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Bingham, Colin William Hughie (1898–1986)

by Chris Lawe Davies

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Colin William Hughie Bingham (1898-1986), journalist, was born on 10 July 1898 at Twenty Mile Camp, a Cobb & Co. staging post near Richmond, Queensland, eighth of nine surviving children of Irish-born parents Henry Bingham, hotelkeeper, and his wife Ellen, née Cahill. Raised a Catholic, he was to abandon his faith as a youth. In 1907 the Binghams, who owned a tavern called the North Star, moved the ramshackle structure to Maxwelton, beside the Richmond-Cloncurry railway line then under construction. Colin was later to observe that `the environment of a country pub was hard on a lad with fewer prosaic yearnings than most’. He received his early education from a `staccato succession of governesses’, and at the age of 12 wrote a novel on brown paper with a carpenter’s pencil. Copied by his sister Martha, it was sent to a publisher in New York and never heard of again.

In 1912 Colin attended Townsville Central State School for boys, and in 1913-16 he boarded at Townsville Grammar School, where the headmaster, Percy Rowland, encouraged his love of literature. Having been initially rejected by the army due to poor eyesight—caused by a childhood accident—he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 24 May 1917 but was discharged because of cardiac weakness on 19 September. Back at Maxwelton, he helped at the North Star and wrote small pieces that he sent to the Bulletin. His mother died in 1918; next year he sold his beloved books to a passing commercial traveller and moved to Brisbane. Entering St John’s College, University of Queensland, he enrolled in the faculty of arts in 1920. He befriended other `scribblers’, among them Jack Lindsay, Edgar Holt, Eric Partridge and Percy Stephensen, won the Ford memorial medal for poetry, and established the college magazine, Argo.

After eighteen months of lacklustre academic performance and unable to afford to continue at university, in June 1921 Bingham returned to Townsville and picked up work as a proofreader on the Daily Bulletin. In May 1922 he submitted and published his first leader column, on the League of Nations, thus beginning his career as a journalist. Later that year he went back to Brisbane and joined the staff of the Telegraph. In 1923 he began an evening course in journalism at the University of Queensland (Dip.Journ., 1925), and on 17 November at St George’s Church of England, Windsor, he married Alexa Mary Strachan, a fellow student. Editor of the university magazine Galmahra, he won Ford medals in 1923 and 1924 and published two books of poetry.

At the Telegraph Bingham wrote theatre and concert notes, leaders, and the pseudonymous Middlemarch’s `Notes on the News’, a mixture of editorial comment and poetry. He then edited the Saturday literary page, and in 1930 became the paper’s literary editor. Seeking material that was not `unintelligible to reasonably well-educated readers’, he included poems by his friends James Picot and Brian Vrepont. As a journalist, he worked hard and covered most fields except parliament and finance. In the 1930s, representing the Queensland branch of the Australian Journalists’ Association, he helped to revise the university’s diploma course in journalism.

In January 1940 Bingham was seconded to Australian Associated Press, London. Two years later he returned to Australia and took up a post on the Sydney Morning Herald; in 1943 he went back to London as a correspondent for that paper. His wartime reporting concentrated on political rather than military developments in Europe; he also travelled in the Levantine states, writing on such topics as the Jewish-Arab `problem’ in Palestine, the independence struggles in Lebanon, and negotiations between the Allied Military Mission and the Turkish government. In November 1943 he reported on the Allied leaders’ conference in Cairo.

From March 1944 until the invasion of Normandy in June, Bingham was based in England, reporting on diplomatic events. Now an official war correspondent, he was accredited to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in London and in Paris, until the German surrender in May 1945. He covered the Potsdam conference in July that year. Continuing as a diplomatic correspondent, he returned to Sydney in 1948 as leader-writer and foreign affairs commentator for the Sydney Morning Herald. He was appointed associate-editor in 1957 and editor in 1961. As editor he was able to balance his literary and diplomatic interests, and to inspire in journalists a broader appreciation of public affairs. After retiring in 1965 he published books of poetry and quotations, and an autobiography, The Beckoning Horizon (1983). Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 24 February 1986 at Wahroonga and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Feb 1986, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald Archives, Sydney
  • Bingham papers (National Library of Australia)
  • personal information.

Citation details

Chris Lawe Davies, 'Bingham, Colin William Hughie (1898–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bingham-colin-william-hughie-12211/text21895, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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