Friday, January 2, 2009


Our grandfather, Tom Compson Trumble (1898–1970), known to the Peter Trumbles as “Pa,” and to the Colin Trumbles as “Cum-pa,” was the youngest of the six children of John William Trumble, the cricketing legend and solicitor of note, and his wife Susan (née Davies).

All five of Pa’s older siblings were interesting, and each bore the middle name of Compson, presumably some now forgotten inheritance of their mother’s family, who lived in a pretty house called Leddicott in Lavender Bay, McMahon’s Point, North Sydney. I presume her mother’s maiden name was Compson.

Mabel Compson Trumble (1889–1961) was a teacher of French and English and for some years joined the staff of an exclusive school for young ladies at Montreux in Switzerland. Auntie Mab, as she was known, was the author of a French reader for young children entitled Micheline et Didi, which, together with charming illustrations by her brother-in-law, the artist A. E. (“Peter”) Newbury, and slightly less interesting ones drawn by a cousin, Arthur C. Trumble (more like diagrams, really), was published in Melbourne in 1935 by Macmillan, in association with McCarron, Bird & Co.

Micheline and Didi are fox cubs who live with their parents, Monsieur et Madame Renard, in a comfortable, middle-class, three-storey tree-house with hammock. According to our eccentric cousin Robert, this brief but intelligent publication may be regarded as the first book ever written by a Trumble. But it also attests to the vision and prescience of McCarron, Bird & Co., whose shrewd proprietor obviously recognized that spark of genius that distinguishes Trumble women in every generation, as indeed his grandson Bruce Stewart did, and still does.

John Compson (“Jack”) Trumble (1891–1968) served in the A.I.F. during World War I, and afterwards settled at Red Cliffs, a few miles south of Mildura, on the River Murray, where he occupied himself with the cultivation, harvest, and production of dried fruit. Uncle Jack was a confirmed bachelor, and evidently a familiar figure in the Long Room at the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Ruth Compson Trumble (1892–1964), affectionately known as Auntie Winkie, married the tonalist painter and disciple of Max Meldrum A. E. (Peter) Newbury. She is to be seen, seated in a comfortable leeward dune at Anglesey, with two separate representations of the same little boy, their son David Newbury, who grew up to be an artist also, in a fine oil painting from the mid-1920s by Peter Newbury that currently hangs in my brother’s sitting-room in South Melbourne.

Hugh Compson Trumble (1894–1962), graduated M.B.B.S. from the University of Melbourne and at the outbreak of World War I joined the first A.I.F. as a medical officer, and served in France. He won the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in action, and went on to become a pioneering neurosurgeon, working for many years, indeed attaining great eminence at the Alfred Hospital, in close collaboration with his brother-in-law, the distinguished neurologist Dr. Leonard B. Cox. He is fondly remembered as an ingenious inventor in his Toorak potting shed of surgical instruments, including (inter alia) a grotesque but ingenious device for lifting portions of skull that is to this day known as a “plough.”

Nancy Compson Trumble (b. 1896) married Leonard B. Cox in 1925, and subsequently engaged Edna Walling to create a beautiful garden at Folly Farm at Olinda, in the Dandenong Ranges, just outside Melbourne. Aunt Nan was a keen golfer, and I think it may have been through her that Pa and Nona (Iona Heather Campbell) first met in about 1919, appropriately on the golf links at Royal Melbourne. Certainly prior to the Coxes’ marriage, Miss Trumble (Aunt Nan) and Mrs. Trumble (Nona) are frequently listed as golfing partners on the Victorian Ladies’ Interstate Team, with entirely respectable handicaps.

Tom Compson Trumble went to school at Brighton Grammar School, metriculated at the very early age of sixteen, and was dux of the school. He commenced his legal studies at the University of Melbourne in 1914, but these were eventually interrupted by the war. Like his two brothers, Pa joined up as soon as he could, aged eighteen, serving not in the A.I.F., but at first from June 1916 in the Royal Naval Air Service, and subsequently as a pilot officer in the Royal Flying Corps based at Folkstone in England. In effect he was a pioneer of the R.A.F.

