Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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The Weight and Space would be far better taken up by a Spare Penis

Although living on the edge of the city as he was growing up, Jock hardly knew the confinement of a suburban garden. He could gallop his horse over grass, wander along the creek, shoot rabbits - in fact, until he went to high-school his experiences would not have been very different had he lived at Wondalga.

Even after he went to school at Kogarah High, which he detested, he could escape at week-ends into an area he always loved - the National Park stretching along the coast to the south of Sydney. Honeycombed sandstone headlands with a tumble of rocks at their feet occasionally give way to a beach and an oasis of palms. Climbing up to the top of this coastal rampart you come on miles of windswept scrub spiked with grass trees. Suddenly it will drop into a valley full of secretive birds and animals; perhaps wide where a stream runs clear over rocks and pink-trunked angophoras spread twisting limbs; or deep and full of turpentine trees and pale eucalypts reaching straight for the sun. An azure kingfisher might flash over dark water. It was here, in forest undergrowth umbrellared by tree ferns, that Jock saw for the first time the handsome blue satin bower bird which later became an important subject of his work.

At home there was talk of laziness and careers.

In Oxford in 1949, just after taking his Doctorate of Philosophy, he wrote - 'I'm really working moderately consistently because I like doing that. What a difference from school days! I wouldn't work because I didn't like it. I can still recall Dad's 'He's lazy,' and later, when I wasn't lazy, 'You're on the wrong track - you should decide to go into politics!' and when I told them of some small achievement 'But is there any money in it?' - humorously and kindly. How lucky for me that neither Pop nor Nin really cared that there was no financial gain from any of my early, utterly unimportant (except as character forming) achievements.'

The allusion to politics is strange. No doubt it was made light-heartedly at the time. There was no tradition of any such activity in the family and one can only suppose Robert was trying to harness his son's great talent for argument and talk into something useful. Robert was also interested in engineering for his son (as a pipe-dream presumably in view of Jock's overwhelming academic laziness). His son was totally uninterested and the only engineering he did was in the local garage. One of his friends of later years, himself an engineer, looked on a small stone-paved drive which Jock had devised - 'That's a zoologists drive!' he said with amused distaste.

Jock arrived at Kogarah High School with a well-developed ability to avoid learning anything that bored him. It seemed most of the school curriculum bored him, and he set about amusing himself. He did not amuse the teachers. At home he read omnivorously. This further irritated his sister, who had been sent to a girls' boarding school and forced to work. Later, his brother-in-law added unequivocally 'he was a "bum" at that time.' Jock would have acknowledged the sentiment. He was always astounded at his parents' tolerance - 'I was a monumentally lazy little bastard, did almost nothing but lie around reading and couldn't have got a job on the Water Board.'

Certainly the Water Board would have rejected him, not only on his lack of academic achievement, but on the likely report from the school. There is an undated manuscript (which probably belongs to a period around 1929-1930) in which he wrote up some of the experiences of the Depression. He disguised his name - for his parents' sake, he said later - taking on his paternal grandmother's maiden name. He became John Duncan. He stated boastfully that if he had been even moderately well-behaved at High School he would, at the beginning of the Depression, 'have been an undergraduate at Sydney University. But John, though undoubtedly possessed of brains far above the average, had no desire to enter Varsity and take a degree.' He declared a longing to be a 'motor-mechanic.' Therefore he applied himself to stunts such as 'the manufacture and explosion of stink-bombs, the total collapse of the headmaster's chair when he seated himself and the presence of a very live eel in the algebra master's desk' (this no doubt dredged from a stream in the National Park). The exasperated headmaster demanded his removal before he had sat for any public examination. He was apprenticed to a local garage proprietor. "He was a dreadful handful" said his mother "we were probably too soft on him." But it is almost certain she would have been secretly afraid that he might follow his sister into oblivion if he was pushed too far.


Townsville 1944

Miles down a long beach away from the war-importance of Townsville, we were sitting on the warm sand. We had just come back from a swim; Jock was a good swimmer in a lop-sided way. But out of the water I watched him arrange a towel over his left shoulder; unhurriedly, but with a certain self-conscious care, drape it across the stump of his arm. I asked him if it felt a bit like nudity to have it bare. He thought for a while, then: 'I don't really think so any more. I thought it was hellishly ugly at first. I got into the habit of covering it. That's what it is now probably - habit.' Having spent a good deal of time in art school drawing from plaster casts of Greek and Roman heroes, gods and heroines, often missing a limb, I found the image more romantic than ugly.

