Aug 10, 2017

Condolence Statements – Mr Les James Murray AM

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:44): I rise to pay tribute to the great Les Murray. Les Murray was born Laszlo Urge in November 1945 in a small town on the outskirts of Budapest in Hungary. The family migrated to Australia in 1957 under the Hungarian Refugee Assistance Scheme in the wake of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 that was crushed by the Stalinists of the Soviet Union. By the end of 1967, Australia had provided sanctuary to about 14,000 Hungarian refugees, bringing the total of first-generation Hungarians in Australia to just over 30,000. Les Murray never forgot where he came from and was a strong supporter of the rights of refugees and a passionate supporter of multiculturalism in this great country.

Murray had an extraordinary passion for football, known, when I was growing up, as soccer. When I was talking to him at Drummoyne Oval a few years ago, at the upgrade opening, he was very proud of the fact that, when I was young and he was younger, you had to talk about soccer. And you couldn’t call it football—if you did, people would assume you were talking about rugby league or, in the southern states, Australian Rules Football. But, over his lifetime, it successfully became the No. 1 sport for young people in this country. It also became, of course, as we have seen recently with the extraordinary success of the Matildas, a game played by both young boys and young girls in ever increasing numbers.

He had been interested in football from a very early age, but his passion was sparked after watching a replay of the 1960 European Cup final. He began working as a journalist in 1971. In between time, he found time to perform in a rock music group, Rubber Band, where he was the lead singer. He moved to Network Ten as a commentator in 1977, where he changed his name to Les Murray. The interesting thing about Les Murray is just what a cult figure he became. Indeed, TISM, the Melbourne band, have this wonderful song—What Nationality is Les Murray?—in which excerpts of the recordings of Les Murray calling games, pronouncing everyone’s name absolutely correctly and in which his passion for the game shines through.

He moved to SBS in 1980 as a Hungarian language subtitler but soon turned to covering football. He was president at the outset of the National Soccer League, and he hosted several World Cup broadcasts as the sport transitioned to the A-League era and as the Socceroos, after a long gap from 1974, returned to playing in the World Cup. He always referred to football as The World Game, which was the title of the SBS’s football program. He also referred to it as the beautiful game, a common name given to soccer because of its simplicity and because of the skills that are on display. Murray was inducted into the Football Federation Australia Hall of Fame in 2003 before he retired in 2014. Murray was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to football on 12 June 2006, as part of the Queen’s Birthday honours list.

Les Murray has two daughters, Tania, a singer song-writer, and Natalie, a television journalist and presenter. Michael Ebeid, the CEO of SBS had this to say:

No one better embodied what SBS represents than Les Murray. From humble refugee origins, he became one of Australia’s most recognised and loved sporting identities. Not just a football icon, but a great Australian story and an inspiration to many, to say that his contribution to SBS and to football was enormous, doesn’t do it justice. This is a devastating loss for all of us …

Indeed, Australia had no greater champion of multiculturalism than Les Murray. There is no greater champion of the way that sport can unify us as a nation and, indeed, us as a human race than Les Murray. His passionate support for young people, his support for equality, his opposition to racism and his determination to lift up this country was quite extraordinary. As someone who arrived here from such humble beginnings as a refugee, I think he deserves to be considered up there with any of our sporting heroes. I pay tribute to Les Murray and I pass on my condolences to his family, to his many thousands of friends and also to the millions of Australians who will miss hearing him call The World Game.