Mary nudges a century after a full life in the fast lane

Age has not mellowed Mary Murray. She is still as forthright, strong-minded and sharp witted as she has always been.

Born in Bundaberg on January 8, 1918, she worked as a nurse; joined the army during World War II; became a winning rally driver; was wife to Fred, one of Maroochy Shire’s most respected chairmen; raised six children; ran a successful welfare committee – and has never suffered fools gladly.

And now, at the grand old age of 99, she’s still playing bridge – and driving.

After her birthday, she checked with her optometrist to see if she needed glasses for driving. She tells the story like only Mary can:
“All you need to drive is vision and confidence,” says the woman who had a driving school in Nambour from 1954-56, the first in Queensland to be run by a .
“Having had the check I thought I would go down to the Transport Department and get my licence renewed. I wanted to use my walking stick not a walking frame, so when they called my name I wobbled over to the desk.
“The girl ticked all the boxes and then said, ‘how long do you want it for? Five years?’
“I burst out laughing. I would be 104!
“I replied I would take it for just two years. I should have taken it for five last time though. Then I wobbled out and drove home.”

Mary learnt to drive at 27 – that’s a lifetime, 72 years ago.

“I was in Charters Towers, six months pregnant with twins and had two dogs in an old Chevvy utility. The sergeant was a friend of Fred’s so I was sent out with the young constable.

“I told him, ‘I have too much regard for my dogs, so you’ll be safe’. He tried to trap me with doubling the clutch, but I got my licence.”

She went on to become the top female rally driver in Queensland and make a name for herself in the Ampol trials of the 1950s, but says “the men couldn’t beat me because Fred was such a good navigator”.

Fred and Mary took part in the first Telegraph trial and later started a car club in Nambour, where they had arrived in 1946.

She earned the nickname “Muddy Mary” in her first rally.

“The navigator, who wasn’t Fred, sent me west instead of east and we got stuck in the mud on a farm, so I got out and said he could drive.  I walked around the back of the car just as he sent up a burst of mud that went all over my face and that’s how I became known as Muddy Mary,” she says.

She was three times rally trial champion in Queensland and when Fred got the bug, they signed up in the first Ampol trial.

“I drove every inch of the trial in 1958. It was 12,000 miles.  Fred and I won the first married couple award and I got the women’s award. We kept doing the rallies and won most of them.”

During the second Ampol trial, they came in late to the Tamworth Show pavilion, where the teams were staying.
“It was late and it was crowded so I was put in between the men and they said I would get away with it if I kept my head down,” she recalls with a laugh. “The next day though came the announcement that Mary Murray had slept with 150 men at the Tamworth Pavilion. They were good days.”

Their last trial was in a Cortina in 1958. They won the $100 prize and Mary was proud to say that a 40-year-old mother of five was the winner.

She trained as a nurse and started at 19 at St Martin’s in Brisbane. After a year, she applied for the army, but was rejected because she was under 25, so applied to do her midwifery.

When the Army realised there was a shortage of nurses and the age was reduced to 21, she applied again but was rejected until she had finished her midwifery.

Finally she was measured for her uniform and appointed to the 6th Australian Camp Hospital on Moreton Island.

“I thought that as far as I was concerned that was it, but I’m still here.”

She was disappointed when, after a fall that crushed a disc in her back, she missed her posting to Africa and the 112ACH went without her. Instead, she spent two years in the Army at the 116 Australian General Hospital at Charters Towers.

It was here that Lieutenant Mary Malpas met Fred Murray, a young surveyor. They were married on December 20, 1943 in Charters Towers.

Their first children were twins, Gwendoline and Mark, followed by Arthur “Boo”, Jane and Kate and when Mary was 49, they adopted Leisel.

“So that’s six children, 14 grandchildren, and 13.5 great grandchildren – and make sure you write down the 0.5,” she says.

Mary has also known devastating heartache.

Her son Boo, who had served in Vietnam, was killed in a car accident at the age of 27 in 1973 and her daughter Jane died after a six-week illness in 2008.  Fred died in 1996 after a stroke.

Nevertheless, the woman who ran the Mary Murray Welfare Committee for nine years, raising more than $400,000 for local charities, is not one to give up.

“I slowed down in 2011 when I broke my hip, then in 2012, I broke my pelvis in three places and in 2013, I broke my pelvis in two places,” she says.

“I thought that as far as I was concerned that was it, but I’m still here.”

She still plays bridge, competitively, four times a week, although she now only drives to her Buderim club, the one she helped found in 1980 (“I’m never going to make 500 dozen lamingtons again like I did for the bridge club. I have never eaten them since”) and accepts a ride to the Nambour game on a Wednesday.

For someone who can remember when bullock wagons went up Currie St in Nambour and whose first stay in Maroochydore was in a CWA cottage with young twins, Mary Murray is remarkably agile and high-spirited.
 “I use a walking frame around the house but I still do the washing though,” she says.

“The trouble is there are few  of my friends left now.”