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How the road unravelled: In conversation with Kate Holden

  • 14 July 2023
Winner of the 2021 Walkley Book Award, The Winter Road is a ranging meditation on a 2014 execution-style murder committed on a dirt track in Croppa Creek, in northwest New South Wales. Environment and heritage inspector Glen Turner had been investigating wealthy Moree farmer Ian Turnbull for illegal clearing of native vegetation. What should have been a routine departmental visit became a cruel and protracted cat-and-mouse chase when Turnbull began shooting at Mr Turner — a chase that only ended when Turner was dead. Eureka Street’s Barry Gittins speaks to author Kate Holden about her prize-winning account of the crime, reminding readers of the uneasy history of predation in this country and the damage it does to the land and to the people on it.

What have you discovered about the motivations behind the decision of a gnarled, embittered old man to take the life of another. Was it some quest for intergenerational wealth or legacy? Perhaps radically different worldviews, an interpersonal conflict, or the outcome of poor mental health?

As I started writing this, I hoped it would be straightforward, but of course, it actually turned out to be very complicated. There were so many factors — 20 different causes and 20 different consequences. The Turnbulls were products of their culture. They were consumed by pride and maintaining their sense of status in their community. In terms of the clearing of the land, they looked around and thought, ‘everybody else is doing it’, and so turned native scrub into pristine monocultural fields.

But this was not just a haphazard bit of clearing; it went way beyond environmental ruthlessness. In the face of all the court proceedings that ordered them to cease the illegal clearing, the Turnbulls were too far steeped in blood, with millions and millions of dollars invested.

As we have expanded in Australia, the industrial-scale agricultural stripping of the goodness of the land has manifested in the law of diminishing returns. There is a cycle of boom and bust, which sees reactive policies and the end game, for Turnbull, of ‘no boundaries at all’. There is no equilibrium. That is in stark contrast to the stable relationship with the land that was cherished for millennia on this continent.

You bring to bear a historical awareness in telling the story of this murder. We see the legacy of anti-authoritarianism, the myths of the Aussie battler and Gallipoli larrikins, twinkling rogues drawing from the