How I brilliantly battled boyhood bullies

BOOK REVIEW:

The Bug is proud to run the first of several advance extracts from the long-awaited autobiography from Malcolm Turnbull, to be published shortly.

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While much has been written about the supposed effects on me when mother walked out on our family – and I accept it probably played some small role in the development of the amazingly successful businessman and political world leader that I inevitably became – can I state right here and now I was glad to see the back of her.

She went out the front door with nary a kind word or a parting cuddle and never looked back and I can recall the day vividly even now: it was exactly 200 days before my 10th birthday and I remember that clearly because that’s exactly the same as my IQ.

I know father was shattered but even at that tender age I had the compassion, maturity and decency of someone three times my age to give him a big hug and say: “Pater, we don’t need that awful fucking slut in our lives.”

I know that cheered him up, although he looked me up and down and said: “Malcolm, we really are going to have to work on that mouth of yours.”

But I’m afraid what I had to say was true. Mummy did – how do vulgar people say it –  spread it around a bit, which is why I have always held strong views about marriage and its obligations. And that’s why there has always been only one true love in my life and I’ve been very fortunate to have Lucy by my side as well.

And that’s why I, much later in life as Australia’s greatest ever prime minister, had to give a very public dressing down to one of my parliamentary colleagues who clearly had enormous difficulty, if I can be quite vulgar here to make the point, “keeping it in his pants”.

I was too young back then to understand the sexual dynamics that may or may not have existed between my parents – and I understand it would be have been completely sensible not to want a second child once they had been gifted me – but mummy was never really happy from what I remember of her.

I’m sure she once loved my father Bruce but I’d understand completely if she felt let down by whatever foolish promises he might have made to her in the first flush of love as to what his ambitions in life were.

As it turned out, he constantly struggled to make a living as what common tradesfolk call a “sparkie” and then also made a complete hash of selling real estate, specialising in buying and selling pubs. He clearly wasn’t much good at it.

I know mummy was embarrassed when mixing with other wives in the inner-eastern suburbs that we always lived in rented accommodation, some of it rather tatty. I remember one place that admittedly had nice views across the harbour but some of its levels had only the one lavatory.

It can’t have been easy for her at the social tennis and golf clubs having to mix with the Vaucluse wives of barristers, surgeons and international Qantas pilots. And I can distinctly remember how horrified poor mummy was when other wives down at the 18 Footer Yacht Club at Double Bay discovered that the properties father bought and sold were not his own. And that we didn’t own a boat either. Come to think of it, it was not long afterwards when mummy left us.

In fact I think the only times I ever saw mummy really happy was when she was dressing down our household staff over some horrid indiscretion on their part. Once, she even sacked on the spot one of the kitchen hands for laying out the dinner table cutlery incorrectly. Mummy certainly had a temper, and the language would have made a bullocky blush.

With that inherent toughness, she provided valuable life lessons for me as to the stations people hold in life and while Australia might not have the rigid class system as exists in Great Britain, good societies come from people knowing their place and being content with their lot.

Despite mummy’s departure, I believe my childhood was reasonably happy – at home at least. I wish I could say the same for my years at St Nobb’s Private School for Incredibly Gifted Boys in Rose Bay (pictured at top).

I’ve never understood why young boys pick on their betters but it’s true and I was bullied mercilessly in my years there.

They would pull and tug at the beautiful all-woollen deep-blue longcoat I always preferred to wear over the college’s awful uniform and they often knocked my top hat onto the ground and stomped on it.

I was fairly small for my age back then, which might surprise many considering the strapping, tall and almost unfairly handsome and eloquent man I was to become, but I never, ever backed down. “Naff off, you ignorant peasants,” I would shout before running off to the college library.

I found solace in the many fine books to be found there and I read voraciously, knowing full well that when my father finally passed on, he would leave me next to nothing and it would be entirely up to my own amazing devices to make something really important and very special of myself.

Next extract: Left virtually penniless after his father dies in a plane crash, the young Malcolm Turnbull sets about making his mark in journalism, the law and business.