Nina Murdoch

Madoline (Nina) Murdoch (1890-l976), writer, was born on 19 October 1890 at North Carlton, Melbourne, third daughter of Rebecca Murdoch (born Murphy) and John Andrew Murdoch, law clerk. The family moved to Woodburn, New South Wales, where Nina grew up. She conveyed her love for the bush in lyric poetry which she began writing while at Sydney Girls' High School 1904-07. She taught at Sydney Boys' Preparatory School. In 1913 she won the Bulletin prize for a sonnet about Canberra and in 1915 she published a book of verse Songs of the Open Air. She became one of the first women general reporters on the Sydney Sun.

On 19 December 1917 at St Philip's Anglican church, Church Hill, Nina married James Duncan Mackay Brown, ex-teacher and journalist. They were part of the literary and journalistic coterie clustering round the Bulletin, before moving to Melbourne in 1922, where they worked on the Sun News-Pictorial, Nina often using the pen-name 'Manin'. She was the first woman allowed to cover Senate debates. An independent woman, in 1927 she travelled alone in England and Europe, developing a lifelong obsession that she expressed in travel books, beginning with Seventh Heaven, a Joyous Discovery of Europe (1930). She followed it with a novel, Miss Emily in Black Lace (1930), the first in a trilogy featuring a Birmingham grocer's niece being taken up by French aristocracy on the Continent. By 1934 Seventh Heaven reached its fifth edition; it abounded in ecstatic enthusiasm for European art, antiquity and graciousness.

In Melbourne in 1930 Nina and other married women were retrenched from the Herald because of the depression. She gave travel talks on the wireless and, from the inception of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1932, managed Children's Corner at 3LO. She formulated the idea for, and as 'Pat' began running, the Argonauts' Club. Its pledge epitomized her style: 'I vow to stand faithfully by all that is brave and beautiful; to seek adventure, and having discovered aught of wonder or delight, of merriment or loveliness, to share it freely with my comrades'. Members were known by the name of a Greek ship and their number in its crew; their original creative contributions were read over the air. It was novel children's programming which introduced cultural content to an area previously dominated by bunnies, kookaburras and birthday calls. She believed in treating children 'as intelligent young people'. Brown moved to Adelaide to work for News Ltd in 1933 and Nina followed next year, so having to leave the ABC. The club ceased but was revived along similar lines in 1941 and ran very successfully till 1972.

Nina was in Europe in 1934-35 and wrote She Travelled alone in Spain (1935). On her way home she journeyed down the Amazon. She was abroad again in 1937. She loved the Austrian Tyrol but wrote for the Australian press warning against Nazism. Murdoch published two more travel books and undertook war work and some broadcasting in Adelaide before returning to Victoria about 1942. She was a member of the Lyceum Club, the Incorporated Society of Authors (London) and the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

In 1948 her last book appeared, Portrait in Youth, a biography of John Longstaff. She enjoyed walking, boating, Russian ballet and good films; but looking after her mother, who was blind and lived to 105, left her little time: 'You can't hold a pen in one hand and an egg-beater in another', she commented. She died on 16 April 1976 after spending her last years in an Anglican nursing home at Camberwell.

Suzanne Edgar