Somewhere out over the North Sea, on July 24, 1917, Pa and his crew sank a German U-boat by dropping something lethal out of the cockpit of their flying boat, an achievement that was mentioned in despatches, and eventually garnered a payment from the Admiralty of £3 3s 3d, his share of the prize money. On another occasion his flying boat was shot down over the North Sea, and one of his crew was killed. He successfully ditched the bullet-riddled aircraft, and released his carrier pigeons. These brought word of the incident to home base, and a destroyer was immediately dispatched to tow him back to England. They must have had to wait for quite a long time, not knowing if the enemy was in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately the flying boat sank en route, but without any further loss of life.

After the War, Pa resumed his legal studies at Melbourne, obtaining in record time the truncated LL.B. that was devised for ex-servicemen. It was still relatively unusual for solicitors to earn law degrees, and in fact Pa showed such talent at university that he was encouraged to consider teaching in the law school. Instead he chose to become articled to an ancient solicitor at Malleson, Stewart, Stawell and Nankivell, as it was then known, and was on March 1, 1920, admitted to practice at the Victorian bar. By then Pa was engaged to Nona, the only daughter of Alexander Campbell, a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Block 14 Company, Ltd., and Chairman of the King Island Scheelite Co. They got married the following year, when Pa was a salaried solicitor at Mallesons. They spent their honeymoon adventurously cruising on a motorcycle, Nona riding comfortably in the side-car.

Pa did not remain at Mallesons for very long, however, because in April 1922, three months after Dad was born, evidently not seeing any immediate prospect of entering the full partnership that he had been led to believe might come straight away, Pa left the firm and instead went into partnership with his father, J. W. Trumble, and Edward J. (“Ned”) Hamilton, another young solicitor, and, as “Trumble and Hamilton,” the three men practiced together in Temple Court, 422 Collins Street, Melbourne, until their firm merged discreetly and profitably with Mallesons on Monday, October 27, 193o, and they moved back to 46 Queen Street.

Pa remained a partner at Mallesons for most of the rest of his professional life, eventually becoming senior partner, in which role he was eventually supported by his two eldest sons, Dad and Uncle Colin, who joined Mallesons on the same day not too long after the end of World War II.

The culmination of Pa’s legal career was when he was one of the instructing solicitors to Garfield Barwick, Q.C. (a future Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia) in the famous case of Commonwealth of Australia v. The Bank of New South Wales, which was decided on appeal by their lordships of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Pa came to this enormous case fresh from an impressive victory over the dead hand of socialism in the matter of Melbourne Corporation v. The Commonwealth (State Banking), which reached the High Court of Australia in 1947. From December 10, 1945, he had served as the principal solicitor for the City of Melbourne, a role he eventually lobbed to his younger son, Colin. The justices found that the free-trade provisions of the Australian Constitution prevented the Chifley government from expediently forcing the City of Melbourne to change its banking arrangements to the considerable benefit of Canberra, and at the expense of local ratepayers.

Nan and Pa sailed to England with the Barwicks aboard the Stratheden in 1948, and took up residence at Claridge’s for eighteen months, while the case was prepared, argued, heard, and ultimately decided in the banks’ favor, in effect overruling the High Court of Australia, and overturning the Commonwealth’s wicked Banks Act of 1947.

The case was complex. Pa’s clients were actually the National Bank of Australasia, Ltd., and the Australian Bankers’ Association, but the government of the state of Victoria also had an interest in the matter, arising from the serious implications of the proposed nationalization of the Australian banks for the cultivation in and around Mildura of raisins, and the pertinent and crucial free-trade-between-the-states provision in whichever article of the Australian Constitution, an issue in which Uncle Jack Trumble was obviously deeply concerned.

Rarely, if ever, has dried fruit assumed such constitutional importance, and the case stands as a tribute to the ingenuity, not to say brilliance, of my grandfather’s legal reasoning.

