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PM pays tribute to 'kind' Dame Elisabeth

Prime Minister Julia Gillard remembers the late Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, who passed away late Wednesday, aged 103.

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Prime ministers and premiers past and present have paid tribute to Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's generosity and kind nature after she died on Wednesday, aged 103.

They say the patron of an estimated 100 charities - who was at her beloved Cruden Farm in Langwarrin on Melbourne's south-eastern outskirts when she died, surrounded by family - would be remembered by many people for the time and effort she poured into the causes in which she believed.

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch with her grandson Lachlan and granddaughter Elizabeth at her 103rd birthday celebrations at The Melbourne Recital Centre on February 8, 2012. Click for more photos

Dame Elisabeth passes away

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch with her grandson Lachlan and granddaughter Elizabeth at her 103rd birthday celebrations at The Melbourne Recital Centre on February 8, 2012. Photo: Pat Scala

Former Victoria premier Jeff Kennett said Dame Elisabeth's passing would "leave a huge hole in Australian life but particularly in Victorian life".

"I can assure you that for every one [of her causes] that will be noted today, tomorrow, there are literally dozens of organisations and people she has assisted," he told ABC television.

"She also leaves us a legacy of absolute goodness, in so many ways, just by the way in which she conducted her life."

Dame Elisabeth was the wife of Sir Keith Murdoch and mother to four children, News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch, Anne Kantor and Janet Calvert-Jones. Her eldest daughter, Helen Handbury, died in 2004.

The Companion of the Order of Australia was a former president of the Royal Children's Hospital, and in 1963 was appointed a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen.

A state memorial service has been planned for the matriarch, however, the family is planning a private funeral service. On Thursday, locals were leaving floral tributes at Cruden Farm.

Mr Murdoch said in a statement on behalf of the extended family that thousands had been touched by Dame Elisabeth's generosity and decades of kindness.

"We have lost the most wonderful mother but we are all grateful to have had her love and wisdom for so many years."

"Throughout her life, our mother demonstrated the very best qualities of true public service.

This morning Mr Murdoch posted a Twitter message paying tribute to his mother, saying her loss was "still a blow" despite her age.

"Many thanks for condolences about my mum. A great lady wife, mother and citizen," he wrote.

Lachlan Murdoch said he would have fond memories of his grandmother.

"Dame Elisabeth was absolutely a remarkable person and is the closest person I will ever know, the closest frankly to a saint in my view. She lived a beautiful life and a very meaningful life, she passed away peacefully, which is all we can ask for."

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, whose mother was friends with Dame Elisabeth, said the Murdoch family would be offered a state funeral.

‘‘We would certainly be very pleased to offer one. It’s something I will discuss with the family,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m sure most Victorians would welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to this most remarkable individual and one of the most wonderful Victorians ever.’’

Mr Baillieu described Dame Elisabeth as ‘‘unpretentious’’ and unselfish.

‘‘She was just a beacon of love. She was loving and loved by so many people. It was remarkable - she could smile the walls of a castle down, I’m sure,’’ he told radio station 3AW.

‘‘She just cared so much about other people and she never worried about herself.

‘‘I think that’s an incredibly endearing and charming quality and I think anybody who’s had the opportunity to meet her would recognise that in her and I think it’s been the strength of her life and why she’s so admired.’’

Prime Minister Julia Gillard sent her condolences to the Murdoch family on behalf of the government.

"Australia has lost an amazing Australian woman," she said in a statement.

"Dame Elisabeth Murdoch lived a great Australian life. Her example of kindness, humility and grace was constant. She was not only generous, she led others to generosity. Australia's children and Australia's artists have lost one of their greatest benefactors."

"The death of a parent at any age is one of the saddest moments we endure in life. Dame Elisabeth's children, grandchildren, great and great-great-grandchildren and her large extended family have lost a beloved matriarch."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that Australia had lost a "remarkable character as well as an extraordinary philanthropist".

"Her life was imbued with a deep commitment to helping others and her generous philanthropy will stand as one of her enduring legacies."

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser thanked Dame Elisabeth for her example and her life, describing her as being "without peer, without equal".

"An example to all of us, to love, to be followed, made everyone feel better, that they mattered, with love to entire family," Mr Fraser tweeted.

"Warm hearted, generous to so many good causes, including to CARE at a time of special need, never seeking publicity.

"Dame Elisabeth Murdoch dies a most wonderful person, warm hearted, generous to so many good causes, an example to all."

Mr Kennett said it was often forgotten that Dame Elisabeth's life was not always easy.

"She had to struggle to bring up her four children: she was very focused on making sure that Rupert got the opportunities that her husband, Keith, wanted for Rupert," he said.

"With the passage of time, so many of your friends and some of your family members predecease you and she has had to live through all of those experiences, but she has done so with extraordinary dignity."

He said the romance between Dame Elisabeth and her husband, Keith, was a fairy tale.

"It was a love story and one of the wonderful things the Murdoch family will have for generations - not only the odd 80 who survive Dame Elisabeth - is they will always have this history of a male and a female who came together in very different circumstances, and against so much comment, developed this relationship which Dame Elisabeth felt so attached to right up to the end of her life," Mr Kennett said.

"Her relationship to her husband was so strong that it survived ... almost 60 years since he died. That's a long, long relationship."

Mr Baillieu said there was a humorous side to Dame Elisabeth that was rarely seen.

‘‘She was mischievous and the wonderful thing is her extraordinary memory. Even in most recent years, she knew who everybody was, didn’t have to be reminded and would always ask about family and friends,’’ he said.

‘‘She remembers all the connections and is interested in what everyone’s doing. That’s just why she’s regarded as a wonderful human being.

‘‘Always witty, always prepared to laugh and always prepared to take mickey out of herself, too.’’

He noted Dame Elisabeth's enthusiasm for gardening and open-garden schemes.

"The gardens of Victoria will be shedding a tear too," Mr Baillieu said.

Rupert Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff said that Dame Elisabeth and her media mogul son shared ‘‘a certain sense of entitlement’’.

‘‘The fact that neither one of them gives an inch is something that they shared,’’ he told ABC Radio.

‘‘These are very strong people, independent people and people who do not really bend to what other people expect them to be or want them to be.’’

Dame Elisabeth gave an extraordinary and candid interview in June 2003, telling journalist David Leser that one of her greatest sorrows as the mogul's mother had been his portrayal by the British media as the "Dirty Digger", "the Devil Incarnate", the "Beast of Wapping".

However, the pair rarely discussed media policy and she admitted she refrained from analysing her son.

"We don't often get into that ... we've had it all out before," she said at the time.

"I find it hard to analyse, I really do. I think going back to the privacy [issue ] ... we value our privacy and we expect it to be respected, so we ought to respect other people's privacy. It's a question that comes up often."

Mr Kennett added that from the moment Dame Elisabeth was asked to join the board of the Royal Children's Hospital, she committed herself to sharing her fortune, her time and her patronage.

"Therefore, as Rupert has said ... tens of thousands of people will feel a sense of loss today," he said.