W B Murphy jumped out of on-line newspapers so many times I finally said, ‘OK! I’ll do your story.’ But how to begin?
I’m starting with a dragonfly. That’s the creature that zipped around my head as I ruminated on William Bridge Murphy. Darting, hovering and striking. Agile and conspicuous. To the Japanese the dragonfly is a symbol of courage, strength and happiness. That fits too. As does this observation from the Mudgee Guardian: ‘a live wire who doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet’.
W B Murphy was a Mudgee man, at least after marrying Ethel Spencer, from a well-known Mudgee family, in 1898. They raised five children and he established a notable carpentry /building business. Described as a ‘popular townsman’ with ‘hundreds of friends’, two of his passions were racing and rifle shooting. He was a founding member of Mudgee Rifle Association, a member of Mudgee Racing Club and an active member in both, often taking on the arduous role of secretary.
But it is his Kandos life I am most interested in. It seems W B became enamoured of Kandos when in 1918 he won the tender to transport two portable classrooms from Mudgee and erect them on the new public school site in Dangar Street. Part of the tender was to renovate and expand the old schoolroom and residence into headmaster’s accommodation. All for a cost of £273 (later adjusted to £362). His granddaughter told me he wasn’t that good a businessman and I suspect the Department of Education got the best of that deal.
Within six months of completing the work William Bridge Murphy, at age 50, convinced his family to move to Kandos, where he set himself up as an auctioneer and general commission agent, in Angus Avenue, diagonally opposite the IGA. He advertised his auctioneering business widely – ‘thoroughly reliable and trustworthy…advises any person wishing to purchase property in the rising town of Kandos to communicate with him. There is…splendid investment.’ As well as houses and land he sold furniture and horses, and probably anything. I suspect he hoped to shift into a softer career, one that was not so physically arduous.
However, In the first decade he had his fingers in other economic pies. As well as auctioneering, he carried on building, had a fruit, vegetables and cool drinks shop, a timber yard (at the back of the shop), and was agent for various companies including Oakland Six cars, Victoria Fire Insurance and Government Peace Loans. Buildings in Kandos constructed by Murphy include the Church of England, the Catholic Church, Caldwells (now AdHoc) where he was ‘congratulated on the thoroughness of the work’ by the Mudgee Guardian, a house on the corner of McDonald and Buchanan Streets and a shop on the corner of McDonald and Angus Avenue, opposite his business.
What did he do for relaxation? W B Murphy was not one to sit by the fire of an evening reading the paper. Here are a few of the things he was involved in, on a voluntary basis, during that first year in Kandos. He promoted, arranged and chaired the inaugural meeting of the Kandos Rifle Club, helped establish the new rifle range through monetary donation and labour, helped organise its opening on 7thJune 1919, got ‘the necessary material for marking’, helped write the club’s by-laws, and was a member of the selection committee.
At the same time, he joined the Repatriation Committee, became its secretary, and was a member of the sub-committee that arranged a welcome home for returned soldiers in October. In September he was treasurer of the cricket club (son Harry played cricket) and helped organise the Peace Celebration event. In December he was secretary of the Kandos branch of the Australian Labor Party. He was a regular attendee member of the Progress Association and on a committee to combat influenza.
These are just his activities that found their way into the local press in 1919. Mind you I doubt he was entirely altruistic. Getting involved in a small town makes good business sense.
Racing and rifle shooting were a constant in Murphy’s life. He raced at least two horses, Samebox and Hoboenne, though both faded into oblivion. I liked the way he secured a wireless set for one Kandos race day so the bookies could operate on the Moorefield and Victoria Park races. ‘It was a great innovation, probably the first of the kind to be introduced by a country club’ the Mudgee Guardian suggested. Then there was the fire, in January 1926, in the storeroom behind his timber yards, where he stored thousands of rounds of ammunition for the rifle club – ‘cartridges and bullets were flying in all directions’.
I can’t help noticing that so many of the things Walter Bridge Murphy was involved in, came from a sense of comradeship and community involvement. It was probably why he was so popular. But while he was congenial he wasn’t acquiescent. He had well-formed opinions on local and national issues and enjoyed expressing them, especially in the media. He denounced Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes for the second conscription referendum; railed against inadequate family allowances; challenged a Tory candidate on taxation, giving an impressive list of figures; castigated the Tory Daily Press…[who] ‘at every possible opportunity make misleading statements to damage the worker’ (well some things don’t change); satirised the new Liberal Federal Treasurer for his disparaging remarks about voters; and humorously derided a journalist for fake news. In 1953, three years before he died, he was still fundraising when he wrote to the Mudgee District Hospital offering to donate £5 for equipment for the new hospital, ‘if fifty more subscribers would do likewise’ (I don’t know the result).
No doubt the saddest time of Walter’s life was when Ethel died aged 54 in 1930 after a lengthy illness. Their youngest son Harry married a month later. For some years in the thirties and forties W B lived in Sydney but he was back in Kandos in the early 1950s and by then was blind. But that didn’t stop him chairing a meeting addressed by Ben Chifley and opening proceedings ‘with a rousing speech’. Nor did his letter-writing stop.
So you would say, a life well lived. What I’d really like to know – what’s the significance of his middle name Bridge?
The featured image is of Walter Murphy and his grand-daughter Barbara Conran as provided by Lesley Finn.
The image below is of a two-storey building, commissioned by Caldwell Wines with Florence May Clifford as the licensee, built by W B Murphy. It is now Ad Hoc premises.