Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Life and times of Binks Turnbull Dowling

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 New England. 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 Australia and 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 characters.

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  2017here 2018 .


Johnb said...

The following Jim, is a link to Saturday 2 August 1930, The Sydney Morning Herald

Wonderful Landscapes.


The Dorrigo is one of my favourite places and if younger would have bought up there, unfortunately common sense dictates we need to locate closer to services. I recently met a single lady who has just moved into the Coffs area after spending the last 40 years living out at Hernani, now that will be a difficult adaptation to changed circumstances.

Jim Belshaw said...

I'm sorry I'm such a slow responder at the moment, John. Just time pressures. Glad you found Gordon's Old New England site. It is wonderful country. Absolutely superb. A move from Hernani to Coffs would be difficult.

A clipping of this story was sent to Binks Dowling who rang the Express who passed her phone number on. I rang her back and had a very enjoyable chat. She was surprised to find I had he book and to find herself featured!

Peter Dowling said...

Hi Jim, Just replying again regarding your Blog about my Mum Barbara Dowling daughter of Jean & Bert. I was the instigator in encouraging Binks to write down her story. Not long after Jean died the project commenced on the provision the story faded out when Mum and Dad moved to Muswellbrook in 1948. The brothers of my Great Grandmother were inarticulate, as you state was the result of their mothers very conservative we-free-Presbyterian view of the world. Only one Thomas Scott Turnbull had the opportunity to attend TAS. The rest unfortunately were forced to become stockmen on the hundreds of thousand of acres occupied by JD Turnbull. In about 1914 JDT occupied about 12,000 acres between Guy Fawkes and Bald Hills. Including Kotupna Station, 5,000 acres, Glen Alvie, 1200 acres, The Old Station 3000 acres, Bald Hills 3300 acres. Only Bald Hills remains in the possession of the family today. Earlier this year Rod Turnbull sold his portion of Kotupna, 1200 acres. In addition on the Boyd or little River Dalmorton 9000 acres, Buccarumbi, or Little River Station 180,000 acres and Yarrow Creek about 30,000 acres. I think Errol Turnbull's family still occupy portions of Yarrow Creek. (Sarah River near Yarrow Creek is the boundary of the Gumbaynggirr country). For some historical information about the Turnbull family history contact Robyn Crosslie, who resides in South Hill area Armidale and is a member of the local Armidale Family History Group. Robyn's book 'Turnbull Lives and Letters' is worth getting hold of. She may even have a few left unsold. Kind Regards Peter Dowling

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Peter and thanks. Much appreciated.I didn't know that there was quite so much land. It's good that you persuaded your mum to write it all down. i know Robyn, although I haven't seen her for very many years. I will ask on the Family History facebook page.