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Murdoch was born Keith Rupert Murdoch on 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia to Sir Keith Murdoch (1885–1952) and Elisabeth Joy Greene (1909–2012), daughter of Rupert Greene. He is of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry. His parents were also born in Melbourne. Keith Murdoch was a war correspondent and later a regional newspaper magnate owning two newspapers in Adelaide, South Australia, and a radio station in a faraway mining town. Later in life, Keith Rupert chose to use Rupert, the first name of his maternal grandfather.
Keith Murdoch the elder asked to meet with his future wife after seeing her debutante photograph in one of his own newspapers and they married in 1928, when she was aged 19 and he was 23 years older. In addition to Rupert, the couple had three daughters: Janet Calvert-Jones, Anne Kantor and Helen Handbury (1929–2004). Murdoch attended Geelong Grammar School, where he was co-editor of the school's official journal The Corian and editor of the student journal If Revived. He took his school's cricket team to the National Junior Finals. He worked part-time at the Melbourne Herald and was groomed by his father to take over the family business. Murdoch read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Worcester College, Oxford in England, where he supported the Labour Party, stood for Secretary of the Labour Club and managed Oxford Student Publications Limited, the publishing house of Cherwell. After her husband's death from cancer in 1952, Elisabeth Murdoch did charity work, as life governor of the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne and established the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. At the age of 102 (in 2011), she had 74 descendants. Murdoch completed an MA before working as a sub-editor with the Daily Express for two years.
Following his father's death, when he was 21, Murdoch returned from Oxford to take charge of the family business News Limited, which had been established in 1923. Rupert Murdoch turned its newspaper, Adelaide News, its main asset, into a major success. He began to direct his attention to acquisition and expansion, buying the troubled Sunday Times in Perth, Western Australia (1956) and over the next few years acquiring suburban and provincial newspapers in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory, including the Sydney afternoon tabloid, The Daily Mirror(1960). The Economist describes Murdoch as "inventing the modern tabloid", as he developed a pattern for his newspapers, increasing sports and scandal coverage and adopting eye-catching headlines.
Murdoch's first foray outside Australia involved the purchase of a controlling interest in the New Zealand daily The Dominion. In January 1964, while touring New Zealand with friends in a rented Morris Minor after sailing across the Tasman, Murdoch read of a takeover bid for the Wellington paper by the British-based Canadian newspaper magnate, Lord Thomson of Fleet. On the spur of the moment, he launched a counter-bid. A four-way battle for control ensued in which the 32-year-old Murdoch was ultimately successful. Later in 1964, Murdoch launched The Australian, Australia's first national daily newspaper, which was based first in Canberra and later in Sydney. In 1972, Murdoch acquired the Sydney morning tabloid The Daily Telegraph from Australian media mogul Sir Frank Packer, who later regretted selling it to him. In 1984, Murdoch was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for services to publishing.
In 1999, Murdoch significantly expanded his music holdings in Australia by acquiring the controlling share in a leading Australian independent label, Michael Gudinski's Mushroom Records; he merged that with Festival Records, and the result was Festival Mushroom Records (FMR). Both Festival and FMR were managed by Murdoch's son James Murdoch for several years.