So we began to talk about the accident. I suspected he didn't talk about it much. Probably he mostly threw a quip such as I later heard on several occasions, 'it isn't necessary to have two arms - the weight and space would be far better taken up by an extra penis!'


The accident - it happened just before his sixteenth birthday. And it put a stop to all talk of careers for a very long time. It nearly ended his life, although he said it was really the beginning of it.

One of his jobs was to take the sulky and pony to collect firewood. It was his habit to take along an old hammer operated shotgun in case he saw a rabbit - to relieve the tedious chore by capturing something for the pot. On this day there were no rabbits. He collected the firewood, loaded it on the jinker and, ready to go home, flicked the safety catch on the gun and poked it in amongst the logs - carelessly and against all training - stock first. The safety catch was defective. One of the hammers caught in the wood. The roar of the explosion, numbing impact of lead, smashed flesh and bone - all were instantaneous. He reeled back and the horse bolted.

His laziness, fortunately, was never associated in any way with lethargy. In his dazed state he knew immediately it was useless to go after the horse which had vanished from sight. He knew it was a mile over rough ground to the nearest house and that he must get there quickly; so he needed to cross the creek rather than take the long road - down a steep bank, through the water and slippery rocks, and up the other side. Soaked in blood, and supporting the useless, mangled left arm, he set off with that nearest house filling his mind. He said pictures of his grandfather had also flickered in his brain. As we talked, so many years later, he could still feel the weight of the nearly severed arm in his right hand - feel it as it was when he slipped and struggled up the creek bank and staggered over the interminable distance to the house of Mrs. Twist; the last house on the long road.

There were several miracles of chance that day. The first - although almost every inch of bone and muscle in the arm was smashed, the brachial artery remained intact. The second - Mrs. Twist was at home because Jock fainted on her doorstep and a third, not so obvious - Mrs. Twist had a telephone, which in 1927 was not necessarily to be expected. And she was a brave woman. She did not faint herself at the bloodied, sprawled figure she found at the door, but went straight into action to get medical help. Jock never forgot her courage and kept in touch with her until she died.


On the beach he leaned back. 'I certainly could have died. I nearly did. My grandfather did - perhaps doing the same thing.'


That puritanical disciplined man, Thomas Crowe, his mother's father, had enacted a drama of which this seemed almost a mirror image. Men were doubtless casual with firearms at a time when half the countryside carried a gun or kept it in the corner of the room against a chance visit from bushrangers: Jock's mother said she remembered, when only about seven, being confronted by Captain Moonlight on just such a raid in search of arms - well, she always declared it was Captain Moonlight, and the timing fits with his activities in the area, around the 1880s. There is, however, a certain mystery concerning the details of Thomas's accident, for like Jock he was alone. He had been in Gundagai with the heavy cart and team of strong horses which was the backbone of his business, carrying goods to and from the paddle-steamers of the Murrumbidgee River. It seemed he had just finished unloading the cart, for when he was found shot through the heart his gun was on the empty dray, the barrels pointing outward, having been discharged into his chest. Lightning reflexes and great courage caused him to pull the leading horse to a halt, but he died dragging on the reins. There was a suggestion he may have been robbed and murdered with his own gun because no money was found on him and none of the family could believe he would have thrown the gun down, cocked and stock first, under any normal circumstances. But, whatever the true facts, this tragedy was used as a cautionary tale in the use of guns. Jock remembered the cautions very well - but he never knew why he ignored them that day.


Now there was the reality - not death, but the agony, physical and mental, of a severed arm. It was amputated immediately just below the shoulder. This was followed by months of torturing treatment in hospital . Antibiotic drugs now seem so magical that it is hard to imagine the agonies of uncertainty endured by everyone in such situations then. Dangers of all sorts lurked; the worst were gangrene and general toxaemia. There was a fight to stay alive. Jock remembered it - the thought of death; the real thought, not a joust or Russian roulette, but more like a trap out of which one must fight. He fought - and was dragged into dreary months of nursing and an infinite number of excruciatingly painful operations to try and remove all the dozens of pieces of shot. Several had to be left; some were removed as late as 1948 in Oxford.

