Obituary – Denis Murphy

Roger Joyce, Professor of History, La Trobe University

The Labor Party lost a strong supporter when Denis Murphy died in June. I lost one of my closest friends.

Denis was my student at the University of Queensland over 20 years ago. Having completed a degree in physical education he was working towards his BA which he completed in 1965. I supervised his doctorate on an outstanding Labour leader, T.J. Ryan, which was later published by the University of Queensland Press. With Colin Hughes we produced a study on the rise of the Labor Party in Queensland which was published as Prelude to Power in 1970. A sequel Labor in Power, was published in 1970. Meanwhile Denis and I had published in 1978 Queensland Political Portraits, studies of parliamentary leaders from varied political persuasions.

These are only some of Denis’s publications. He edited Labor in Politics: The State Labor Parties in Australia 1880-1920, for which he wrote the chapter on Queensland; wrote a biography of Bill Hayden and other works on the Queensland Labor Movement. Such a publication record is a proud one for a man who was never to reach his 50th year.

Those who knew Denis realise that this was only part of his academic life. He was a devoted teacher who contributed largely to the high numbers studying Australian History. His University justifiably promoted him to a readership. He pioneered courses on industrial relations, besides concentrating on the increasing concern in analyzing twentieth century developments. He was a regular examiner of theses from other universities. He worked for groups such as the Australian Institute of International Affairs. He was an active member of departmental and university committees.

Better known publicly is Denis’s political work. He was always an active member of the Labor Party, rising from membership of the executive to presidency in his state. This for most men would have been a fulltime occupation, particularly during the difficult years of divisions between sections of his party. His incessant efforts were largely responsible for re-uniting the party.

His death was more of a tragedy because he had so recently achieved one of his ambitions, being elected to parliament. He had stood as a Federal candidate several times but had not been elected until the 1983 state election. Supporting him throughout, and often deeply concerned by the extent of his commitments, was his wife Gwen. Those who have been to his home in Aspley know of their close relationship, and of his love for his children. Denis was a cheerful and generous man.

In all ways Denis was one of the best examples of the “fire in the belly” school of historians. The same epithet covers his political activities. Few could have achieved so much as he did. His family, the Labor Party, the academic community and I will miss him.