Graeme Murphy was born in Melbourne but spent much of his childhood in Tasmania where he took dance classes from Kenneth Gillespie in Launceston. He was accepted into the Australian Ballet School at the age of fourteen and spent 2 and a half years at the School before joining the Australian Ballet in 1968. He left the company after discovering the wealth of dance outside Australia, which he first encountered on a tour to America with the Australian Ballet in 1970-1971. In Europe he danced with Les Ballets Felix Blaska before returning to Australia to freelance as a choreographer, which he did during the mid 1970's.
Murphy took on the directorship of the Dance Company (NSW) at the end of 1976, changed the company's name to Sydney Dance Company in 1979 and went on to develop it as a major choreographer-led contemporary dance company. With his associate director Janet Vernon, Murphy has also nurtured the work of other Australian choreographers, including dancers from within his own company. Choreographers whose early works have been mentored by Murphy included Paul Mercurio, Gideon Obarzanek and Stephen Page. Murphy made his first choreographic work, Ecco le Diavole, for an Australian Ballet workshop presented by the Australian Ballet Society at Melbourne's Princess Theatre in July 1971. Created to music by Nino Rota, Ecco featured company dancers Roslyn Anderson, Roma Egan, Janet Vernon and Wendy Walker. Murphy's choreography since then has spanned both abstract and narrative modes. It is sometimes large-scale and commercially popular, at other times rewardingly intimate. It has also always been characterised by a collaborative approach that, during the 1990s, has developed musically to the point where musicans often not only share the stage with dancers but participate in the performance. As well as having to his credit a substantial body of work related on his own company, Murphy has choreographed for a range of other dance and opera companies including the Australian Ballet, The Australian Ballet School, the Canadian Opera? Company, Nederlands Dans Theater, Opera Australia, the Queensland Ballet and White Oak Dance Project.