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New Guinea handstand
Wartime high jinks
Jack takes the weight
With Evan Green in a car versus plane race round Australia
Jack the hunter
Jack's wife Ena (right) with her sisters
Dorothy Rosewell trick water-skiing
Jack and reptile companion, Ampol Trial
Phil tells his father's story from the inside. Comprehensive, accurate and frank, the book reveals the man behind the wheel. It's a great read, not only for those interested in the history of Australian motorsport but for anyone who enjoys a laugh and has an interest in the way we were and the characters who shaped us as a nation. 

Writer and editor Diana Giese's mentorship, expertise and insight enabled me to bring my dream of writing my father's biography to reality. The book would not exist without Diana's professional editing, advice and guidance.    Phil Murray



Read extracts,‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray

‘It was a cold, fine Sydney night on 20 July 1954. A speeding police car was the first vehicle straining spectators saw as they lined the Princes Highway leading into Sydney and towards the Moore Park Showground where a crowd of over 20,000 eagerly waited. In close pursuit of the police came a dust-covered, booming Ford V8 that in the previous 18 days had covered 9600 miles (15,450 km) over the roughest roads the Australian continent had to offer. The driver, clad in black pants, black t-shirt and flight jacket sat beside his white-overalled navigator. Bonded by a shared love of motorsport and adventure, both men wore their customary flying boots—and broad grins. The four burly officers sardined into the lead vehicle had earlier offered a quiet word of advice to the two Murrays as they reached the southern outskirts of Sydney… 

As Jack told the story in Neil Bennetts' interview recorded in 1976 for the National Library of Australia:

"Across the Nullabor and practically back to Sydney, it was eventful but not like it had been: lots of bitumen and got escorted everywhere, more or less nursed back into Sydney. And the police met us up at Moss Vale and said, 'If you let one stick of jelly off, you’ll be locked up. You follow us from here to Sydney Showground.' And we followed the police, four of them—I think it was a Ford too—and they went faster than we’d ever been. We were flat out keeping up with them. We got there about half an hour too early and we crossed into the Showground. We had a lot of luck …and then we became more or less famous." ' 
(Chapter 1, The REDEX Trials)

'The first REDEX Trial had not ended well for Jack and Bill Murray…:

"The 1953 REDEX, in the Plymouth. We turned it over. We flipped it over in an up-jump, came out of one of these, came out of the last one—and there was a bull standing in the middle of it. I swung to avoid the bull and when we came out, the road turned hard left, [so I] hit the bank which was about 18 inches, and just flipped the Plymouth over on its side. The windows flew out, Bill flew out and the windscreen flew out and hit him on the head and gave him concussion. And half a dozen cartons of jelly just burst open. Of course, you’ve got to detonate it to let it off; it’s quite safe. The sticks were all lying around and Bill was lying on the road. I picked him up, put him against a tree—it was about half past nine in the morning, a beautiful summer’s day. And I said: 'This would be a beautiful place for a sunbake.' By 11 o’clock we moved him into the shade of a tree; it was about 120 in the water bag. (laughs)…The other cars would pull up and say, 'Are you all right?' and I’d say yes, and they’d say, 'What are you doing there?' I said, 'I’m thinking of opening up a shop.' 'You’re what?' they said, 'Do you want a lift?' and I said, 'Oh no, we’ve got a truck coming out.' The truck came out and got hold of the car and drove us into Cloncurry." ' 
(Chapter 1, The REDEX Trials)

Never Ever Park Here

Fairly clear and unambiguous…For many years these were the unequivocal words that were emblazoned across the roller door shutter that separated Jack’s property, The Garage, from the normal outside world—Curlewis St locals. Indeed, everyone in Bondi knew to heed that simple four-word command. Caps, huge font, it read with all the gravitas of the Eleventh Commandment, not handed down by God but by ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray. If ignored, the consequences were likely to be more than serious.
     Occasionally a stranger to the area—who else would be so foolish?—would try his luck. Big mistake. The startled owner would return to find his offending vehicle sitting in the middle of the traffic in Curlewis St—with four flat tyres. Beneath the windscreen wiper a parking infringement notice would add to the pain and reinforce the message. Jack enjoyed very good relations with the local constabulary through his many years of support for the Police and Citizens Boys’ Club.' 
(Chapter 6, The Garage)

‘Lubricants remove friction within engines. Some people are lubricants who smooth the relationships and interactions within families. Often this role is unseen, unnoticed by those who benefit most. Mum had gone on an extended holiday with her sister; the family lubricant was absent. Jack and I were home alone, left “batching”. The baking dish blue began to sizzle.
     A baking dish in the Murray household is more a piece of heavy industrial equipment than an accompaniment to haute cuisine. No scones or cakes or biscuits ever saw the insides of a Murray baking dish. Picture a massive metallic tray with upturned sides, a Volkswagen roof cut off and flipped over. Baked lamb or beef dinners surrounded and buried in dozens of baked potatoes and pumpkin were the only contents allowed. Mum learned early that feeding three men is less about cordon bleu and more about cordoning off the meat and potato section of the supermarket and loading up a trolley or two.
     Unsupervised, the Murray men quickly reverted to their natural state: a hunter and gatherer existence, foraging for ourselves with no structured meals. Each was busy doing his own thing, and like ships in the night, occasionally saw one another in passing. During my mother’s absence, with the spectre of starvation hovering, I cooked myself a baked dinner. To this day, it remains the one and only item in my list of culinary achievements. I even cleaned up, washing plates, cutlery and the oversized baking dish prior to returning the beast to its lair in the cupboard beneath the sink.
     When I arrived home from university the following evening, there sat the baking dish beside the sink. That’s odd, I thought. A small note in the middle of the dish solved the mystery of the self-levitating tray: “Not clean, wash again.” I duly complied. Steel wool in hand, I applied approximately 200 kg of bench press power, removing baked-on oil stains, blackened meat marks and the like. The baking dish, looking five years younger, took pride of place once more in the cupboard beneath the sink.
     The following evening the dish materialised once more, accompanied by the now rather repetitive note: “Not clean, wash again.” No problem. This was a challenge to be met and beaten. I attacked the baking dish with all the vigour and enthusiasm of a gym training session. I scrubbed that sucker within an inch of its metallic life, until it was sparkling as brilliantly as a commercial. I respectfully returned the now-immaculate dish to its sanctum beneath the sink.
     But the following evening: “Not clean, wash again.” Only on this occasion, Jack was home. Communication and bonding time. The dish provided an opportunity for father and son to sit down, calmly and rationally to discuss the various cleaning techniques available and agree upon an acceptable level of baking dish hygiene…
     When my mother returned from her holiday and looked around her kitchen, her first words were, “Jack, what on earth happened to the baking dish? It’s never been this clean since I bought it." ' 
(Chapter 11, Growing Up with Gelignite)

