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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Murray, Hugh Mervyn (1906–1982)

by Nic Haygarth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Hugh Mervyn Murray (1906-1982), metallurgical engineer and mine manager, was born on 6 September 1906 at Gormanston, Tasmania, eldest of five children of Victorian-born Russell Mervyn Murray, civil engineer and manager (1922-44) of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd, and his Tasmanian-born wife Vivienne, née Douglas. Hugh Murray was his great-great-grandfather. Reared in a strict Presbyterian household, young Hugh was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1928; B.Met.Eng., 1931), where he resided in Ormond College. He started work as a research metallurgist in Mount Lyell’s flotation plant laboratory in 1930, later becoming mill superintendent (1934), metallurgical superintendent (1944), assistant general manager (1946) and general manager (1948). On 14 March 1944 at St David’s Cathedral, Hobart, he married with Anglican rites Nora Nel Scott-Power, a stenographer.

Tall and handsome, Murray was quietly spoken, both at work and at home, with a gentle and respectful manner. As general manager, he was a hard, but fair, negotiator, and over four decades passed without strike action at Mount Lyell. He built good relations with the Queenstown community, which was dependent on the company for its existence, providing housing for employees and ensuring their safety in the mine. He was also active in sporting and community organisations. For many seasons he captained the local cricket team in the Country Week competition.

Murray had inherited a company with an unhealthy reliance on the old West Lyell open-cut mine. Heavy expenditure on exploration in the 1950s and 1960s revealed new reserves, including the Crown Lyell orebody, which resulted in revived underground mining. Strict financial management was required to draw a profit from the very low-grade ore: without the Commonwealth government’s copper bounty Mount Lyell would not have been able to compete with higher-grade copper mining operations such as those at Mount Isa, Queensland. Under Murray’s direction, savings were made by improved metallurgy and by replacing in 1963 the inefficient Abt railway—which had delivered ore to the port of Regatta Point, near Strahan, since 1899—with road haulage. The company’s investment in 1958-59 in Renison Associated Tin Mines NL, Rosebery, generated increased profits. In 1963 Boral Ltd acquired a controlling interest in Mount Lyell, and next year sold its share to Consolidated Gold Fields (Australia) Pty Ltd.

Appointed in 1952 to the interim committee of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, Murray was a commissioner in 1953-60 and chairman of the AAEC’s advisory committee on uranium mining until November 1971. He was a councillor of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and sometime president of the Australian Mines and Metals Association. Before retiring from Mount Lyell at the end of 1966, he reported that drilling had more than trebled the company’s known ore reserves. He moved to Taroona, Hobart, after a civic farewell at Queenstown attended by 250 people. In 1967 he was appointed CBE.

Holding the post in 1967-76 of full-time careers counsellor at The Hutchins School, Murray remained a keen sportsman, enjoying boating, golf and target-shooting. He served as chairman (1970-77) of the Urban Fire Brigades Commission of Tasmania and as a member (1971-77) of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee (Commission) on Advanced Education. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 4 August 1982 in Hobart and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell (1967)
  • K. Pink and P. Crawford, Renison (1996)
  • C. Hardy, Atomic Rise and Fall (1999)
  • Advocate (Burnie), 16 Dec 1966, p 5, 26 Jan 1967, p 9
  • Examiner (Launceston), 26 Dec 1966, p 9
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Aug 1982, p 9
  • Mt Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd records (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

Nic Haygarth, 'Murray, Hugh Mervyn (1906–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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