Sir Murray Bourchier was a farmer, soldier, politician & statesman.
He is now honoured with a statue in Shepparton’s Queens Gardens, a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much.
His grand-daughter, Sally Brennan spoke at the unveiling where she shared an insight into one of our most famous local war heroes.
Like so many of you here today, Murray William James Bourchier was a person who loved his home, his family and his community.
He was born in 1881 in Potilla near Ballarat, however the only land he ever really lived on was here. Stints here and there, but this was where his heart, his home, his family and his community were to be found. He was a man of this land. He loved it, and wherever he was, this was where he always wanted to be. Woodland Park in Strathmerton was the property settled by his father Edward and Mother Frances in 1877, and where you will still find proud farming Bourchiers straight from the old stock. And they aren’t going anywhere!
He came from a strong and loving family, a very connected family. A family of uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters and parents who dearly loved him and for whom he had the deepest respect. So as a young fella he came from a good place, a place where an intelligent, compassionate, dutiful and courageous young man could fulfill his potential.
Fishing, hunting, farming, droving around the very country that a young Henry Lawson was writing about, this was the Victoria of his early years.
Under the British flag, we were not as a nation in charge of our own destiny. But we were certainly our own people, a proud, disruptive mob who had through the challenges of life forged our own character.
His military career is very well documented, and I don’t want to go into that here in any depth. But there are certain things I think are worth mentioning.
He left on the Wiltshire in 1914 as a young lieutenant in in the 4th Light Horse with many other young men from this region. Young soldiers from all walks of life, rich families, poor families, Aboriginal families, families of mixed race, all shoulder to shoulder, setting out in 1914. He served seven months at Gallipoli, and in letters home to his mother the hell that was Gallipoli is hidden. He writes “Where I am camped is on a beautiful slope facing the sea, about half a mile from the firing line but fairly safe from rifle and artillery fire.”
He goes on to say, “As I sit writing my letter I can look out the door of the dugout away across the sea which is about 250 feet below me, and see numerous islands dotted about here and there, and one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen”.
Now that’s a letter that a mother wants to get from Gallipoli!
Always the country boy! A letter written by him to his sister from Gallipoli says “I will look out for that parcel you are sending, it must be alright now everything is looking so beautiful and green. By jove, I see by the papers that stock are an enormous price also, where one bullock brought seventy pounds odd, beef must be a roaring price now!”
It was during the Sinai campaign in 1916-17 that as a Lieutenant-colonel he led the final assault on Beersheba. He is known for this, as all those young men should be. This was in October 1917. However, not so well known, is that he went on to lead a combination of the 12th and 4th Light horse, known as “Bourchier’s Force”.
These were extraordinarily brave young Australian men, and I quote from the recommendation that accompanied this action, and refers directly to my grandfather,” In the face of very heavy fire this officer led his regiment on September 27 1918 across the Jordan below Jisr Benat Yakub over a very difficult crossing and thus outflanked the enemy and compelled hm to withdraw from the position. On September 30 this officer was in command of the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments, which form the advance guard of the Austrlalian Mounted Division on its advance from Sasa to Damascus. He captured the enemy position at Kaukab, held by 2500 enemy soldiers with machine guns. He led a spirited charge of two regiments without any delay and thus opened the way to Damascus where his troops were the first to enter”.
Mum said that whilst he knew Lawrence of Arabia he didn’t like him or respect him. She said this was because he promised his men things he couldn’t give. The two men met at Damascus; Lawrence had promised Damascus to the Arabs but when he arrived there he found a bunch of Australians soldiers, he was furious! General Allenby and the British beating Lawrence to Damascus, well the “British” in this context were Australian soldiers from places like this.
His health wasn’t good. He’d been in hospital for three months before Beersheba and had only been released for three weeks prior to the Charge. He was desperately thin and nowhere near full strength. Mum said that she thought his ill health came from the Palestine campaign, particularly the march through Jordan, and this remained with him all his life.
He returned home in 1919. In 1920 he entered Parliament as the member for Goulburn Valley. But far more importantly he married our gorgeous grandmother Minona Madden in 1921 in Melbourne, and promptly took her up to work her pretty hands to the bone on a property in Katandra West.
Mum recalls those days as the happiest in her life, when they were all together on farm.
In her eighties and unwell, Mum could describe the road to the farm. Apparently you go up The Three Chain road. She described the house they moved into as “a terrible house – there were two properties two and a half miles separate, one was beautiful where we didn’t live, and the other had irrigation and a house”. They had sheep and wheat, and he was in Parliament and still commanding the Second Cavalry Division.
Whilst they had ponies and he taught them to ride, he never owned another horse. And he never spoke about it. And we all know why.
These times were deep in the depression, and Mum vividly recalled opening her curtains in the morning to see long lines of people along the fence waiting to see him. People knew he cared about them. I have a small fiddle back wooden box made for him by an ex prisoner thanking him for his help.
The reason he entered Parliament was to ensure that his returned soldiers were cared for, and he knew they weren’t. They were his absolute number one priority. He was known for his “aggressive parochialism”, if it didn’t work for the people in the country then he didn’t support it. He’d drive into Shepparton at the beginning of the week, park his Buick at the station and return home at the end of the week and drive home. He held ministerial positions and was for a time Leader of the Country Party and deputy premier. Mum remembered sitting on the tank stand while he was practicing a speech, holding his notes. She and her brothers loved him deeply to the end of their lives.
However, during this time his health was not good – there were months when he was in hospital, still unwell.
She said he’d talk of the times ahead when he’d leave Parliament and life would be quiet and settled on the farm, with just them.
In 1936 he was appointed as Agent-General for Victoria in London. A good choice they said, because of his deep knowledge of agricultural industries which drove the economy at that time. The appointment was for five years, and his intention was to come back and buy a property on the Goulburn River, which he loved. Indeed, his first son was named Murray Goulburn.
I have a diary of my grandmothers of this time, in which she describes the trip to London on the ship, the excitement, the glitz and glam of London, the parties and of course the coronation of George VI.
There’s a point in her diary where upon his return from somewhere in September 1937 she says, “he’s not feeling well, I noticed it straight away”. Her diary entries become less frequent, and towards December she writes, “He was so brave through all his terrible suffering and so patient and considerate for everyone, anxious that I should not be short or complain when anything was wrong”.
He died in London on December 16th, 1937 and was brought home to be buried here in Shepparton.
He was 56. My mother Elaine was 14, Murray 12 and Bill (whom he affectionately called Billy Can) was 10.
Mum described him this way: “He was a farmer, but he was a man who was always at home in the world. He was always at home, completely comfortable with men of whatever type and liked by women. He was a very good man”
And so, after a lifetime of service, duty, leadership and recognition, let me say this: of all the many awards, tributes and decorations he received over the course of his lifetime, for him to receive this acknowledgment from the people of the Goulburn Valley in this way would be, I think for him, the most rewarding and deeply meaningful. Because you are his people. When he was overseas as a soldier, he was thinking of home. That’s why he was there. When he came home, he was working to make the Goulburn Valley a better place for the people in it, particularly the returned soldiers. His life wasn’t very long. However, it was a life of high impact.
And he was deeply aware of how war affected people.
If he was here today, and if he is anything like his children and grandchildren, I have no doubt that he would be working in this community for the same principles. There are people who have been affected by war who have come here to start a new life. There is an Indigenous community deeply affected by wars of another kind. To truly honour him, we need to continue to ensure that the Goulburn Valley, Victoria and the whole of Australia remains a place of peace, where war has no place.
That is what he fought for. That is his legacy.
Lest we forget.