Murdoch McLeod was born at Carrieton, South Australia, on 18th October 1893, the son of farmer John McLeod and his wife Harriett (née Symonds). He spent his first five years at Carrieton but when his parents moved to Jamestown he was sent to his grandfather’s farmhouse to live. His childhood experiences of strict discipline, difficult living conditions and financial hardship, with family members working long hours to augment their income, formed a lasting determination in the young boy to strive hard for a better existence. He walked twelve miles each day to attend school but left at the age of fourteen to begin work as a store-hand, labouring sixty hours a week for five shillings. Prior experience as a farmhand and a deep passion for mechanics made him return to farm labouring, where he gained some knowledge of early motors. Against parental advice, he purchased a motorcycle, which he saw as an escape from farm employment and as an opportunity to become involved in the emerging motor trade in Adelaide. He also studied fitting and turning at night school.
In 1915 hundreds of motor trade employees in Adelaide were retrenched, due to difficult economic conditions. Murdoch McLeod returned to Jamestown and in January 1916, with his limited savings, put a deposit on a struggling cycle shop. He then worked harder and even longer hours than before and with diligence, acumen and a resolve to make the most of his opportunities, started building up his business.
After fifteen years of hard work and careful saving, he opened the McLeod Tyre Store in Currie Street, Adelaide, in July 1931, selling car tyres and bicycles. Aware of his own lack of higher education, he attended W.E.A. classes over a period of twenty years in order to broaden his general knowledge. On 23rd March 1920 he had married Catherine Hunter and they had three children.
Murdoch McLeod was determined to set and achieve high standards and his business expanded rapidly. Although World War II forced the closure of some of his branches, he was able to keep those in Adelaide and Jamestown. With the opportunities offering in the post-war period, he again set about increasing his staff to manage expansion and changed the business from sole proprietorship into a public company, though he retained approximately 50% ownership. While still struggling to establish a sound management structure and to use the available funds to establish branches in all capital cities, he consistently gave his managers authority to make and stand by their own decisions.
He placed business development before pursuit of personal pleasures and his modest, unflamboyant lifestyle earned him an undeserved reputation (among those who knew little of him) of being antisocial. He avoided personal publicity and donated a substantial sum each year for ten years to the Post-graduate Foundation in Medicine at the University of Adelaide, before he finally agreed, with some reluctance, to allow his name to be linked to further annual donations.
In 1936 he expressed his intention to leave a substantial portion of his estate to the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Subsequently, as his wealth increased through his holdings in the public company, he made major bequests to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute and the Julia Farr Centre (formerly the Home for Incurables). In recognition of their bequest, the University of Adelaide established the McLeod Lecture Theatre at the Waite Institute, as well as a students’ gathering area known as McLeod Square. The Julia Farr Centre established the M.S. McLeod Foundation, and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital set up the M.S. McLeod Research Fund. These bequests have resulted in many tangible benefits for future generations of South Australians.
After a very industrious and conservative life, Murdoch McLeod died on 24th April 1981 and was cremated.
Kelen, S., Uphill all the way: Murdoch Stanley McLeod’s story (Sydney: Goodyear, 1974).