Commissioner Murray (Or: Barnardos Boy Made Good)

Andrew Murray is a former WA Democrats senator. His academic qualifications are impressive – BA (Hons) (Rhodes) MA (Oxf.). He lends great credibility to the royal commission because he is a former child migrant (Barnardos Boy) to Rhodesia, sat on the Forgotten Australians Senate Enquiry, and is patron of support groups like CLAN and the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. He is also reported as being a successful businessperson. Given this background, he sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the commissioners.

andrew murray

Curiously, he has always apparently had a conflict between what he was and what others wanted him to be. Born in the UK, in 1951, he was sent to Rhodesia as a child migrant under a scheme designed to increase the number of whites in Rhodesia. He studied at university in South Africa and, as Deputy Vice President of the National Union of South African Students, became active in the anti-apartheid movement. For this, he was deported back to Rhodesia in 1968.

There, he accepted a Rhodes scholarship, which is somewhat strange given the views of its founding patron, Cecil Rhodes, a white supremacist. The original terms of the scholarship included that it was not to be awarded to Jews, ‘Mohammedans’ (not my choice of language, theirs), or non-whites. (Other prominent recipients of the scholarship include former Australian PM Bob Hawke and current opposition leader Tony Abbott). For some, it would have been seen as quite a coup to have a former prominent anti-apartheid activist giving credibility to the scheme.

Returning to Africa, Murray worked as an executive in large corporations then ran his own business and served in the Smith regime’s Rhodesian air force. He migrated to Australia in 1989 and became a senator a few years later. The old Barnardos Boy had truly made good. Most didn’t.

One of the people who came to the first Formerly in Children’s Homes (FICH) association (the support group I set up) meeting in Brisbane in 1990 was another child migrant from the UK, Mary Keel. She was very poor and had been severely abused in a children’s Home. She published the first account in Australia of an experience in the Homes. Her husband had died in the Voyager disaster, but received no compensation since she had remarried by the time a Commonwealth agreement agreed to a settlement with the victims’ families.

She had just done three months in the Brisbane Women’s Prison for social security fraud and was a bit too rough around the edges to be invited into anyone’s boardroom. A tireless worker for a government enquiry into the Homes, she did not live to see the Forde Enquiry, let alone Mr Murray’s Senate enquiry or former PM Rudd’s apology.

She died of complications from injuries received when struck by a car while crossing the road outside her home.

Mary would have liked to have had support from more socially acceptable child migrants like Mr Murray. Eventually, former ABC head, David Hill, came out as an abused child migrant, which cheered her up no end. Mr Murray appears to be reconciled with Barnardos in that he gave an address to their AGM (25/11/10) and thanked the chairman, Crispin Hull, for the invitation. Mary would have spat in his face.

Some few of us have known how seductive it can be to be feted by the rich, famous, and powerful for being what they regard as exceptional people, as Mr Murray undoubtedly is. Many, however, felt that this did not diminish the pain and chose to reject success to remain true to the cause of those others not offered such opportunities.

Given just who Mr Murray’s influential fellow-commissioners are, it will not be long before he is faced with this dilemma. It would be a pity if his legacy were to be lost should he fail to take a stand if the commission crosses the line into whitewash territory.

Mary’s ghost can only hope to eventually rest in peace.

TOMORROW: The psychiatrist

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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