of Naval Staff at Navy Office in Canberra. He was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II silver jubilee medal in 1977 and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in January 1978 for services to the RAN. Rear Admiral Murray retired from the navy later that year and devoted his energies to his wine making property Doonkuna, at Murrumbateman, near Canberra.  He undertook a three year correspondence course in wine making and was also a member of the Victorian and ACT Racing Clubs, keeping three brood mares on his property.
In late 1981 Rear Admiral Murray was selected as the next Governor of Victoria after being nominated by the then Liberal Victorian Premier Lindsay Thompson.  He was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in February 1982 and sworn in as the 22nd Governor of Victoria on 1 March 1982.    Murray had no discernible political links and claims were made that he was chosen by the Victorian Liberal government before inevitable defeat at an upcoming election. Regrettably the appointment was seen by the incoming Labor government as the last gasp of the failing Premier Thompson. Many in the Labor Party would have preferred to have installed their own candidate once they were in power.
Sir Brian and Labor Premier John Cain clashed on a number of issues including the role of the office of Governor, the Governor’s salary and management of the Doonkuna estate while the Murrays were residing in Melbourne.  Claims were also later made that Sir Brian and Lady Murray routinely refused to attend many gatherings. Counter claims were made that the Cain Government deliberately arranged, or made it difficult for the Murrays to be invited to certain events.  They missed the major social and official event of Melbourne’s 1983 calendar, the opening of the Victorian Arts Centre, instead attending an open day at a rural vineyard. The Murrays supposedly scandalised Melbourne’s dowagers by welcoming parvenu types such as trucking magnate Lindsay Fox to Government House garden parties.
In June 1984 Sir Brian issued a statement denying the Cain government was attempting to drive him from office.  In February 1985, however, Sir Brian and Mr Cain clashed over a speech that Lady Murray had given at a Legacy Luncheon, the year before, in which she criticised the living conditions at Government House.  Finally in late 1985, Premier Cain demanded Murray’s resignation after he had accepted free tickets, for himself and his wife, from Continental Airlines for a trip to the United States and England. There were also claims made that Lindsay Fox had paid for some of the Murrays overseas travel costs which both Murray and Fox vehemently denied.  Murray decided to resign from the Governorship on 3 October 1985 rather than compromise the office of Governor. The Murray’s then retired to their Doonkuna vineyard.
In 1987 Sir Brian successfully sued Australian Consolidated Press and also gained a public apology concerning an article published by The Bulletin in 1985, in which it was claimed Sir Brian had been sacked as Governor over a plot to oust Premier Cain from office.   The Bulletin conceded that his resignation was solely motivated by his desire to protect the office of Governor against the public controversy which had arisen over the Continental Airlines tickets incident.   Sir Brian spoke out publicly in December 1987 regarding the incident in which he stated Premier Cain neither provided him advice or stood by him.  Premier Cain denied this and stated he had warned the Murrays against accepting the tickets. The full story may never be known and Sir Brian’s written comments on the event are stored in the National Library of Australia. They are not due for release until 2022.
Sir Brian Murray was described at times as being reserved, almost shy, with the-then typical senior naval officers misleading appearance of aloofness.  Others described him as tall, dashing and slow-talking but at the same time quick witted and charming.    Most agreed he was a decent man of great kindness and with a strong sense of honour and dedication to his home state of Victoria.
Rear Admiral Sir Brian Murray died of cancer on 4 June 1991 at Doonkuna and was accorded the honour of a state funeral by the State of Victoria complete with full naval honours and a eulogy by his friend Admiral Sir Anthony Synnot who had joined the RAN with him in 1939.    The funeral took place at St Pauls Cathedral in Melbourne before his remains were privately cremated at Springvale crematorium. He was survived by his three children from his first marriage and his third wife Janette, Lady Murray.

Contact Greg Swinden about this article.

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