DAME Elisabeth Murdoch was the family disciplinarian who took to the role "with none of the angst or self doubt that consumes so many modern parents", Rupert Murdoch said as he eulogised his mother at her state memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral today.
Dame Elisabeth died at Cruden Farm on December 5, surrounded by her family. She was 103.
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Mum grew up with this nation: Rupert Murdoch
Media baron Rupert Murdoch speaks of the "finest qualities" of his mother Dame Elisabeth.
"I still remember vividly a good smack I got for pulling my big sister Helen's pigtails," her only son said in a warm tribute to "a mother whose love gave me more than I could ever hope to repay".
Dame Elisabeth was born soon after Queen Victoria granted Australia its independence, he said, and "in many ways she grew up with this great nation, though its youthful beginnings, the hardship of war, all the way to the vibrant society we behold today.
"In her spirit and her memory, she embodied the finest qualities of this country."
He spoke of his mother's renowned philanthropy, her love and support of the arts and her passion for the garden at Cruden Farm that she tended for 80 years. But, he added, no one could say they knew his mother if they did not understand one fact above all others.
"The truth she repeated constantly through her long life: 'The most satisfying thing I ever did was to marry my husband.' That was my father, Keith Murdoch."
She was 19 when she wed the war journalist tuirned media boss; he was 42. They were married 24 years before he died, 60 years ago.
"Mum lived entirely for him," Murdoch said. "There’s a reason she never remarried. To her last breath this beautiful woman never considered herself as anything but absolutely in love with my father. We children were part of that love.
He reminded the congregation that his mother had once described the rose named in her honour as being "tough as old boots, just like me", and said: "For Mum, love wasn't soft or mushy. It was strong and reliable."
About 1200 people, including premiers past and present, two former prime ministers (John Howard and Malcolm Fraser) and Nicola Roxon on behalf of the current PM, attended the memorial at St Paul's. Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch were among the many family members present, and representatives from more than 100 charities and many arts organisations Dame Elisabeth supported were also there.
Many hundreds more watched the service on the large screen at Federation Square on the other side of Flinders Street and the service was also simulcast on television.
A large tapestry portrait of Dame Elisabeth, woven at the Australian Tapestry Workshop (which she helped found in 1976), hung to the left of the altar, and large bunches of flowers from her garden at Cruden decorated the cathedral.
Sun poured in from the high-set stained-glass windows, casting the bluestone and sandstone interior in the gentle light befitting the glowing tributes.
The service was led by Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier and the Very Reverend Andreas Loewe, Dean of Melbourne.
Reverend Loewe remarked that "it is fitting that Dame Elisabeth should be remembered in the place where her image is sculpted in stone, overlooking the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Herald and Weekly Times building".
Those gathered in Federation Square to watch the broadcast remembered her geniality when she opened up her gardens at the Langwarrin estate.
Tony Feltham said the 103-year-old had led an inspirational life.
"I think she was a true Australian," Mr Feltham said.
"She'd dedicated her life to fantastic charities and never seemed to stop giving."
Lainy Minch said Dame Elisabeth was always engaged and interested.
"She had an enthusiasm for living," said Ms Minch, who recalled watching the media matriarch at her estate, spending hours without a break greeting guests.
"She was still sitting at the table shaking hands, signing autographs and basically almost repeating the same things over again as people asked her pretty much the same questions," she said.
"I thought that was amazing."
Joan Murphy said there would be nobody like Dame Elisabeth.
"Always very warm and interested in you, loved her garden," she said. "She was wonderful, generous, caring and giving to others all the time."
Dame Elisabeth was an active benefactor of many charitable institutions including Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, the Deafness Foundation, the Victorian College of the Arts and the Australian Ballet.
She was the wife of Sir Keith Murdoch and mother to four children - Rupert Murdoch, Helen Handbury, Anne Kantor, and Janet Calvert-Jones.
Her eldest daughter, Helen, died in 2004.