‘Battler’ Turnbull’s family income in the 1950s was 7 times the average

16th June, 2016

Malcolm Turnbull recently posted an emotional video on his Facebook page, outlining his “battler” upbringing. In the video Turnbull says:

“Most of my childhood I spent with my dad. He was a single father, and we lived together – two guys – big brother and little brother really was the type of relationship. We were incredibly close. We didn’t have much money. He was a hotel broker and for most of that time he was battling like a lot of people are, a lot of single parents are, certainly.”

But does this video provide an accurate picture of Turnbull’s childhood? To answer that question, let’s take a more detailed look at Malcolm’s family history.

Prior to meeting Malcolm’s father, his mother, Coral Lansbury, was married to wealthy ABC radio producer George H. Edwards (40 years her senior). In August 1953 Edwards died, just six months into their marriage. They had been living in a luxury harbourside apartment in Sydney, at 14 Longworth Avenue, Point Piper, directly adjacent to the secluded Lady Martin’s Beach and Felix Bay.

Edwards also owned two other luxury apartments in the same building, and left behind an estate worth £32,766. Income from the estate was to be divided three ways, between his two daughters from a previous marriage, and Coral, provided she didn’t remarry.

To give you an idea of how much £32,766 was worth in 1953, it was a time when average weekly earnings (before tax) were roughly £16, members of parliament had an annual salary of £1375, and you could buy a new two-bedroom house on a quarter-acre block in the growing suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney for about £2,500.

At this time Turnbull’s mother was already a well-known radio playwright and actress, with her works appearing on the ABC, 2UW, and other stations. In the pre-television era, these radio programs were popular, and she would’ve been making a very good living, a large chunk of which was coming from the taxpayer-funded ABC. This was, of course, in addition to the income she was now receiving from the Edwards estate, which was also accumulated on the back of the taxpayer, via the ABC.

Coral continued to live in the luxury Longworth Avenue apartment after Edwards died, and in the summer of 1953-54 found herself staring out the window at a strapping life-saver doing laps along the beach. That man was Bruce Turnbull, a real estate agent who also lived in an apartment on Longworth Avenue. They met on the beach, and Malcolm was conceived very soon after.

Malcolm Turnbull’s parents met here, at Lady Martin’s Beach, in the summer of 1953-54.

Malcolm was born on the 24th of October, 1954, but Coral and Bruce were still unmarried. Of course, had they married Coral would’ve forfeited her interest in George Edwards’ estate.

With Malcolm born, Coral would now front court seeking a lump sum pay-out from the estate. Her solicitor in the matter was her close friend, and future NSW Labor Premier, Neville Wran.

In November 1954, the trustees of George Edwards’ estate advertised the three luxury apartments for auction (see below), and Coral was able to secure a pay-out of £3,100, relinquishing any further interest in the estate.

Advertisement from the Sydney Morning Herald (6th November, 1954, pg. 26).

Coral, Bruce and baby Malcolm then moved into a “luxury house” in Roseville, according to a December 1954 article in the Sydney Truth newspaper. The article also reported that Coral and Bruce were married, and that Malcolm was premature, but this wasn’t true. In fact, they didn’t marry until the following December, 12 months later, according to NSW state government marriage records.

They soon purchased and settled in an apartment at 119 New South Head Road, Vaucluse (pictured below), with views across Sydney Harbour. It was a downgrade from the Edwards apartment in Point Piper, but it was still very good. Today these apartments are worth around $1 million dollars each.

Block of four apartments at 119 New South Head Rd, Vaucluse.
The view from 119 New South Head Rd, Vaucluse.

Here in Vaucluse Coral churned out the scripts, and her income grew rapidly, much of it from the ABC. In March 1957 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Coral’s income alone was £5,000 per year, when the average taxable Australian income was roughly £753 per year. This was noteworthy because, at the time, the majority of women were focused on raising children and home duties.

Article from the Sydney Morning Herald (14 March, 1957).

If you add Malcolm’s father’s wage into the equation, young Malcolm was living in a household with a gross income over 7 times higher than that of the average Australian.

At the beginning of 1963, aged 8 years, Malcolm was sent to board at Sydney Grammar’s preparatory school in St Ives, 20km north of the Sydney CBD. In the same year, Coral transitioned into academia. She was appointed a lecturer at the University of NSW School of History, where she specialised in trade union history (especially the AWU) and English literature.

It was at the University of NSW that Coral began an affair with Professor John Salmon, and left Bruce. The Vaucluse house was sold, and in 1964 Bruce rented a new apartment at 13 Gladswood Gardens, Double Bay (pictured below), right on the harbour. Malcolm would stay at this apartment when he was home from boarding at Sydney Grammar.

Block of apartments @ 13 Gladswood Gardens, Double Bay.
The view from the Gladswood Gardens apartment block.

It is unknown to me how the assets of the marriage were divided, but Malcolm says he and his father went through “financial hardship” and were “battling” at this time, which is very difficult to believe. What happened to all the money? Who paid for Malcolm’s continued attendance at one of the most prestigious schools in the country? Was there a trust fund? What was Bruce’s income at this time?

These questions haven’t been answered.

In 1970, when Malcolm was 15, Bruce moved into a luxury three-bedroom apartment at 7 Longworth Avenue, Point Piper, with spectacular views of the harbour (pictured below). Today the apartment is worth $3-4 million.

This was the same area Bruce had met Coral 16 years before, and he was now happily remarried to an air hostess named Judith Norma Womersley. Malcolm has said of Judith that she was “a very warm woman, nice woman…I had a very good relationship with her“, and Turnbull’s biographer, Paddy Manning, says this luxury apartment was Malcolm’s base for most of the next decade.

Luxury apartment block @ 7 Longworth Avenue, Point Piper.
The view from 1/7 Longworth Avenue, Point Piper.

Bruce expanded his wealth via the real estate business, and when he died in a plane crash in 1982, the then 28-year-old Malcolm inherited an estate worth approximately $7 million in today’s dollars.

Today Malcolm lives in a $50 million mansion just a few doors down from the apartment at 7 Longworth Avenue, and just two doors down from the apartment his mother lived in when she met his father, at 14 Longworth Avenue.

Malcolm Turnbull’s mansion @ 46 Wunulla Rd, Point Piper.

Clearly, Malcolm was never deprived of material wealth, but he was deprived of something far more important… a maternal mother. What he had instead was a “liberated” atheist-feminist who would send him off to kindergarten all day while she worked on her scripts and made her riches.

Malcolm though, continues to support feminist ideology and policies of the kind enunciated and practiced by the mother who abandoned him. He has imbibed the ideology of his oppression, thus the oppressed has become the oppressor.


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