TRIBUTE TO LES MURRAY

I want to add my voice to the great tributes that we have heard this morning and yesterday from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to this great Australian, to this icon of The World Game—the game we now know as 'football'—and to somebody who very proudly called his adopted town of Wollongong home for many, many years.

Les was born in Hungary and arrived in Australia in 1957 at the age of 11. Both Wollongong and Australia were very different places back then. Les was part of that great wave of European postwar immigration that came to Australia and that not only made the Illawarra great but also made Australia great. He brought with him from Hungary a great love of football—and it is little wonder, because in the 1950s, when he came to Australia, Hungary was considered one of the best football-playing nations in the world.

Les's father was a steelworker. He joined with the literally thousands and thousands of men who came mainly from Europe to the Illawarra to work in the steelworks of Port Kembla, which were then operated by BHP. Les himself went to Berkeley High School in my electorate. It is now known as the Illawarra Sports High School. However, the students of the Illawarra Sports High School still remember and honour the great contribution that Les made to his sport, to his region and to his country. Each year, the school houses compete for a perpetual trophy known as the Les Murray Cup. The school held a very special and moving ceremony last week to mark his death. One of the students, Liliana Spiroski, had this to say:

He … described our school to be the most multicultural school in all of Australia. Being an individual who fought for people seeking asylum and being the face of football, I … hold immense respect for Les. Les Murray should be a role model to all of us.

Very fine words, indeed—words that I think everyone in this chamber would agree with.

I want say a few words about Les as a refugee. As everyone knows, Hungary was invaded by the Stalinist Soviets in 1956. Les's father was an activist and had to flee. He was fleeing persecution and he knew that his family was in danger. He was smuggled out of Hungary. Remarkably, at the height of the hysteria about the people smugglers here in Australia, Les took the very brave stance of defending the people who had helped his family, even if they were being paid. He could have stayed silent, but he used his position of authority, and the great respect that many Australians had for him, to stand up for something he believed in. Les anglicised his name to fit into the world of commercial media, but he never lost his pride in his origins. He was a great champion of multiculturalism. Fittingly, his family have requested that those attending his state funeral on Monday wear a white ribbon to honour multicultural Australia.

It has been said by other speakers that his love of football defined him. He, of course, played football himself, for St George-Budapest. His big break came—however, he didn't realise it at the time—when he took up a job in the newly created SBS as a Hungarian subtitler. By accident, happenstance and conversations in the hallway, as so often happens, in no time people recognised the personality and the skill of the man, and he moved into the sports department. Les and former Socceroos captain Johnny Warren became one of the greatest double acts in Australian broadcasting, a partnership that lasted 24 years and which people will be talking about in another 24 years time. In 1986 he hosted the SBS coverage of the World Cup. He eventually covered eight of them. He was inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame in 2003 and appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006.

Nobody has done more to popularise the world game, the beautiful game, than Les Murray himself. He wrote four books, including his well-titled autobiography, By the Balls. He was very, very generous to those who were coming through in the game after him. Indeed, after the Australian women's team, the Matildas, clinched the Tournament of Nations last weekend—they beat Brazil, 6-1—the captain, Lisa De Vanna, declared: 'The Matildas did it for Les. We did it for Les.' She revealed that the team coach had inspired the team with a prematch pep talk, 'We're going out there and we're going to win this one for Les.' They wore the black armband in honour of his contribution and his life. Caitlin Foord scored two goals, and it's very fitting that she went to the very same high school as Les Murray himself: the Illawarra Sports High School, in my electorate.

When Les Murray first came to Australia and when migrants came to my region, they were often marginalised. Many, like Les, had to anglicise their names to fit in or to ensure that those who perhaps didn't have the same grasp of language that Les and others did could actually pronounce their names. If we talked about the great game—the world game, the beautiful game—it was as soccer, not football. It was a minority sport. Even in a region such as my own, with such a wealth of talented people and talented families who grew up on football, it was the minority sport. Things have changed so much: 60 years later, multicultural Australia and football are both mainstream. Les Murray has probably done more than any other Australian to make that a reality, and it is so fitting that we will hold a state funeral for him on Monday and that we honour him in this parliament today. Vale, Les Murray.

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