      The author

Phil Murray has inherited his father’s genes when it comes to adventure, seeking personal challenges and embracing all life has to offer. Just as his father Jack did, Phil believes life is best lived following some pretty simple instructions: "Don’t take yourself too seriously" and "Always sprinkle in a good helping of humour."

Phil’s adventures have included white-water rafting the Grand Canyon and trekking on three continents (the Himalayas, Africa and Australia) plus travelling extensively throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. Whether spending time as a patient in a Soviet hospital during the Cold War, sailing a yacht to Morocco, or experiencing the midnight sun over Hammerfest in Norway, Phil’s journeys have enriched him both as a man and a writer.

A prize-winning short story writer, Phil has also had work published in Australian Traveller and several Catchfire Press story anthologies. In 2014 he won the NSW Neighbour Day writing competition with his poignant story My Neighbour Alex. See https://open.abc.net.au/explore/97404

            Water-skiing past the British Parliament

‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray did it all:  "I engaged in various sports with various successes": cycling, VFL schoolboy football, stock car racing, hill climbing races, car endurance events, Australian and NSW Grand Prix racing, international and Australian rally driving, wrestling, boxing, crocodile, kangaroo and buffalo hunting, ocean boat racing and water-skiing…to name most, but not all. He even once raced a bathtub—plug in.


For other interesting lives, view the Life Stories page 

Reviews and responses to the book

Dick Smith on ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray

‘…I well remember the REDEX Trial of 1954. I was ten years of age, in the days before television. We would either listen to the Trial on radio or watch the Cinesound reports at the Wynyard Newsreel Theatre. These were normally compered by Jack Davey, the famous quiz show host we would often listen to on the radio at night. 

     On the starting day of the 1954 REDEX Trial, I walked up to Lindfield on the Pacific Highway north of Sydney. The crowds there were ten deep at night as the cars screamed through at enormous speed. Quite recklessbut there were few safety rules in those days! 

     ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray became the most famous driver that year, not only from the notoriety he gained by throwing sticks of gelignite out the window (he was an absolute maverick), but because he won without giving up a single point. How was that even possible? Remember, the roads were almost all dirt in those days, and ‘Gelignite’ had plenty of the Aussie larrikin ‘attitude’ of thumbing his nose at bureaucracy. 

     Thanks to that race, ‘Gelignite’ Jack instantly became a hero of mine. I often wondered if I could replicate some of the things he did. Of course, as you read this book, you’ll understand that this was just not possible… 

     I recommend this wonderfully written book to anyone. Conceived and researched by his son Phil, it takes a fresh look at those REDEX Trials, as well as Jack’s early years, including the 1930s, World War II and his decades of winning in motor car performance sports… 

     Jack had an extraordinary life, from high jinks as a young boy through to his incredible success running his own business. He was passionate about making a good living and looking after his family. 

     This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I hope you enjoy it.’

Dick Smith AC 


‘This biography is a must-read for younger generations to learn of a whole different world…one that has shaped Australian cultural traditions.’

Danica Streader, Hush Hush Biz


‘While this book reveals new information on Jack’s long involvement with motor sports, it also unveils yarn after yarn of his colourful life…The press dubbed him a professional eccentric with a touch of Ned Kelly and Guy Fawkes. His son has endorsed that claim in this wonderfully written account.’

Daily Telegraph, 7 September 2017 <


‘This book is as much a chronicle of the character, cheek and charm of Jack Murray as it is of his life…For a detailed look at the man behind the name, it is highly recommended.’

Just Cars magazine


‘The book is a superb record of one of Australia’s greatest motoring characters, a man whose motto was “Don’t take yourself too seriously”…one who captivated the population…’

Jeff Whitten, Rally Sport


‘As a young boy growing up around Watsons Bay, [I remember] the grey V8 Ford thundering along Old South Head Road, along past the Lighthouse. “There goes Gelignite,” would echo amongst the onlookers.’

Michael Osborne, Mature Traveller


‘In his book…Mr [Phil] Murray reveals the man behind the wheel…[He says:] “My father crammed the experiences of travel, sports and sheer zest for life of at least two men into his 76 years…The biographical task that I naively thought was simple to research, verify and document became so much more—a journey of understanding and discovery.” ’

Newcastle Herald, 10 July 2017


‘Thanks Phil—enjoyed this great story. Your dad—a legend! I do think both your mum and yourself deserve a medal.’

Pauline O’Kane


‘Without people like your dad, the world would be a dull place.’

Ruth Robertson

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