But at the time keeping him in hospital was like trying to keep a lion behind a wooden fence. After weeks of operations he was desperate to get away. He was a scourge of the nursing staff. There is a fragment of a letter which refers to the period. It was scrawled in pencil by a friend from school who had evidently crossed paths with a mutual contemporary from Dumbleton and the hospital scene: ' ... Mercury St Dumbo [Dumbleton]. Do you remember him? He said you were a real bastard of a kid and when he was in hospital with appendicitis you were sharing his ward with your arm injury. They had to lock the door of the ward to keep you in but you got through the fanlight. What a bloody brat you must have been - and still are.' The 'brat' remembered well - he moved a locker to the door, climbed through the narrow gap, dropping on the other side, and crept out onto the road with blood spreading through his dressings. He 'just had to do it' - no sense of caution for the state of the wound. It was his first challenge to the one-armed body (a vision that horrified him). His mother remembered him turning up in his pyjamas, deathly pale and rigid with defiance. They took him back to hospital. He alternated then between causing havoc in the ward, as a release for pent-up emotion, and feelings of dark depression.

He always acknowledged a considerable debt to his parents. They gave him all the understanding they could muster but refused to pamper him. His mother, acutely reminded of her father's accident and the recent searing experience of her eldest son's death (he was her favourite, Jock said) only three years before, could have been forgiven if she had dissolved into vapours at the very thought of the long, difficult task of rehabilitation. However, she was not the vaporous type. She went out to buy an artificial limb, but no matter how she coaxed, Jock found the thing painful, clumsy, heavy and made little progress in adjusting to it. She then showed her true metal. One particularly bad day she decided to help him learn to control his horse again, artificial aid or not. Jock remembered the feeling of recoil at the thought: Billy was a spirited animal and he felt unbalanced in every way. But, his mother had a way with horses, and with her son. He rode again. In fact, at fifty four he could still control a reefing, bucking thoroughbred. It was the necessary medicine. From that moment he realised he could teach himself to do anything and discarded all idea of ever using the expensive artificial arm. His mother finally vented her feelings on the object. Although the opposite of a wasteful woman she took it from the house in a rage and threw it in the creek. Jock often wondered wryly where it ended up.

Of course, there were endless exasperating and prolonged battles with little niggling things: shoe-laces, ties, cuff-links, buttons, meat on a plate - hundreds of delicate manoeuvres which had been unconscious reflexes - but every time he won, it tempered his determination to become completely independent. He succeeded so well eventually that most people who knew him ignored, or even forgot, the missing arm. He seemed to be only incensed if a thoughtful waiter offered to cut up his meat, but beneath the physical successes there was, for years, a lingering anger at this tearing away of a part of himself. It had little connection with any inability to do what he wanted to do; it was far more the perception of society towards it which infuriated him - 'the poor young man' attitude that in his eyes fitted 'old' men from the first World War driving lifts. It shows in a diary entry in 1939 when he returned to Sydney from Europe and a young man offered him his seat in a tram. 'As an ex-Univ. champion walker and an explorer etc., etc. I felt like telling him his need was greater than mine - but in order to escape embarrassment in his eyes - I took the bloody seat and sat. He no doubt got a self-righteous glow.'

But back at the beginning, no matter how well he handled the physical hurdles, there was another side: what to do with his life? It was the old problem deferred and considerably compounded by the accident. His parents were aware there was a huge fund of untapped talent and resource in their energetic, unhappy, unmotivated boy. They were baffled. Nothing pleased him. He only seemed content when he was out in the bush by himself, exercising his acute powers of observation. At last his mother's own powers of observation came to the rescue. She was reading the Sydney Mail (at 5.30 in the morning as was her habit - before the business of the day began) and noticed an article by the ornithologist, Neville Cayley. She sat down immediately to write to him, saying her son was deeply interested in natural history and could he make any suggestions?

Cayley showed the letter to his friend Alec Chisholm, then editor of the Daily Telegraph, because Alex was a naturalist as well as being a Fellow of the Australian Zoological Society. So Jock was summoned to the editorial office. He entered the strange place with a mixture of excitement and resistance. Chisholm, Jock said, was kind to him. 'He was serious but his eyes twinkled - even though he always had an air of rather critical pedantry.' They later became good friends. Alec found him 'a raw young lad but obviously very intelligent.' Years afterwards he said to me 'you know, he wasn't always the urbane, cultivated talker you've known!' No - but soon he began to see the power in language. He had an acute ear and developed his love affair with words - all the better to be imaginative and irreverent. Chisholm was surprised at the way he soaked up his (Chisholm's) critical pruning of his early writing. Like most people, Jock did not enjoy criticism - he could strike like a disturbed snake if hit on a sensitive spot - but whether characteristically or through determination he showed then that he could take it without rancour. Anyway, at that first meeting he made sufficient impression for Chisholm to introduce him to a few of his friends in the Zoological Society who were also on the staff of the Australian Museum. Those introductions gave Jock a goal and motivation for the first time in his life.


