Colin Bingham (1898-1986)
At the centre of things.
Colin Bingham was one of the first generation of Queensland figures to be educated at the University of Queensland. His immediate contemporaries included Jack Lindsay, the lexicographer Eric Partridge and the controversial publisher P.R. “Inky” Stevenson. Lindsay, Partridge and Stevenson all left Queensland to build their reputations, shortly after graduation. Bingham stayed, and became an important figure in the emerging literary landscape.
Colin Bingham was born in 1898, near Richmond, in North Queensland. His father was a publican, and he was raised principally in the newly established town of Maxwelton (present population 107). Somehow, in these remote surrounds, he became entranced by literature. He spent 4 years as a boarder at Townsville Grammar School and enlisted in the AIF for the First World War. But he did not serve overseas and was discharged due to a ‘vascular weakness in the heart’.
By 1920 he had found his way to Brisbane, where he enrolled at the University of Queensland, and edited the University’s literary magazine Galmahra. Bingham found work as a journalist, first at the Townsville Bulletin, then at the Brisbane Telegraph. All the while, he sought an audience for his poetry. His poems ‘The Brisbane Gardens’ and ‘The Brisbane Centenary’ won University of Queensland prizes for poetry in 1923 and 1924, respectively.
Bingham’s first book of poems, Marcinelle, and other verses, appeared in 1925. It is damned by faint praise, in the foreward, by the University’s first professor of English, J.J. Stable.
‘To dip into the following pages will not lead to a feeling of disappointment…. [Bingham] presents his view of life in a simple, straight-forward language that harmonises with the thought expressed, and emphasizes the keynote of his worth, sincerity’
However, Bingham persisted. He formed a literary alliance with Edgar Holt, and they published two issues of a little magazine called theMerlin Papers, before Holt went interstate. Bingham’s second book, A Book of Verse  is dedicated to Holt, and contains experiments in modernist poetry, or at least free verse:
You were young then:
You had not known the flesh of women,
Desire renewed in its own ashes….
(from The Photograph)
These words come from somewhere in T.S. Eliot in between ‘mixing memory and desire’ and showing ‘fear in a handful of dust’.
While his poetry did not prosper, his journalism certainly did. He progressed to senior positions in the Telegraph, and as its literary editor, helped to bring Brian Vrepont and James Picot to prominence.
Bingham left Brisbane in at the outbreak of the second world war, first to London and then to Sydney, where he eventually became editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. Late in life he published two more books of poetry, and a memoir of his Queensland days, The Beckoning Horizon, which shows Bingham as a complex, rounded character full of interesting perspectives.
He was naturally a conservative. He did not believe in social welfare; he asked for ‘no advancement at someone else’s expense', and expected 'the malcontent to get up off his arse and ‘go’’ and he supported conscription: ‘I could never see why the volunteers of any nation should bear the brunt of battle’. Yet some of his attitudes were, or became, more liberal: he concludes that the ‘white Australians had failed in their duty to the real natives of this country’ and he wrote fondly of the bohemians Jack Lindsay and Inky Stevenson.
Bingham died in 1986, leaving behind a loving family, a happy marriage, and an extraordinary trail of literary and professional accomplishments . Yet he confessed that in his early days he ‘wanted to be above all a poet’. And I suspect that he never left that dream behind.
Best book to buy: Bingham, C. A Book of Verse, Brisbane, Carter Watson, 1929.
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