Water houses, Papua. Binks Dowling's father became a popular Australian writer on Papua New Guinea in the 1920s and early 1930s. This is the sixth in a series on growing up on the Northern or New England Tablelands.
Today’s column introduces a third character, Binks Turnbull Dowling, into our continuing story of coming of age on the
Each character is different, their lives take us in sometimes unexpected
directions, but between them they reveal something of the depth and complexity
of our shared history.
Binks Turnbull Dowling was born in Papua in 1923, the daughter of English born Gilbert Munro Turnbull and Jean Doris Winn. Jean was part of a totally different extended Turnbull family headquartered at Kotupna, a large station in the Fall country to the east of Armidale.
Gilbert trained as an architect and in 1920 became Government Architect in Papua. He was an adventurous man and a considerable writer.
Often writing under the pseudonym Tauwarra (Motu for fighting-man), Gilbert published numerous short pieces and articles, at least 90 short stories and four novels.
The couple met when Gilbert was visiting
married in the Presbyterian Manse in Armidale on 31 August 1921. Initially the
marriage seems to have been happy enough, although they were very different
In 1928’ the couple decided to send Binks to stay with the Turnbulls on Kotupna. Later, mother Jean decided to return to Kotupna, leaving Gilbert in Papua. While the couple remained married, they never reunited. Gilbert retired to Urunga in 1934 and died four years later at just 48.
In 1997, Binks’ children persuaded her to write and publish an autobiographical memoir, For crying out loud. It’s a good if sometimes confusing read.
The book is broken into overlapping chronological segments. These explore and describe Binks’ life up to her marriage.
The book is also an examination of her parents, their personalities and the complexities of relationship, seeking to understand. It is dedicated to the father that she greatly loved, a father she rarely saw after she was sent to Kotupna, a father who died when she was fifteen.
It is not a sad book, but there are sad elements that made me uncomfortable, a reminder of the uncertainties and complexities of life. Apart from the story of her parents, I wondered about the inarticulate nature of the Turnbull men, about the break-ups and relationship failures. Sometimes, it seemed to me that Kotupna had become a devouring beast.
I know that members of the Turnbull family would probably not share that perception.
When Binks asked her mother years later why she stayed at Kotupna, Jean looked at her strangely and said simply “But I was happy”. The love they all had for Kotupna, Binks is no exception, shines through.
Next week, I will look at some of the elements in Binks’ life comparing them to other characters in our story
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 1 August 2018. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017, here 2018.