And tough she was. Growing up between the wars in Melbourne, little Elisabeth’s education depended on the generosity of relatives, as her father’s gambling habit often left the family in financial difficulties, but she finished school a bright, genteel and articulate young woman – with a commitment to “making a difference to the lives of others”.
As a teenager, Elisabeth visited The Royal Children’s Hospital to deliver woollen singlets she and her classmates had knitted for the tiny patients. Seeing the distressed babies struggling for survival sparked her lifelong philanthropic passion, which benefited not just sick children but people with disabilities, the arts, women prisoners and countless other cultural, research and educational projects.
She caused a scandal when, at the tender age of 19, she married journalist and media proprietor Keith Murdoch, who was 24 years her senior. Despite the social disapproval, their marriage was happy and loving, and Elisabeth’s husband and their only son, Rupert, would go on create the Murdoch media empire. Tragedy struck when Keith died suddenly in 1952, but Elisabeth decamped from their city home to Cruden Farm, continued to care for her four children and ailing mother, and devoted even more of her time to voluntary work. “One’s chief obligation,” she said, “is to think about other people and how one can help them.”
Friends recall that at 99, Dame Elisabeth was still attending fundraising events four times a week. Her reasoning? “I realise that my time must be running out, but I’m not going to waste a minute of it!”
A week ago today, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 103.Her gardens at Cruden Farm are open to the public, so you can view the rose that bears her name there. Its vibrant yellow and pink flowers bloom for six months of the year. Tough as old boots. And a reminder that each of us can make the world a more beautiful place. Visit www.crudenfarm.com.au.