In the high book-lined rooms of the Museum people worked among their specialised collections - fossils, skeletons, shells, skins of fur, feather or scale. The boy introduced to them must often have seemed, at the very least, an interruptive nuisance - but Jock found them more than generous with their time. Gilbert Whitley declared that as an icthyologist he had not so much to do with Jock but he remembered clearly the curly-headed figure striding through dark, formalin-scented passages or leaping up the wide stairs, 'entirely unselfconscious - he was usually in shorts, often without shoes, and always in a hurry to ask questions or impart some new-found piece of knowledge.'

The two men in the Museum with whom Jock spent most of his time were Ellis Le Gay Troughton ("Troughtie" to his friends), the mammologist, and Tom Iredale, the ornithologist. They were able to give him clues for solving problems or techniques for practical work and later, in the case of Iredale, argue (with energy matching Jock's own) subjects on which they disagreed. Alec Chisholm commented: 'the rugged young Marshall progressed at more than average pace. Such progress, acting upon something of a headstrong nature, with, perhaps, a psychological reaction against his one-armed condition, caused the youth to be, at times, rather too assured, and so somewhat "difficult".' Jock's comment on the period was much more succinct: 'I must have been an appalling little bastard.'

Chisholm, however, added 'But on such occasions, he always took restraint in good part', and years later, in his last address in Sydney to an annual meeting of the Australian Zoological Society, 'he went out of his way to acknowledge what he owed to the senior ornithologists of his native city for instruction and advice in his youthful days.'

Because his parents did not need him to have a regular job - 'allowed me to parasitise them' - he was able to give all his energies to the new work. He learnt to use a camera skilfully. He taught himself a system for noting observations in the bush and began filling a series of notebooks. He also went often with Alec Chisholm and the ornithologists to a place called "the bird cabin" in the National Park.

There were other expansive experiences too. Ellis Troughton, who loved opera almost as much as he loved his work, decided he might introduce young Jock to this, for him, delicious pleasure. On the appointed night they arrived for the performance. The curtain rose. The conductor flourished his baton and there was fluttering in the prompter's box while a swelling fanfare from the orchestra began dramatic movement among the singers as they each became involved. Suddenly Troughton became aware of a hiss at his side.

'Troughtie' - he ignored it.

There was flourishing from the conductor and more discreet fluttering from the prompter as the song soared upward.

Again - 'Troughtie'

'Well, what is it Jock?', in good humoured exasperation.

'Wouldn't they get along much better without that parasite in the box?'

Much to Troughtie's retrospective amusement opera was a lost cause with Jock - though he enjoyed much of the music.


In the next few years he canalised his interest in zoology as he went on a series of expeditions with members of the Museum staff or on lone journeys he organised himself. After the accident he did not give up shooting; he learnt new techniques for accuracy and became a very good shot. But he had much to learn in collecting for the Museum. The skin of a tiny bird or a large goanna must be equally as little damaged as possible. During this time he met a small party of American zoologists from Harvard University who were at the Museum planning an expedition into northern New South Wales and south west Queensland. He persuaded them to take him along - although in the most minor role. It proved to be an invaluable experience. He learnt a great deal about perfecting techniques and collecting specimens and became fired with enthusiasm for other journeys. From then on he saw a path he could take, though it looked rough at the time.

In 1929, when he was eighteen, there was a series of journeys which were highly unconventional. The great economic depression of the thirties was just beginning to bite. His parents were in mature middle age and he was their only dependant, so their situation was easy enough. But he became guilty about accepting money from them and felt he should find some permanent work. Work - it was a rare find for anyone, and, as he discovered, almost impossible for a boy with only one arm and no obvious qualifications. So he conceived a plan with an old school mate which made allowance for carrying on with his ornithological observations, involved almost endless travel and needed no income at all. He proposed, in short, that they go on the dole and 'jump the rattlers.' The "rattlers" were freight trains. They were used as a form of free transport by all sorts of characters in uncomfortable journeys across many continents from the time the first one hit the rails.

