Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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So we left England after fourteen years. We had often talked of going back to Australia - but until the last two years, without passion for the idea. For me, never having returned in that time, the reality seemed strange - even faintly confronting - apart from the warm thought of seeing my family. But the idea of change had now become vibrant - we both felt we needed it. Leaving London was part sad nostalgia, part release; friends and that remarkable, squalid, beautiful city, which had never been a bore, were a loss. Jock felt some nostalgia but he had been working up enthusiasm for a return to Australia ever since his work there in 1958. When he knew he had the Chair at Monash he set about planning - and not just academically. From every university town he visited around the country in the months before we left, he brought back antiques. He came striding in excitedly, a half satisfied, half I've-been-naughty grin on his face, clutching a delicate 18th Century birdcage or a fist-full of invoices for the delivery of a chest, a table, a Caucasian rug, or any other 'useful' antique that had taken his fancy. The house filled alarmingly. He was happy; things were happening and he infected us with the feeling.

Our baby daughter was engulfed in this maelstrom of plans and activity. She took it with surprising aplomb for which we, and I in particular, through infant needs and feeding schedules which rapidly devolved into 'demand', were mightily grateful - and grateful too to our beloved helper Ivy Adams who had been there when needed through so many years. I do not remember the detail of that last month - a healing haze has descended. I do know we had a farewell party and finally fell in exhaustion onto a plane bound for Boston on April 1st and made for our destination - Yale University.

Jock gave the Trumbull Lectures during ten days. We stayed on campus in the delightful 17th Century building which the University, with civilised generosity, had set aside for visiting professors and the like. We discovered the charms of the north eastern States, still retaining traces of Elizabethan England, even in their social customs. Children curtsied elegantly on being introduced. We visited Ernst Mayr at Harvard and other friends in old universities of the eastern seaboard, wallowed in the art collections of New York and Washington, and on again to Ohio, and Iowa in the middle plain country, and California, to visit Jock's old army friends who were all medical men. It was an extraordinary three week sweep across the huge changes in American landscape, culture and people, so utterly different from the close-packed differences in Britain. Jock was showing me some of the America he knew with an affectionate flourish and a touch of the entrepreneur. We arrived in Sydney on April 21st, and fell into the welcoming embrace of my family.

Australia again - strange now and yet so familiar. Sydney had changed but in typical style: beauty on one hand and ugliness on the other, encapsulated in what was going on in Sydney Cove - the budding Opera House, its extraordinary and exciting skeleton soaring like a cathedral, and the bald banality of high-rise boxes replacing historic warehouses fringing the quay. Australia had been sloughing off some of its 'Mother England' outlook and was beginning, in spite of its conservative Prime Minister Robert Menzies, to turn its gaze eastwards across the Pacific. But all this had to be absorbed and we had little time to observe or discuss it before Jock had to be off again. He went down to Monash and then in three weeks had to return to America to give the Lida Scott Brown Lectures at the University of California in Los Angeles. He would be away for two months. When he left I leased a cottage near my parents at Palm Beach on the bushy peninsula just north of Sydney that points like a finger into the mouth of the Hawkesbury River. It divides a large part of the estuary from the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean; yellow sand, surf and rock swimming pool on one side, yachts and a little boat that chugged across to the National Park spreading up the river, on the other. There were white-trunked eucalypts scattered thickly between houses, and one in our garden miraculously held a family of koalas. The children were enthralled by new animals and confronted by blood-sucking ticks. It was a world away from London and forays into the English countryside.

On the other side of the Pacific Jock was working, talking and playing. 'We had a hilarious time' said Tony Lee, then working at UCLA and who later became a lecturer in the Zoology Department at Monash - he had been asked to drive Jock about while he was at the University of California in Los Angeles. Jock was in holiday mood. The pressures of the last year in England and the move across the world were gone. Monash was in the future. Wicked amusements floated into mind. The Lida Scott Brown lectures brought to the University distinguished biologists who had an interest in ornithology. The lectures were held in the evening and open to the public, although most of the audience were graduate students and staff, who were distinguished but conservative. The graduate students 'in those days, went through a series of hurdles such as oral exams aimed to "put them in their place".' Jock heard this and could not resist giving the under-dogs a little moral help. 'To one lecture he invited a stunning mullato actress he knew from London days. Remember this was in the days before the race riots of the '60s and certainly before it was widely accepted to mix with people of non-European background' said Tony Lee. Jock arranged for her 'to dress to the hilt, arrive about 15 minutes into the lecture and be escorted on my arm to the very front row of the lecture theatre. The reaction was just what he wanted' - the stuffier elements of the audience were plainly discomforted. There were other tales about a visit to a bar at Ensenada where he sent back the chilli dip saying 'this isn't as hot as Jane's curry.' The astonished Mexican barman did better next time. Jock picked up the bowl and scooped out the contents with a corn chip. His companion said in amazement 'his eyes didn't even water.' These tales kept the students delighted and the lecture theatre full. Tony Lee noticed this characteristic streak back at Monash 'He positioned himself centre stage and when he met someone with similar goals like Harry Waring, he would go to any length to hold him out.' Professor Harry Waring, a good friend, would have made the game difficult. 'I saw Jock as a curious mixture' said Lee 'in Australia he would defend English values, particularly those of Oxford, but overseas he loved to fit the "Australian image". ' Another young man, working at UCLA at the time, impressed Jock and also came to Monash - James Warren, now Professor of Biology there.

