Biography

Birth date: 08 July 1902
Birth place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Croydon
Death date: 03 September 1989
Death place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Avalon
Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

In 1924, Arthur James Murch abandoned his career as an engineering draughtsman in Sydney to become a full-time artist. His sculptural work won him the 1925 NSW Travelling Art Scholarship, which allowed him to travel to Europe and explore paintings "as if I were a pilgrim traversing the years." When he returned to Australia two years later, he worked as George Lambert's studio assistant until Lambert's death in 1930. In 1933 Murch visited the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg outside Alice Springs. The following year he took a second trip to Central Australia, this time staying for three months.

In April 1942 he was called up by the government to work at Slazenger's Munitions Annexe at Botany on the design for the butt of the Owen gun. Three months later he was appointed an official war artist. He was paid two guineas per day, had the status of an officer without rank, and all his drawing and painting materials were supplied by the Memorial.

In July, Murch set off by train for Melbourne to paint portraits of the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff. However, due to their busy schedules this original brief was abandoned, and instead he went north to record the activities of the Australian military stationed in the Northern Territory, as well as the aftermath of the Darwin bombings. His experiences painting in Central Australia during the 1930s meant that he was ideally suited to this assignment.

By October, Murch arrived at Adelaide River, south of Darwin. There he worked with a mobile unit of photographers and spent a fortnight with the RAAF. He struggled to paint in the wet climate of the Northern Territory, and he objected to being restricted by military regulations claiming that he was, "...tied hand and foot. I wasn't allowed to take a camera, and wasn't encouraged, except for an air raid, to write anything. I couldn't be seen taking notes. I was to paint only. I had to avoid seeming a suspicious character."

Shortly after, Murch journeyed to Darwin and while there his health collapsed and he was admitted to hospital. On returning to Sydney in February 1943, he was diagnosed with streptococci infection. Although his field work had ended, he continued his official commission in Sydney, completing 45 paintings and drawings for the Memorial's collection. His appointment concluded on the 17 May 1943.

As an official war artist, Murch saw his role as that of a visual reporter: "What I was anxious to do in drawing and painting was to report, as a newspaper reporter might, the factual nature of things". His paintings of daily life at the Adelaide River camp site represent aspects of Australia's involvement in the Second World War devoid of glamour and heroics. They capture the essential, yet mundane, duties that occurred in the Top End, moments of watching and waiting, and the heat and vastness of the Australian landscape.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items

Photograph

027194

ADELAIDE RIVER, NT. 1942-10-13. LIEUTENANT A. J. MURCH, AN OFFICIAL WAR ARTIST, PAINTING SISTER L. LAFFER OF 119 AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL.

027194

P00933.001

Sydney. c. 1927. Arthur Murch (later a WWII Official War Artist) working on a model for a sculpture figure on the Geelong War Memorial, designed by George Lambert. (Donor: R. Murch)

P00933.001

P00933.002

RANDWICK, NSW. C 1927. FOUR ARTISTS SEATED IN GEORGE LAMBERT'S STUDIO. FROM LEFT: E.A. HARVEY; STEN SNEKKER; GEORGE LAMBERT (WWI OFFICIAL WAR ARTIST) AND ARTHUR MURCH (LATER A WWII OFFICIAL WAR ARTIST). THE FOUR WERE WORKING ON THE GEELONG WAR MEMORIAL, DESIGNED BY LAMBERT, AT ABOUT THIS TIME....

P00933.002

P00933.005

SYDNEY, C 1945. WWII OFFICIAL WAR ARTIST ARTHUR MURCH WITH HIS CAT.

P00933.005

Art

Observation Post interior

Depicts unidentified group inside observation post looking through window slits and using telescope, 9 Battery Observation Post, Darwin.

ART26996

Adelaide River camp

The Adelaide River played a major role during the Second World War. It was in this area that the 119 Australian General Hospital and huge military base were established. The American and Australian military also set up headquarters at Adelaide River after Darwin was bombed.

ART27513

Coastal defence gun

Artillerymen from the Australian Military Forces crew a 6 inch naval gun on the coast in Darwin. The gun is one that was manufactured before 1914 and is probably off one of the First World War ships, an HMAS or a light cruiser 'Town' class. 'Ready ammunition' is stored in the pill box beneath gun...

ART22186

Filipino boy, Private Tom Mayo

Private Tom Mayo, interpreter of Japanese, Filipino pearl diver from; defence of

ART22825

Observation Post, Darwin

Depicts two unidentified men standing at the entrance of defence observation post or pill box, camouflage netting and triangle for alarm signal post, Darwin.

ART28400

Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Royle

Vice Admiral Sir Guy Royle, KGB, CMG, First Naval Member of Commonwealth Naval Board

ART23432

Red Cross Welfare Officer (Mr W Smythe)

Portrait depicting Mr W Smythe, Welfare, Adelaide River Camp, Adelaide River. A member of Australian Red Cross Society, a voluntary organisation who during the war collected, by voluntary subscription from the public, immense funds which were expanded in medical equipment and distributed to the...