Jock's mother was almost speechless with horror at this proposal. She saw in the scheme a threat to all the rigid standards she had set for her family. Visions of the strap behind the kitchen door had always kept Jock from trying to cheat by not paying his fare on the trains - although his mother was forced to admit that riding with the freight was hardly doing a paying passenger out of a seat. Of course, she also saw in the scheme a huge threat to her son's safety and certainly would have fought it bitterly had she not been so worried about his future. She knew how much the field work meant to him. His father, as usual, took a more tolerant attitude and considered it not a bad idea in view of the current alternatives - although he would certainly have been more aware than his wife of the dangers. This interchange is a fair commentary on Jock's relationship with his parents. He could easily have lied or simply disappeared.

In the end Nin gave in. 'She made her decision and then spoke no more about dangers or her other objections - but she must have gone through a hell of worry waiting for every letter.' Jock made a decision never to talk about the episode openly while his mother lived. He never did. His oldest friends had no knowledge of it - with the exception of Tom Harrisson - although it would not have surprised any of them.

The spiking of the enterprise with a bit of danger was all the more alluring. The great iron boxes of the freight trains, standing like sleeping caterpillars in the sidings or the yards, presented no special problem for a fit person when viewed from the rails. But those hoping to hitch a ride and not wanting to be ignominiously pitched out, could not simply scramble aboard under the noses of the guards. They had to 'fly' onto the trucks on the off side, just as the train began to gather speed outside the station. This meant judging a run between trucks, reaching a hand-hold, hanging on, reaching a foothold, then scrambling over the top with your heavy roll of meagre necessities. Unlike some of the "bagmen", Jock had the advantage of being athletic and young; but imagine the iron strength of muscle and delicate balance needed, with only one arm, to take the weight of body swinging up and over.

It was a tough means of transport, and the men who carried their swag on the rails were a mixed lot in those days of mass deprivation. But there was a camaraderie in the minor excitements and dangers of their travel which was denied those standing in queues in the cities. The rattlers took you on a time-warp - no tyrannous clocks, no cheating competition; journeys had no beginning and no end, only a change in pace and landscape, a switch from one destination to another as whim or chance, or the next dole ration, dictated. There was no control over a changing environment. You had to adjust to life in the box as it sped clanking over dusty plains or groaned up a mountain side. The sun might be deliciously warm or glaringly hot, the rain mist on you like a balm or drive down in blinding sheets. You had to adjust to curious cargoes or cold steel; to strange travelling companions - 'they might give you a cut of their ration if you'd missed out, but they might just as easily steal your shoes if you shut your eyes.' There were long yarns, tales of woe and boasting. You had to be quick and cunning getting on and off - seven days in the local lock-up was the price of being caught, although in some far out-back places there was tolerance. Jock wrote quite a number of vignettes of this time - as fiction. They were never shaped up for publication but one excerpt encapsulates the atmosphere of a stop-off on these strange journeys. There was drought on the black soil plains. It was four years since the few scattered residents between Hughenden and Marathon had seen rain and there was no trace of grass on the parched gaping earth.

'The sun, a large red ball, rose slowly over the undulations towards the east. It's searching beams flashed along the twin rails, which as far as the eye could perceive, stretched towards the west. A head appeared at the window of the tiny length man's humpy which did duty as railway station, post and telegraph office, store and ambulance station for many miles around - "The sun's risin', Ma, train'll be just about leavin' Hughenden." - the child's head was withdrawn, and the sound of great activity arose within the "station".

Far out on the cracked plain a half-starved kangaroo twitches its long sensitive ears nervously. Its "joey" hops obediently towards it, and both leave the immediate vicinity of the railway line...Ten minutes later the faint rumble of the approaching locomotive is heard by the eager fettler's children, and a moment later a puff of smoke appears in the distance. The faint though shrill note of the engine whistle cuts through the clear plain-country air and the kiddies run to their vantage points to witness the one important event in their otherwise uneventful lives. "Bet I count more bagmen than you" says little Mary to young Jim. "Righto" replies James, "an' see that ya don't cheat. Last week ya said you saw a swaggy in the guard's van and it turned out later that he wus a passenger"..."Look here she comes!"

