Vale Les Murray


August 10, 2017

I am very glad to speak to this condolence motion and have the opportunity to add my remarks to those made in the House yesterday by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in honour of my dear friend, my close friend, Les Murray, who passed away on 31 July at the age of 71. I got to know Les while I was working at SBS. We became very good friends, forging a bond over our shared passion and love for football. It was that passion for the world game that introduced Les, or as we fondly came to call him, Mr Football, to the nation.

Les was born on 5 November 1945 in Hungary, as Laszlo Urge. At an early age he began to play football, and he dreamed of playing the game professionally for the famous Hungarian national team—the mighty Magyars—the golden team of the 1950s, but with the Soviet invasion of Hungary Les escaped to Australia as a refugee. His migrant story inspired him to become a passionate advocate for multiculturalism in this country and it gave him such an opportunity. He once said:

As a refugee who came here with nothing, I am very grateful to this country for the opportunities I have had. Refugees, perhaps more than other immigrants, are more likely to make a positive contribution to their new country, driven by a need to give something in return for being given a chance to start again after a terrible experience.

As Les’s family settled in Australia, Les began attending high school in Wollongong—in the seat of Whitlam, actually. He spent much of his time in Wollongong arguing the merits of football, or soccer as it was called then, with his rugby-mad classmates. I would love to have seen those arguments.

In 1971, he took a job with John Fairfax and Sons as a journalist on the Sydney Sun and then he joined Network 10 in 1977 as a sports commentator. He finally joined the newly-created SBS in 1980. It was said to be a chance meeting in an office hallway at SBS that gave Les the opportunity to go from being a part-time Hungarian subtitler, which is what he was doing at SBS at the time, to becoming the face and the voice of the fledgling station’s commentary of the world game. In fact, Les was said to have coined that term, ‘the world game’, which later became the name of the SBS football program he hosted and the title of the book he published.

The nation will best remember Les as one of the best sports journalists that this country has seen. He was a superb, professional broadcaster. He was really the best of his generation. He was a trailblazer and a driver for the world game in Australia.

Les was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his services to football. His family, of course, and his friends remember him as a loving partner, a loving father to his two daughters, a loving grandfather and a wonderful mate. And I have been so fortunate to be able to also call Les a mate, and I will miss him so much. I will miss his irreverence, his wit, his infectious laughter and his passion for and knowledge of the game that he loved so much—the game he raised, with his best mate, Johnny Warren, over 24 years in partnership. They raised it together to such magnificent heights of shared passion, which they shared with their fellow Australians.

I am grateful for the knowledge and the wisdom that Les shared with me in the time we spent together and the laughter I enjoyed from his very often salty humour. I was also very fortunate to be in Brazil with SBS when I was working there—the home of the ‘joga bonito’, the beautiful game for which Les was so passionate—for the last World Cup that he commentated. I shared many caiparinhas with him in Brazil. We spent a lot of time together, and I was proud to be able to raise a toast to his career in an official capacity during that very historic last broadcast that he gave from Rio.

I know his other mates such as Craig Foster—’Foz’, his co-presenter at SBS—Ken Shipp, the head of sport at SBS and all his friends at SBS will miss him so much. My thoughts are with them all. I know he was such an important part of their lives. They should know that he was an important part of this nation’s life, and not just the football community but the whole nation mourns his passing. Labor leader Bill Shorten last week, when he led the call for a state funeral for Les, said:

Les is a national icon who did so much to grow the world game and to champion multicultural Australia. He deserves nothing less than the full symphony of tribute and respect. … I can think of few people as deserving of this high honour.

I am so glad that the New South Wales government and Premier Berejiklian made the decision to offer Les’s family a state funeral, which they have accepted.

This coming Monday, family, friends and all those who loved him will pay tribute to Les’s life at the state funeral in Sydney at Saint Mary’s cathedral. Guests are encouraged to wear white in honour of a multicultural world. I will be there to say farewell to ‘Lesamundo’, my friend. I want to thank you, Les, for all you’ve done for football and for the people you’ve informed, delighted and entertained over a wonderful life. Vale, Les Murray. May you rest in peace.