How did Murdoch University get its name?

Portrait of Sir Walter Murdoch

*Hint* - it’s not who you think it is.

In 1967, a sprawling 229 hectares in the City of Melville was chosen as the site for the state’s second university. A few years later, in July 1970, the Western Australia Premier Sir David Brand announced that the new university will be named ‘Murdoch’ in honour of esteemed author, philosopher and academic Sir Walter Murdoch, with the university opening its doors in 1974.

So, who is Sir Walter Murdoch and why name a university after him?

He was a passionate educator

Born in Scotland, Sir Walter immigrated to Melbourne with his family at the age of 10. He was educated in Melbourne obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1895 and a Master of Arts degree in logic and philosophy in 1897.

After graduating, Sir Walter worked as teacher before then moving on to work as an assistant educator in English at the University of Melbourne. He moved to Perth in 1912 and took a position as founding Professor of English at the newly formed University of Western Australia. During this time, Murdoch played a pivotal role in shaping the teaching of literature at a secondary and tertiary level.

He was ahead of his time

Sir Walter’s strong views on equality and inclusivity were unusual for the time. A prolific writer and journalist, his egalitarian views featured heavily in his publications and lectures.

At the time universities were largely wrapped up in elitism and maintaining the status-quo, Murdoch saw education as a means for social empowerment to improve all aspects of civilization. He believed higher education should be accessible to all.

When informed the university would be named in his honour, Murdoch’s response was, “It had better be a good one.”

Sir Walter is perhaps most well-known for saying, “The only education out of which good can come is the education which teaches you to think for yourself, instead of swallowing whatever the fashion of the moment may prescribe.” 

Today, Murdoch University has grown from the first university in Australia to offer flexible admissions, to be a global centre for learning, teaching, research and industry. Grounded by our principles and guided by our strategic plan, we remain a place of inclusive education.

View our online Sir Walter Murdoch Memorial Lecture series for thought-provoking and topical lectures in honour of our University’s namesake.

Posted on:

14 Sep 2021

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