Turnbull. Part 1. Origins of an ego.

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    Well worth the read.

    Timeline | PART 1 | Origins of an Ego

    *This part covers the period from 1954 (Turnbull’s birth) until 1980 (the end of his schooling).

    Malcolm’s Mum – The Labor Feminist
    Malcolm Turnbull’s primary parental influence appears to be his mother, Coral Lansbury. Coral was born in Melbourne, in 1929, to two British stage actors who were touring Australia with the musical Show Boat and decided to stay. She was an eccentric, hyperactive, and creative woman, but she was also an ardent feminist, atheist1, and a supporter of the Labor party.

    19 year-old Coral Lansbury in 1949.
    Malcolm would later say that she was “certainly a Labor Party supporter…” and “no doubt a member“. Indeed, left-wing politics ran in the family. Coral’s great uncle was the radical leftist British Labour Party leader, George Lansbury, and Coral was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying:

    “Acting and politics are very close, and we Lansburys always seem to run to the stage or Labor politics.” 2

    Whilst doing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, two of Coral’s closest friends were future Labor stalwarts Neville Wranand Lionel Murphy (both of whom would later become frequent dinner guests during Malcolm’s childhood2), and the thesis she wrote for her masters degree was titled “The Growth of Trade-Unionism in Australia“.

    Like her future son, Coral had tickets on herself, and told Neville Wran in their university days that she was “a bit of a stunner”.2

    She soon became a scriptwriter & star actress for ABC radio soap operas, which were extremely popular before the television era. “She was a prolific writer,” Malcolm recounts. “In the 1950s, she was writing four radio serials at once.” Her writing included what she called “crypto-feminist” themes, and one of her plays was titled “Portrait of a Unionist“.

    In 1953, at the age of 23, Coral did something disturbing. On a whim, she married her own godfather, a man 40 years her senior. How did this happen? A 1986 article in the Philadelphia Inquirertells the story:

    A violent quarrel with her mother sent her flying out of the house with the threat, “I’m going to marry the first man who asks me.” On her arrival at the [ABC] studio, she ran into her godfather, a producer, who had the habit of greeting her jokingly with, “When are you going to marry me?” That day, he followed his usual routine and was rocked back on his heels when Coral answered, “Tomorrow.”

    Perhaps even more disturbing was that her godfather – the well-known ABC radio producer and pioneer George Edwards – went through with it, and they were quickly married in a government registry office on the 20th February, 1953. Coral was George’s fourth wife.

    George Edwards and Coral Lansbury.
    The marriage though, was never consummated. Literally the day after they registered the marriage, Edwards fell suddenly and seriously ill, and was admitted to hospital. He soon fully recovered, but a few months later he again fell suddenly ill, and died on the 28th of August, 1953.

    The vivacious Coral though quickly bounced back, and only a couple of months later she was photographed partying with the stars of one of her radio serials.

    By January 1954, she had hooked-up with a Bondi beach lifesaver named Bruce Turnbull, whom she called the “handsomest man in Sydney”. She falls pregnant and Malcolm is born in October, to the unmarried couple, who are living together in a luxury house on Sydney’s north shore (with a massive income). The child compels them to marry, but they divorce 9 years later, after Coral’s adulterous affair with a university professor. Coral goes on to a third marriage, and an academic career in the United States, whilst Malcolm stays with his father in Sydney.

    Article from Truth newspaper circa Dec, 1954.
    Coral would later say that Malcolm was “the only good thing that came out of that marriage” and Malcolm’s wife, Lucy Hughes, would say: “He was extremely close and attached to his mother when he was a little boy.”

    Coral and Malcolm would stay in touch but, despite their closeness, this was not a natural mother-son relationship. Indeed, Coral was lacking a natural maternal instinct, and Malcolm would later acknowledge that “she was not maternal in the normal sense…”3. She had high expectations of him, and young Malcolm felt he had to prove his worthiness to his high-achieving mother.4 They often corresponded via tape recordings, and Coral would lecture Malcolm on politics and philosophy.12

    When Malcolm married Lucy Hughes in 1980, Coral – by then a Professor of English Literature at Rutgers University in the United States – had some interesting things to say to Lucy about her philosophy on marriage:

    Coral: “My dear, I hope you will never change your name to Turnbull”
    Lucy: “Well, I don’t intend to, Coral, no, I’m Lucy Hughes”
    Coral: “Well, that’s good my dear, because you know what happens, if you change your name once, you’ll have to change it every single time you get married

    In later interviews she would describe marriage as a “disaster area” and say that young people should be banned from the institution.

    “Marriage is not a romantic episode. If you want a romantic episode, have an affair.”