Two months later Jock came flying back - actually and metaphorically. He re-charged briefly at Palm Beach, and then in July we were off to Melbourne.


We landed up on a hill just above the tiny settlement (as it was then) of Narre Warren 36 miles from Melbourne. It had a garage, a general store and a two-roomed primary school which Jock said needed only some gum trees to echo Dumbleton. The children deemed it to be just as boring - and confronting after their school in London. Re-tribalisation proved to be a double-edged weapon. David Jamieson had shown Jock a property, called "Oatlands" which seemed to be exactly what we sought. It was to be part of a subdivision of 165 acres. On it was a rambling 19th Century house which would be sold separately with eight acres surrounding it. It was 17 miles from the paddocks of the emerging university, but we didn't care. David and my sister, with enormous generosity, had lent us a car. We were optimistic.

It was the middle of winter. The sun shone often enough; compared with its pallid image in an English winter it seemed bright and warm. The house sat on top of the hill surrounded by majestic old trees, two large barns and a cottage occupied by a friendly country couple who were care-taking the entire property. We discovered there was a hitch in the subdivision - the property was in escrow - but we were allowed to pay a rent and remain there until the question was resolved. 'It's full of charm and inconvenience' said Jock, with deadly accuracy. It had plenty of bedrooms from an earlier era, a huge 'withdrawing' room with an exuberant, Italianate plaster ceiling which had been added about the turn of the century, a dining-room outside which was the only toilet, feeding into a septic tank placed cosily against the kitchen verandah. A bath and a hand-basin occupied the original tiled entrance porch and looked out through a superb old linden tree to the country stretching 40 miles to the coast. I discovered in due course that the large fuel stove in the kitchen couldn't be used because its flue had powdered to rust. There was nothing else. I acquired some primitive electric aids to cooking (we were not allowed to make any alterations to the house). There was a telephone of a design seen only in museums now. It had iron bells on which a band of mice played with tuneless energy whenever the house was quiet. On the tin roof of the encircling, spacious verandah, possums promenaded at night. Underneath a trap door opened onto steps leading to a large cellar.

We fell in love with this uncommon dwelling. It fired us with plans. We spread our collection of furniture, hung pictures and stood off to admire the glow we had made. Jock immediately bought a devilish black pony (Shetland / Welsh cross - aptly called "Thunder") for the children who, up till then, had never been on the back of anything that moved faster than an elephant at the zoo.

The early colleagues at Monash and old friends who came from their civilised dwellings around Melbourne must have conjectured on our sanity when they arrived at this place overgrown with 19th Century plantings and variegated wildlife: possums, house-bats, mice, geese feeding on the tennis court , and "Thunder" who insisted on a beer with the guests in the garden or marched up the wide hall on the slimmest chance with an arrogantly possessive air. Jock encouraged all these activities with a prideful grin - his love of strange pets was satisfied.

I wondered about sanity myself quite often as I dealt with that black pony whose evil intent was to carry nobody. She wiped me and the children off on pine-trees as she aimed deliberately at the lowest branches and galloped over my toe while I tried to pretend to the young that this was the greatest fun. I was as unhorse-trained as my children, but thought I would get away with it since my feet almost touched the ground. And I thought of it as I washed nappies in the bath and ferried the young to school and Jock and the baby Wilga to Monash in the little Morris Minor over the muddy tracks of Dandenong Road (in the throes of becoming a 'highway') or the lovely swampy back road with its water birds flapping through the trees. Jock, who had driven all sorts of vehicles at odd times during the war, had never since bothered with the necessary licence. Now, he had to get it and buy a car with gears on the steering column or an automatic. The police were unimpressed with his habit of holding the wheel with his chest while reaching over to change gears.

The whole set-up was mad and exhausting, but exhilarating. Jock was invigorated and totally involved with the changes for the family and his work; it was his retribalisation plan in full spate.

Jock Marshall: One Armed Warrior by Jane Marshall
Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 25 February 1998
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (
Prepared by: Elissa Tenkate

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