Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Tullipan, Ronald William (1917–1975)

by Nancy Bonnin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ronald William Tullipan (1917-1975), author, was born on 10 October 1917 at Murwillumbah, New South Wales, fourth son of native-born parents Edgar William Tullipan, a travelling showman, and his wife Vera Hilda, née Gumsffres. Ron's schooling was erratic; his parents divorced in 1929 and for some time he was a State ward, living in St Vincent's Orphanage, Brisbane. As a young man, short and slightly built, he did farmwork in the Warwick district and found it extremely hard. During the Depression he went on the road, but later found employment as a builder's labourer. On 23 October 1937 at St Ita's Church, Dutton Park, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites 14-year-old Kathrine Mary Power. Two of their four daughters died in infancy.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 July 1941, Tullipan was posted to the 5th Armoured Regiment. He became 'a bit rebellious about not being sent abroad' and suffered numerous periods of detention for disobedience and absence without leave. In November 1944 he was posted to the 58th/59th Battalion and next month arrived in Bougainville. After being wounded in action in May 1945, he was discharged from the A.I.F. in Brisbane on 22 November.

During his army service Tullipan developed a 'fever to write', teaching himself by dissecting the work of others. Divorcing his wife in 1947, he went to Sydney, hoping to establish himself as a writer. He lived with Florence Vivienne (Vi) Murray, née James; she and her son adopted his surname. In the early 1950s they moved to Cairns where he worked on the wharfs loading sugar and becoming involved in union affairs. His experiences reinforced his strong sympathies for the workingman. Continuing his efforts to improve his writing skills, he had some short stories published in popular magazines such as Australian Journal, sometimes under the nom-de-plume 'Nudgee'. He also earned money as a commercial artist. The couple travelled overseas in 1955 and again towards the end of the decade, when they visited the Soviet Union. In 1958-60 they ran a confectionery shop in London, and Tullipan took art lessons.

On their return to Sydney, the Australasian Book Society published Tullipan's first novel, Follow the Sun (1960), which was based on his observations of the waterfront. He developed a style which was honest and realistic. His work displayed a sense of form, though it was often naive in character portrayal. His autobiographical novels Rear Vision (1961) and March into Morning (1962) both won Dame Mary Gilmore awards. For about six years from 1962 he lived in the Blue Mountains at Springwood, but maintained his literary connexions in Sydney and lectured for the Australasian Book Society. A member of the Sydney Realist Writers' Group, he became president (1967) of the national council and served (1967-70) on the editorial board of the Realist. Although a bushfire in November 1968 destroyed his house and possessions, he completed his last novel, Daylight Robbery (1970), a story reflecting his knowledge of bushranger history, particularly the Ned Kelly story.

In 1970 Tullipan was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund fellowship of $3000. His writing and art were not selling, and after living in Sydney for a while the couple moved in 1973 to Brisbane where he became vice-president of the Queensland branch of the Artists' Guild of Australia. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 24 November 1975 in Brisbane and was buried in Dutton Park cemetery. His two daughters and Vi Tullipan, who had steadfastly supported him in his literary endeavours, survived him. His estate was valued at $1237. A self-portrait (1951) is held by the University of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • H. de Berg, interview with Ron Tullipan (transcript, 1969, National Library of Australia)
  • Tullipan papers (University of Queensland Library and National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Nancy Bonnin, 'Tullipan, Ronald William (1917–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tullipan-ronald-william-11890/text21295, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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