Afterwards Pa sat on the boards of several public companies, including H. B. Dickie, Ltd., the distinguished Australian towel, sheet, and pillow-case manufacturer, and Younghusband, Pty. Ltd., the old firm of stock and station agents, of which he was also chairman. Another was an wholly respectable firm of organ builders, for whom Pa drafted an impeccably worded contract in which a Melbourne representative of the company undertook “to erect an organ in the chancel of St. George’s Church of England, Malvern, according to the churchwardens’ specifications,” of whom Pa also happened to be one.

Pa was a devoted Freemason. He was also a keen golfer, and made a unique contribution to the history of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club when in 1930 the club committee took the controversial decision to sell its land in Sandringham, and seek a new and more spacious but far less convenient and possibly less attractive site further away from Melbourne, there to build a new and extravagant residential club house.

Perceiving the full and worsening impact of what ultimately turned into the Great Depression, Pa conceived a far cheaper and less disruptive solution to the underlying problem, which was that the Club was becoming so hemmed in by semi-rural/semi-suburban development in the locality, and the links so overcrowded, that future growth and prosperity seemed impossible. So over a period of several months he walked all over the surrounding neighborhood of Cheltenham, patiently and quietly seeking options to purchase from the local cocky farmers enough contiguous (above all cheap) blocks of land on which to lay out a second eighteen-hole golf course, adjacent to the original.

For this plan to work it was vital for these negotiations to be conducted with each cocky as discreetly as possible, so that none of them got wind of the Club’s intentions, and the prices were held down as far as possible. When the Club committee, of which he was not a member, haughtily rejected Pa’s shrewd plan (even though by then he had successfully secured the vital options for the equivalent of a song), a majority of members forced its resignation and substituted men of vision, who proceeded to save the Club a fortune by going ahead and carrying it out.

One thinks of the famous epitaph of Sir Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s and, in respect of Pa, hearty, otherwise oblivious golfers playing the second course at Royal Melbourne might justly say Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

I have only the faintest recollections of Pa, mainly, I think, as an enormous pair of highly polished brogues, which I recall studying intently at floor level in the sitting-room at 18, Denham Place. I must have been at most a toddler, but by all accounts Pa was a pretty silent man, evidently as shy as he was gentle, hardworking, and clever. By this date he had assumed the role in semi-retirement as the one of the first two consultants to his firm (1965). The other was Roy Macarthur. Pa retained that position until March 3, 1970, the day he died.

Like Nona, Pa was a rather stylish smoker of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, and was also noted for his own method of preparing an enormous, proper, and somehow rather surprisingly uncharacteristic Caesar Salad, an art which he learned whilst vacationing in the United States.

Evidently, Pa drove Nona right across, from Boston, Mass., to San Francisco, following back roads, and collecting match-books along the way. These exotic mementoes used to live in a large bowl on a side-table at Gordon Grove. Had these survived one might easily have reconstructed that epic journey, but I prefer to think of them taking the southern route, and being captivated by a fine Caesar Salad somewhere stylish, in Santa Fe, N.M., perhaps, or Palm Springs, Calif.

Pa and Nona raised their four boys in the pretty old house in Huntingtower Road, Armadale. The family car was known as “Leaping Lena,” a vague acknowledgment that, as much as he had been a brilliant, not to say heroic airman, Pa was somewhat less reliable on the open road.

In a privately published volume of reminiscences, Uncle Colin has sketched a beautiful portrait of the family’s happy life in Huntingtower Road. Pa used to get up at 5.30 in the morning to “clean out the clinker,” and get the coke-fired hot water started. How many city solicitors today could do that, or even contemplate it?

They built a little holiday house in amongst the tea-tree scrub in Macgregor Avenue, Portsea, and, after Pa retired, they moved to Pearcedale on the Mornington Peninsula, and, finally, to a sleak and snappy small modernist house in Gordon Grove, South Yarra, tucked into a fiendishly inconvenient spot just off Punt Road, on the busiest, steepest, and most lethal stretch of the hill rising on the left bank of the Yarra.

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