ART23691

Air Vice-Marshal George Jones

Air Vice Marshal (later Air Marshal Sir) George Jones, CBE, DFC, Chief of Air Staff Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

ART25968

Australian soldier wearing a steel helmet

Portrait depicting unidentified soldier, wearing protective (tin) helmet, Darwin.

ART25971

Corporal Nicolas Karras

Portrait of D602 Corporal Nicolas Karras, 4th Australian Docks Operating Company, Australian Military Forces.

ART25972

Australian Nursing Sister

An unfinished sketch of an unidentified Sister, Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS), Darwin.

ART25973

Gunner Taiswell

Depicts an unfinished drawing of Gunner Taiswell, Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), Darwin.

ART25974

Gasmask practice

Depicts an unidentified soldier, seated, wearing gas mask and respirator and holding protective (tin) helmet, Darwin.

ART25975

A F P Lukin

A F P Lukin, of Hyde Park, sitting on bed(?), smoking pipe

ART25976

Lieutenant Fishlock

Depicts an unfinished drawing of Lieutenant George Fredrick Norman Fishlock, 2/8 Australian Infantry Battalion, seated in a wheelchair, Darwin.

ART25977

Lieutenant Fishlock

Depicts a drawing of Lieutenant George Fredrick Norman Fishlock, 2/8th Australian Infantry Battalion, seated in wheelchair, Darwin.

ART25978

Air Vice-Marshal George Jones

Air Vice Marshal (later Air Marshal Sir) George Jones, CBE, DFC, Chief of the Air Staff, RAAF

ART26120

Post office ruin, Darwin

This painting shows a bomb damaged Post Office in Darwin. Sections from the roof are destroyed and the building is surrounded by rubble and a broken fence. Dark clouds loom over the scene.

ART26121

Darwin, harbour front

Depicts a panoramic view of the harbour front, unidentified vessels in port, Darwin.

ART26124

Soldier in tin hat

Portrait depicting an unidentified soldier wearing protective helmet (tin hat), Darwin.

ART26191

Bomber under camouflage

Depicts a Lockheed Hudson bomber and airfield tractor under camouflage netting, Darwin.

ART29703

Hospital marquee at 119th Field Hospital

Depicts a partial view of hospital bed and personnel inside marquee encampment, 119th Field Hospital, Darwin.

ART29704

Daly River from the air

From the centre to the bottom centre of this painting we see an aerial view of a river that forks at the bottom, and three planes in flight in the centre. Clouds cover the rest of the composition. It was painted by Murch in Darwin soon after his arrival in the Northern Territory. He was inspired to...

ART30129

Dust at Daly Waters

Unidentified soldiers examining the engine of a truck (possibly a Ford or Dodge) in the midst of dust clouds.

ART30131

Officers' tent lines, Adelaide River

Depicts a row of tents known as the officers' lines, Adelaide River camp. The Adelaide River played a major role during the Second World War. It was in this area that the 119 Australian General Hospital and huge military base were established. The American and Australian military also set up...

ART30132

Salvation Army Officer

Portrait depicting unidentified Salvation Army officer, standing in front of 'Drop In' sign Philanthropic organisations - Salvation Army, Darwin.

ART30134

Padre Dwyer

Portrait depicting Padre Dwyer, Australian Military Forces, Darwin.

ART30135

Sister Quinlan

Portrait depicting Sister Quinlan, Australian Army Nurses Service (AANS), Darwin.

ART30136

Sister Lorna Laffer

Portrait depicting Sister Lorna Laffer, Australian Army Nurses Service (AANS), wearing 'walking out' uniform, Darwin.

ART30137

Lieutenant colonel Ralph Honner

Portrait depictin WX15 Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner, DSO, MC, Commanding 39 Battalion when battalion was fighting on the Kokoda Track 2 Australian Imperial Force, 2/11th Australian Infantry Battalion, 39th Australian Infantry Battalion, 2/14th Australian Infantry Battalion, Sydney.

ART31769

Group Captain Hugh Birch

Portrait depicting Group Captain Hugh M Birch, DFC, was among Australian air-crew in the United Kingdom at the outbreak of war in 1939, and subsequently flew Sunderland flying boats of No.10 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in convoy and anti-submarine operations over the Atlantic.

ART31774

Cherry blossoms

A river winding through a snow covered Japanese landscape, with several houses, pine trees and mountains. It was painted by Lieutenant Colonel Murayama, the Commanding Officer of surrendered Japanese Forces in March 1946, in Rabaul, New Guinea. Murayama was also the Staff Officer, 17th Division,...

ART91941

Hospital train interior

Depicts the interior of a hospital train in Northern Territory during the Second World War. An Australian Army Medical Corp, Unit 9 was raised in the Northern Territory to staff the Australian Ambulance Train, on the North Australian railway that ran from March 1942 until January 1945. The...

ART92681

Private Samuel Fejo

D11 Gunner Samuel Fejo, CMF, Fixed Defences Citizen Military Forces, Darwin. Fejo was a gunner in the Fixed Defences Citizen Military Forces, Darwin, and an Aboriginal member of the Militia. While in Darwin as an official artist in late 1942, Arthur Murch observed that Private Fejo was one of about...

ART29415

Timeline

Date of birth 1902-07-08
Date of death 1989-09-03