Not far from the humble migrant hostel that was his first Australian home, on a wall within view of Illawarra Sports High School’s soccer pitch, a likeness of the late Les Murray smiles down over his old stomping ground, a beacon of possibility.
“A fitting tribute to a vibrant, colourful man,” said school principal Raechel McCarthy, unveiling the artwork on Tuesday.
“I hope our students will look at this every day and ... seek inspiration from Les for their own potential, to follow their own passions in life and be successful like Les was”.
The famed SBS football commentator’s death, on July 31, at age 71, was the closing chapter in one of Australia’s great refugee success stories.
Murray, born László Ürge, was 11 when he fled the Hungarian uprising with parents Jozsef and Erzsebet and brothers Joe and Andrew.
In 1957 they arrived in Australia, settling with next to nothing in Berkeley.
Andrew Ürge said his late brother had topped his class in English. He was frontman in several rock bands before he became Mr Football.
“We were very proud of him,” he said. “This [mural] is a monument for his life achievements. It might even be a tourist attraction, who knows.”
Murray’s daughters Tania Murray and Natalie O’Brien were given final say over the work before it was realised by artist Anthony Jones. The sisters referred to their “loving, very funny” father as ‘Daddy Cool’.
He lived by the words printed on the mural – loyalty, laughter, learning –and his winning personality gave him his edge in the sports journalism world, said Ms Murray.
On the other hand, football commentary wasn’t a crowded field when he began, Mrs O’Brien said.
“Football had no exposure. He was probably the first person to fight for it in a media space and put it on television. The general population in Australia didn’t have much interest in it until later in his career.”
The mural was the brainchild of the school’s Indonesian teacher, Jenny Hilton, and follows a recent partnership between the school and Sydney FC, which is intended to provide Illawarra players with a direct pathway to the W and A leagues.