"She", a rattling string of empty bullion trucks, headed by a free-running engine, and followed by a small red guard's van and carriages combined, came swiftly down the last gradual slope and pulled up with a jerk. The guard stepped down to have a yarn to the lengthsman, and two or three unofficial passengers got off the blind side of the train and hurried along to the engine with billies to get hot water to make tea. A few more leisurely alighted and walked a short distance across the plain to stretch their limbs.'

This tolerance was rarely evident in the towns, although, according to Jock, who wrote a long account of conditions in the big Queensland towns such as Townsville, it depended entirely on which government was in power - the Labor Government was infinitely more lenient towards this really harmless form of illegality. The only losers were the State Railways and it was an entirely phantom loss since none of the 'bagmen' could have afforded the fare anyway. But an unpleasant magistrate could gaol boys under twenty for a month (and did on one occasion - five of them), incarcerating them with hardened criminals who could teach them tricks to ruin their lives. 'Yes, the North is an extraordinary place.'

But he found Queensland an extraordinary place in other ways. He was not travelling just to exist; there were notes to write up on all the enormous variety of wildlife he saw. He travelled a good deal on foot as well, some of western Queensland with 'the man from the Gulf' as he called him - a character who was a bottomless well of information about the bush and tricks for finding water and tucker. He returned home after more than four thousand miles of roaming and two short spells in local lock-ups, but finding nothing changed he took off again for another few thousand miles.

We often talked of this period. Jock always looked back on it with secret warmth and satisfaction. He felt free, unfettered by responsibilities (except to let his parents know he was safe), time was meaningless, and he could enjoy a game of exciting chance or solitary aesthetic pleasure - two strands of his character always intertwined. Years later, any time we lay comfortably encamped in sleeping bag or bed in any country in the world, and heard a freight train labouring through the night, he would say with warm nostalgia - 'there goes a rattler.'


There were other journeys - most of them more conventional - although on one of them he was again locked into a country gaol. On the outskirts of a town in northern Queensland a woman saw what she took to be a desperado of the bush - a figure with untidy curls, scruffily dressed (he travelled pared down to the merest essentials), striding by with a sawn-off shotgun clasped casually in his one hand. If he looked at her with the paralysing blue gaze that pinned people down when he was not quite sure of their reactions, she would have been certain of criminal intent. She reported him to the local police and the door of 'the cooler' slammed behind him. This was disconcerting - even a bit worrying. The gun was a problem. But character and experience told him he would get out of it. He set about reasoning with the policeman who listened to his explanation that the shotgun was shortened to facilitate collecting - and since he was collecting specimens of birds and mammals for the Australian Museum perhaps he would be allowed to send a telegram. It was agreed. In due course the Museum authorities claimed him as their own and he was released into the hot sun.

Those years were barren financially. Yet they were intellectually fruitful and even bore some academic seeds in the form of papers read to the Australian Zoological Society and various ornithological societies. They were studded with diverse experiences. The 'rattler jumper' became, in 1931, an occasional visitor to Government House in Sydney. At the time Sir Phillip Game was Governor of New South Wales. In Jock's diary for 1930, sandwiched between notes on the feeding habits of a currawong and the finding of a golden whistler's nest, there is mention of a vice-regal visit to the cabin in the National Park. In a later entry in 1931 he remarked 'Lady and Sir Phillip Game are quite good botanists. They know more about our flowers than most Australians do.' The Governor and his wife were also very interested in birds, and Alec Chisholm engaged Jock's help when arranging occasional programs of escape for them from the formalities of the old stone house on the edge of the harbour.

In the course of so much collecting and observing in the bush Jock often met up with members of bush-walking clubs. One of these was Ernest Austen who had represented Australia in the cross country walk in the Olympic Games held in Amsterdam in 1928. 'Jock was quite unimpressed with my prowess' said Austen, 'he was organising a collecting trip by himself into the McPherson Ranges and refused my suggestion to join forces - said he was a "loner". Mind you, he came around later.' After another bush experience, Jock discovered the Olympic walker had more than speed; the nuggetty, humorous man was extremely resourceful in a tight corner and cunning with things like green (i.e. raw) leather. Ernie Austen generously ignored his arrogance and they arranged to meet at a camp under the ranges on the Tweed River in October 1933.

