Murphy was the eldest son of Irish-born Edwin Murphy (plasterer and clay modeller), and was born at Castlemaine, Victoria. He was educated at a state school at South Melbourne and began to earn his living at an early age. As he grew up he developed a good tenor voice, and joining the J. C. Williamson Opera Company, sang in the chorus and toured with it for two or three years. Following the gold rush of 1892 Murphy went to Western Australia and was sufficiently successful to be able to take two trips to Europe. While in London, he floated his gold-mine Esmeralda, however, it slumped and he returned home. Soon afterwards he returned to England, writing for financial and social papers; he also helped to expose the hoaxer Louis de Rougemont before conducting him on a lecture tour.
While on the goldfields he had begun writing verse for the press, and about 1900 joined the staff of the Perth Sunday Times, to which he contributed a column "Verse and Worse" for nearly 40 years. In 1904 he published a novel, Sweet Boronia: A Story of Coolgardie, which was followed in 1908 by a selection of his verses, Jarrahland Jingles. A further selection, Dryblowers Verses, was published in 1924. He died at Perth, Western Australia after an illness of some months on 9 March 1939. His wife survived him with three sons.
Murphy wrote an enormous amount of verse which he probably made little attempt to polish. It was inevitable that many of his poems should be little more than jingles, as is suggested in the title of his first volume. But at his best he was a good popular poet, and the verses he wrote when his son enlisted during the 1914 war, "My Son", succeed in expressing the mingled pride and anguish of the occasion, where a finer poet might have failed. Privately, Murphy was a born joker, a first-rate teller of stories, a lover of his fellow men. In his newspaper column he fought for many a popular cause, and his humour and kindly satire made him the best-known and best-loved journalist of his time in Western Australia.