    Young Malcolm Fights for “Progressive” Government
    July, 1971 – A young Turnbull attacks the Liberal Party in a piece for the Sydney Grammar School newsletter, The Sydneian. Turnbull said the party was full of “men averse to change of any sort – men whose interests lie solely in the system as it is”. He said the Liberalapproach was “hardly the material needed for a progressive government, which is what Australia as a nation needs above all else”, as he called for higher taxes on the rich. “Twenty years have seen many changes in Australia and the world, but few in the Liberal Party,” he said.

    Steve Kilbey, a school debating champion who battled with Turnbull in 1971, remembers him as a “huge, huge Labor man” and a “staunch lefty“.

    1972 – It is Turnbull’s final year at Sydney Grammar, and he is appointed Head Prefect and School Captain. Many students make formal complaints about the appointment, citing Turnbull’s bullying tendencies, and the Headmaster is forced to compromise. He takes the unprecedented step of appointing two “joint school captains”.13

    It is during this period in particular that he is remembered as an autocratic menace by his then fellow students. It is said that he “strode the musty corridors of Grammar as if it were his own personal fiefdom.”14 One former student, Rob Hirst, says Turnbull managed to alienate almost everyone around him, both students and teachers. He poetically describes Turnbull’s haranguing:

    “The figure booms. The figure thunders. The figure is as deadpan as an Easter Island statue … Who’s not been wearing their (ridiculous Fabulon-soaked and flat-ironed) hat in public? Who’s been leaping (heroically) from the ferry to the wharf before she’s properly docked? Who’s responsible for the latest obscene graffiti, carved like scrimshaw into the heavy oak benches of the Old Music Room? And who were those clowns who yelled out ‘Seig Heil’ during last week’s assembly?” 14

    Turnbull also appears to have despised sport. In his “senior prefect’s report”, he discourages both watching and participating in sport, calling it a “jockstrap attitude”. He also tells his fellow students that, despite his authoritarianism as head prefect, he remains someone engaged in system-bucking and is merely running a “Fabian line” of gradual infiltration rather than revolution.

    “As one who has done his share of ‘system-bucking’, and then become part of that system, I can confidently say that much of the conservatism of the ‘establishment’ is the direct result of non-cooperation on the part of the boys … I am arguing a somewhat Fabian line when I say that the best way to change things is not through confronting the system head on — because in a confrontation it must win — but by working with and within the system to promote change.” 5

    6th July, 1972 – Turnbull’s mother, Coral Lansbury, is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald defending “blue movies” (an old-fashioned nickname for pornography) and denigrating the “nuclear family”. She says:

    “The nuclear family (mother, father and children) is a recent phenomenon. And judging from the results in America, the nuclear family is not very good.”

    1973 – Turnbull, now a young University of Sydney Arts & Law student, is fascinated by Jack Lang, the former Labor Premier of NSW. Journalist Annabel Crabb writes:

    “During his first year at university Turnbull regularly took a tape recorder and toiled up to the little Nithsdale Street office where Lang published his newspaper, the Century, until well into his tenth decade…Bizarrely enough, Turnbull was planning to write a musical about Lang, in collaboration with the leftist writer, Bob Ellis…. The musical was to have been called ‘Lang is Right!'”

    Indeed Ellis says Lang was Turnbull’s “hero“:

    “I knew him first when he was eighteen, ardent, ambitious and old beyond his years, and I began to co-write with him a musical play on his hero Jack Lang, called I think ‘Lang Is Right!'”

    1974 – Writing in the University of Sydney student newspaper, Turnbull praises the Labor Party as a “wealth of opinion and class”, and attacks the former Menzies Government as having merely “warmed the treasury benches” for 23 years.

    1975 – Whilst at university, Turnbull works as a writer for the left-wing newspaper, The Nation Review. His fellow contributors included leftists like Bob Ellis, Germaine Greer, Phillip Adams, Michael Leunig and Mungo MacCallum. One senior writer, John Hepworth, was investigated by ASIO for being a communist sympathizer.

    This was a newspaper so radical that it put John Howard on the front cover with the headline “This Man Rapes Housewives”. The Whitlam Labor Government even considered funding the newspaper when it got into financial trouble.