The New South Wales-Queensland border runs along the edge of the Lamington Plateau at the point where Jock and Ernie chose to climb into the ranges. From the border track there is an almost sheer drop into New South Wales, down to Hopping Dick Creek and the beautiful valley of the Tweed. This was the country of the hoop and bunya pine, and the red cedar, the rich dark wood which furnished thousands of 19th Century Australian drawing rooms. These magnificent timbers, especially the giant red cedars, have been sliced away from the sides of the valley - shorn green and smooth with only the occasional tracery of a bunya pine or a sapling cedar to show where they had been. But there is still big timber in the inaccessible ranges, and Lamington Plateau is topped by thick rain forest where huge moss-draped Antarctic beeches - quite different from the deciduous English beech - and twisting vines shadow the sun.

Jock wanted to study the birds of the rain forest. He also had relatives at a farm at the foot of the ranges, and this was one reason for choosing an extremely difficult route into the forest. The other was that he and Austen found the challenge of that soaring cliff-face irresistible. Their camp under the plateau at the edge of the forest was drenched. It rained 'like the devil, and I noted artemus clinging to a Silky Oak trunk, apparently to escape the wet. Remember Tambo track - Central West - when another specimen clung to poles to escape the sun.' He kept his notes in all conditions; often putting up with extraordinary physical discomfort while observing animals.

In spite of the rain, on the steep face there was hardly a drop of water. It was a hard climb with heavy packs and he admitted 'Austen and I were tired - more so than we'd ever been.' After a month collecting and observing in the mountains and the Tweed Valley, he returned to Brisbane, then went north to the islands of the Barrier Reef with an Embury expedition. These were primitive tourist excursions sailing to islands then virtually untrampled by people, and naturalists were paid to inform and guide the clientele.

It was five years since he had lost his arm. It had been a fermenting, transformative period, and he decided, the accident was one of the best things that ever happened to him. 'He could have become a juvenile delinquent' said his nephew Bruce Malcolm. He might have. He seems to have been a rebel from earliest years and such people are dangerous if they have no focus for good. But he had an underlying love and respect for both his parents, no matter how he kicked, so it was unlikely. The accident gave his rebellious nature a force to bite into - he would beat this thing. His energy and curiosity had found a target. He sharpened up his powers of observation from the wedge-tailed eagle country of the Southern Highlands near the Murray River to the wild contrasts of coast and inland on Cape York Peninsula. He tested his patience waiting for birds in dripping rain forests and swamps, or in dry creek beds. He brought a new parrot back to the Museum from northern Queensland. And all the time he was learning - on one extreme from sharing camp fires with lonely men in lonely places such as the flat wilderness of the Gulf country, on the other from learned people of Museums and Societies, journalists and others. He was still the essential larrikin, bucking systems and playing tricks on the unwary but he was becoming serious about learning. The 'raw young lad' - outspoken, self-questioning, aggressive, a bit shy, funny - was being gradually drawn into a more elastic whole. He had always been ambitious - to be the most daring, the naughtiest, the cleverest deviator - but now more positive ambitions were appearing. Sometimes his imagination and aesthetic awareness sat incongruously with aggression. On Tumut holidays his great uncle, the Deputy Mayor, used to say 'Bring your camera and leave that damned gun at home.'

In the five years he discovered he had a spontaneous talent with words, although he guessed it even at school; English was the only subject he worked at - formally, and with zest colloquially. Now he was forming it into a professional tool: ornithological papers, small articles and lectures, as well as privately writing his semi-fictional versions of travel.

In those years he worked assiduously to do everything "normally". It was a toughening experience, physically and psychologically. What of romance or his sex life? At first he had been devastatingly aware of his impaired body. It was a haunting inhibition, at the age of seventeen, not having two arms to embrace a girl. But gradually he discovered it was not uppermost in the minds of the females who gazed at him intently. Of course, there was a tendency to use this as another challenge - quantity before discrimination. His sister said there were plenty of girls about but she did not know much of what went on - from the difference of seven years she was not interested.

At twenty two he was tall with the physique and reflexes of a natural athlete. Not classically good looking, but gave many people the impression of being so - 'Greek athlete type to go places and do things.' His face was chiselled in clear lines with wide straight brow and wide cheekbones. His lips were generous and broke easily into a wicked grin or a belly-laugh but could equally settle into the straight line of passionate determination or occasional depression. But his eyes were dominating: their blue had a hint of sea-green and like the sea could flash steely or cloud to something else in moments of imagination or pleasure. The photograph taken in 1932 at a Sydney Congress shows him looking particularly benign.

He had now been made an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Museum. He was gathering intellectual heroes and fuelling ambition. He was still a scientific fringe-dweller but determined to get to the centre.

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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