Charles Herbert McMurtrie was an all-round sportsman from Orange who represented Australia in both rugby union and rugby league. In 1908 he was a member of the Wallabies rugby union team that won gold at the London Olympic Games following their defeat of Great Britain.
Born in Orange in 1878, Charles was the youngest of thirteen children born to John Robert McMurtrie and Agnes Graham. John, a Scottish immigrant had started the monumental stonemason’s firm McMurtrie and Co.
Charles attended school in Forbes, and as a young man ventured to Western Australia to seek his fortune on the gold fields. After several years in the west, the genial McMurtrie returned to Orange where he was a prominent athlete, excelling in football, boxing, wrestling and fishing.
For several years Charles worked in the family stonemasonry business in Summer Street. In 1901 he married Emma Hammond in Kalgoorlie, where their first child, Doris, was born. The family returned to Orange, where, in 1903, Doris died. A son, Charles, was born the following year, but he also died in infancy.
Following his Olympic success in London in 1908, Charles was selected for the 2nd Kangaroo tour of Great Britain in 1911. He played in seven tour matches and scored three tries. The following year he was chosen in the Australian team to make the first rugby league tour of New Zealand.
In April 1913 the Leader reported that “the dashing Rugby League forward” was a patient at Narrabri hospital, having injured his foot while working in the local railway yards.
In June 1913 the Sydney Divorce Court granted Emma McMurtrie a dissolution of her marriage with Charles on the grounds of desertion. Charles claimed he was unable to make a home with Emma, declaring “It is no good; I fairly revel in sport”.
In August 1915, at the age of 37, McMurtrie enlisted in the First World War. He served in Egypt, France and England for 18 months before being invalided home in May 1917. Sergeant McMurtrie was declared to be medically unfit and was discharged from the AIF the following month.
Charles soon married Bertha Annie Johnston in Sydney. The couple had three children: Jean, Godfrey and Leo. During 1918 Charles worked as a Warrant Officer on the NSW north coast, where he was claimed to be “the most successful recruiting sergeant that has yet visited the district”.
By 1930 the family had relocated to Sydney and were living in Bexley. Charles worked at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory during the Second World War. Charles McMurtrie died in Carlton on 9 August 1951 after a long illness following a motor vehicle accident. He was 73.
Charles penned the following ditty during the 1908 Wallaby tour of England:
England for green fields and hedges galore.
The people are homely, we don’t wish for more;
But give me Australia, a beautiful land
Where the gum trees grow skyward and the lassies are grand!
Charles’ nephew, John James (Jack) McMurtrie also served in WWI. He was killed in action in France in February 1917.