Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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Stirring the Pot

Six months later he was pulling the tiger's tail again - at an ANZAS Congress in Canberra. There was a prelude to this nearly a year before. He replied to a letter from Mr T.R. Garnett, headmaster of Geelong Church of England Grammar School, who sought his views on certain pre-university courses at school, in particular for the medical faculty: 'It is not true that we have a great shortage of medically qualified people in this state. This is propaganda engendered by politicians who are besieged by Melbourne Mums eager that their boys should achieve the title "Doctor" and a nice shiny Jaguar. There is, however, a desperate need of good teachers. Sometimes children have to come and live in city digs because they can't get adequate tuition in country high schools.' He went on to mention the short courses in the opposite discipline for scientists and arts students which had been instituted at Monash in the interests of balancing education but - 'my own belief is a gloomy one: that although you may inject the average science student with some Kit Marlowe, or the average "Arts" student with some fascinating stuff on hormones, neither inoculation will necessarily "take" ... Having said all this, I'd better admit that it was I who was primarily responsible for the establishment of an arts course for scientists.' He did believe unequivocally that the poor selection, training and salary inducements for teachers put them at the bottom of the heap as educated citizens - 'there is no snob value and no great financial reward in being a teacher' - whereas the reverse is true of the major part of the medical profession.

So to the ANZAS Congress in January 1964, where he was Chairman of Section D - Zoology. By now there was research in the pipeline but nothing he thought worthy of report at this stage. He decided to broaden the conventional address and tackle some of the concerns he had about scientific and general education. He did not expect it to be a popular move among his colleagues. It was a serious decision - perhaps a little driven by a feeling that time for him to say such things might run out. He wrote a critical, although fair enough, overview of Australian institutions of learning, but indulged himself; happily taking a sharp verbal stick to, and worse still, making fun of the various sacred cows browsing so complacently in our social landscape. And he went to Canberra in a quixotic mood - defying the traditions in his old tweed jacket and riding around on a borrowed bicycle - and, although the theme of his address was deadly serious, he could not resist the provocative phrases, particularly the ones concerning the medical profession, which the next day hit the front pages of eastern states newspapers and brought forth at least four cartoons:

'It is then highly desirable socially for Mr. and Mrs. Everidge to have a real live "doctor" for a son, or son-in-law, and there is also the money to be considered. Medicine is one of the few professions in Australia in which an industrious dolt, as distinct from the able diagnostician, can make at least 5000 pounds per year ... and there are simply not enough places [in the universities] (nor is it necessary that there should be enough places) for all these young people, an appreciable proportion of whom are better fitted to the job of selling motor scooters than the exacting job of practising medicine.'

As could have been predicted these succulent bits of over-emphasis were quoted completely out of context, but they made a media feast. Reporters, anxious to have him elaborate, tracked him to the Hotel Civic where he had gone with friends for refreshment. 'He elaborated' said one 'but alas profanely.' Jock would have been quite aware of possible publicity but even he was shocked at the coverage the whole thing got. It made for problems, not the least of which was correspondence. The ripples reached as far as Europe: a Dutch newspaper translated 'industrious dolt' into 'an active owl-chick'! There was a lot of laughter, a lot of agreement and a lot of acrimony (mostly in the press) - especially from some, though by no means all, elements of the medical profession, which had been targeted by journalists - but the message had been lost. It was one of the few times when Jock regretted his excess of language, because his thesis was about teaching and other important matters - he was merely having a jab at the Australian "god-Doctor" image in passing: 'In fact, I did not criticise the medical profession as such. I deplored the shortage of good high-school teachers and was concerned with the local tribal customs that so exalted the village medicine man.' But the subject was not dropped for a whole week. There were letters to the papers and blasts from the Australian Medical Association and two leaders which declared that the airing of all this was a very good thing - 'the man from Monash has got up on his hind legs and told the academics to take a gander at themselves and their place in the community.' Of course, the whole episode, particularly the publicity, was looked upon as reprehensible by the stuffier elements inside and outside the scientific community. He decided he had better stay healthy for some time. The Editorial Committee of ANZAS refused to publish the address. Vestes, the Australian Universities' Review, published it but edited it into a more bland message.

