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TURNER, Ian Alexander Hamilton (1922-1978)

TURNER, Ian Alexander Hamilton (1922-1978)

Ian Turner, academic, political activist and historian, grew up at Nhill in Victoria’s Wimmera District where he went to Nhill Elementary School.

His father, Francis Herbert Blackley Turner, was a stock and station agent. His mother was Nina Florence née Lang. Ian gained a scholarship to attend the Geelong College as a boarder from 1936 to 1939 becoming a School Prefect in 1939, a Lieutenant of the Cadet Corps and Captain of Calvert House. In 1938, he won the College Debating Society Prize. He originally left College to attend Melbourne University in 1940 where eventually, after three years war service, he graduated in law in 1948, and arts in 1949. His wartime career was spent in Queensland and briefly, New Guinea. By war’s end he was working for the Army Education Service where he honed many of his teaching skills. During his second period at Melbourne University he become a joint-editor of the student newspaper Farrago, Secretary of the Labor Club, and Secretary and President of the Students’ Representative Council. He also became a leading member of the Communist Partyof Australia (CPA).

It was his membership of the Communist Party that dominated the next 10 years of his life until, like so many Communist Party members of that era he became disillusioned after the 1956 invasion of Hungry and the revelations of Josef Stalin’s misdeeds. He was Secretary of the Australian Peace Council and for six years Secretary of the Australasian Book Council. Expelled from the Communist Party in about 1958 he proceeded to complete a PhD at ANU before moving to Adelaide University for two years lecturing in History. He was then appointed to Monash University.

Ian had joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP) after his Communist Party expulsion and became equally active in the ALP, on the administrative committee of the Victorian Branch and as President of the Richmond Branch. He also became a member and Deputy –Chairman of the Australia Council. He published vigorously. These included Industrial Labour and Politics, chapters in the The Literature of Australia and New History of Australia, an anthology, The Australian Dream and the populist Cinderella Dressed in Yella. He continued a strong association with the publication Overland from its foundation in 1954 until his death.

During World War II, he was called up for full-time service in the Militia but transferred to the AIF. He served as a driver in Queensland and New Guinea later transferring to the Australian Army Education Service. He was discharged on 7 February 1945.

Historian, Geoff Serle described Ian in a generous portrait in 1979 as possessed of ‘a warm and generous personality, his humility, his open house, his enormous capacity for work and play and, above all perhaps, his ability – so rare among liberal academics – to provide a lead by formulating a reasoned position to almost any and every issue.’

He returned to the Geelong College in 1978 as a ‘scholar-in-residence’ and was interviewed about his experience at Geelong College in the Deakin University production ‘Change and Continuity’. At the time, he was Professor of Australian History at Monash University. He died on 27 December at Erith Island in Bass St where he was holidaying that same year.

Sources: Ad Astra September 1969; Overland No 59 Spring 1974; Overland October 1979 Ian Turner Memorial No.; Continuity and Change 1978, p60; Monash Reporter, March 1979 An Appreciation by Geoff Serle; D. B. Waterson, 'Turner, Ian Alexander Hamilton (1922 - 1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 16, Melbourne University Press, 2002, pp 424-425.
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