    Upon the death of former NSW Labor Premier Jack Lang, Turnbull wrote an article praising his socialist depression policies, and attacking his conservative opponents as “inhumanly cautious”. He also backed Gough Whitlam during the constitutional crisis, and called the Liberal Party “political fascists”. He added that he thought our Australian Constitution was “a woefully undemocratic document”:

    “…the current fracas in Canberra has demonstrated what a woefully undemocratic document the Australian Constitution is. Of all the ill-conceived anachronisms sprung from that tortured piece of late-Victorian prose, the Australian Senate takes first place. Alone among the creatures of our Constitution, it has been a total failure form its first sitting.”6

    Turnbull has particular scorn for the Country Party and rural Australians, saying “For 73 years the rural interest has perverted the electoral system…”. He proposes changes to the constitution that would facilitate a coalition between Labor and Liberal, shutting out the Country Party. He says:

    “It would probably spare us from both the Ivor Greenwoods and the Jim Cairnses of this world, in favour of the Jim Carltons and Gough Whitlams…”

    24th December, 1975 – In a major piece for the Nation Review, Turnbull attacks the NSW state Liberal government for introducing laws to suppress pornography. This would foreshadow Turnbull’s later activities in bringing Playboy magazine to Australia, and supporting naked child photographer Bill Henson.7

    1976 – Despite his leftist ideology, Turnbull shows a willingness to join whatever political party he thinks he can use as a vehicle for his agenda. He tells radio broadcaster David Dale that he wants to be Prime Minister by age 40. Dale asks “For which party?”, and Turnbull responds “It doesn’t matter“.

    He also gains a position in the NSW parliamentary press gallery, where his reporting is “certainly sympathetic to Wran Labor”, according to biographer Paddy Manning, and critical of the Liberals.15

    16th July, 1976 – Turnbull writes in opposition to the federal Liberal government’s efforts to restore fiscal federalism by offloading the income tax.8

    1977 – Turnbull is hired by The Bulletin magazine to write on legal issues and politics. Despite his youth and inexperience, he writes with such arrogance and irreverence towards judges he perceives as conservative, that he receives a chiding from Justice of the High Court, Sir Harry Gibbs. Turnbull proudly admits as much, saying:

    “I wrote about politics and law for the most part and started a rather irreverent column about legal matters which regularly enraged the more conservative members of the legal profession.”11

    During this time, Turnbull became acquainted with barrister Michael Kirby, a leftist legal radical who was a protégé of Labor left stalwart Lionel Murphy.9 Indeed, Kirby had been appointed to his then post as chair of the Australian Law Reform Commission by Murphy.

    As previously stated, Murphy was a university friend of Turnbull’s mother, and Turnbull had written sympathetically towards Murphy, praising him for “dragging our law into the 20th century” and being willing to throw precedent out the window in (conveniently & erroneously) reinterpreting the Constitution to further the ‘progressive’ ideological agenda.9

    Kirby became one of Turnbull’s mentors, and Turnbull praised him as a reformer whilst calling non-radical members of the legal profession “reactionary”:

    “Kirby had acquired a reputation as a legal radical, which says more about the stiff and reactionary world of the legal profession than it does about Kirby’s rather mild reformist philosophy.”10

    Another of Turnbull’s mentors in the legal profession was future High Court Justice, Michael McHugh.10 McHugh is so far to the left that he told students at Sydney University:

    “My own social views are probably as radical as anyone in this room – maybe more so.”

    McHugh’s wife Jeannette was a federal Labor MP10 and is now the Chair of the Jessie Street Trust, an organisation that celebrates a Stalin-loving communist and former Labor candidate named Jessie Street.

    October, 1977 – Turnbull wins a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University, with references from prominent leftists, including NSW Labor Premier Neville Wran; the radical judge, Michael Kirby; and NSW Supreme Court Chief Justice Laurence Street, the son of the communist activist, Stalin-admirer, and former Labor Party candidate, Jessie Street.10

    10th December, 1977 – Writing for The Bulletin in an article titled “Time for Sir Garfield to sail away“, Turnbull calls for the resignation of the Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Garfield Barwick, for being what Turnbull thinks is too politically conservative in his judgements. In the same article Turnbull expresses support for the infamous radical left-wing activist High Court “Justice”, Lionel Murphy, a Labor-appointee and former Attorney-General in the Whitlam Labor government.

    7th February, 1978 – Turnbull, in an article titled “The Vicious World of Student Politics” for The Bulletin magazine, attacks a conservative Sydney University Student Representative Councilmember named Tony Abbott, saying:

    “The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS [The Australian Union of Students] in the Australian [newspaper] and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve… While he can win support from students because of the shocking state of affairs in AUS, he cannot take the next step because of his conservative moral views.”

    7th Feb, 1978 edition of The Bulletin magazine.
    1978 – Acting for his client, Australian Consolidated Press, Turnbull travels to the US, to the original Playboy mansion in Chicago, to organise a deal to produce an Australian version of the American pornographic magazine, Playboy. There he meets Playboy Enterprises vice-president Christie Hefner, daughter of Hugh, and a deal is successfully negotiated.
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