He was aware that some of the criticism was fair, but he had been tilting at such established windmills all his life. It was not surprising that Elsbeth Huxley wrote later 'some of his colleagues deplore what they consider to be bluster, a liking for publicity and a tendency to overstate the case. He is certainly no meek and ineffectual don. But in the modern world of onward marching technology, battles are seldom won by learned papers delivered in seminars and scientific conferences. All poses can, on occasion irritate; but beneath the Professor's Wild Colonial Boy there lies a sensitive, warm-hearted and civilised man.'

The furore settled. I met him with the children after the conference for a camping holiday through the hills and valleys of his ancestral country around the Adelong and Tumut Rivers. We were meeting family and searching the environment for clues to old tales. He was well and full of energy, but returning to his roots in the face of a threat to the existence he so valued and showing a sentiment for family and country which he felt deeply. It gave him strength.

In March 1964, when the weather was clement and the moon was full we gave a party for more than a hundred people at Quarry Hills. It was a house-warming and we invited friends from anywhere around Australia, the country, the city, the university, artists, writers and many people who had helped us in all sorts of capacities. Jock loved mixing people and 'making his friends friends with each other.' He ordered much claret from the Victorian wine district of Rutherglen, and said 'Let's have a large barbeque - we're back - it's traditional.' In spite of my qualms - I don't like large parties - it turned out to be an enjoyable madness and was set to become an annual event with guests sleeping in hired caravans. After one of these Jock went out early in the morning and found Alan Moorehead, Dom Serventy and Martin Knottenbelt, who had shared a caravan, sweeping the large bluestone flagged courtyard. He came back grinning 'We must put them together next time - they probably haven't slept and they're doing a wonderful job with the chop bones.'


Not long after this he became involved again with journalism. It was absolutely the last thing he wanted. Long ago in England he had shown his feelings on such a possibility when he thought briefly he might have cancer of the scrotum, and declared that in the worst case he would have to do it for the financial future of the family. And so it was now. Both of us were against it; there was much more important work he wanted to do. But, with three young (the youngest only four at the time) and mortgages, he thought it impossible to deny an opportunity which arose at this vulnerable moment. Rupert Murdoch was just starting up The Australian newspaper and the difficult, gifted, energetic first editor, Maxwell Newton - whom Jock liked in their brief encounters - was looking around for interesting contributors. Jock was invited to write a weekly article of about 2000 words. The first one appeared with the first edition of the paper on July 15, 1964. It was a punchy, amusing, serious argument against the Victorian Government's plan to start a third university and to elevate seven technical colleges to degree-giving status when the oldest University was starved of funds and the three-year-old Monash was already trying to do too much with too little. He did not confine himself entirely to academic subjects - although these and the conservation of species made up the bulk of his writing. For instance, on February 20th 1965, he wrote an article when Talbot Duckmanton was appointed the new managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and hoped that this would bring inspirational change - not that he knew Mr Duckmanton; his criticisms were directed at the mediocrity of commissioners which he considered was stultifying creative talent. Whether this was true or not it stirred the letter writers - from remarks such as 'the excellent clinical examination of the ills of the A.B.C.' or ponderous rejoinders from its upper echelons to colourful crackers from Max Harris in Adelaide: 'The greatest single inadequacy the A.B.C. has to endure is the calibre of its public critics ... like Professor Marshall pecking angrily away at the carcass of a fracas ... [he] knows as much about the problems of the A.B.C. as I so about the mating habits of the campus-crested Tit-warbler.' The response to many of the articles brought amusement for the public and satisfaction for the coffers of The Australian. He was serious on most subjects - although he often had fun hitting targets, sometimes with a sledge-hammer, sometimes with delightful irony. He had carte blanche (within the libel laws) to write as he pleased, and he was often pleased to be provocative. He aired a huge range of subjects over two years and many academic concerns which he felt would be useful knowledge for an educated public - but, at the same time stirred his critics on the subject of 'publicity'. And privately he was resenting the time spent on it.

In the last quarter of the year he went to the Second Pan-African Congress in Pietermaritzburg. He was enthusiastic; wanted to see the problems of South Africa himself and meet scientists there. He took off on August 28th, read a paper on his and Serventy's shearwater research and talked with many people at Pietermaritzburg. He gave four lectures at the University of Cape Town and began sending back articles for The Australian. He described the physical beauties of Cape Town and its environs, its sunny architecture, charming old cape Dutch farm-houses and well laid-out road systems, the pleasantness of South Africans as hosts - but: 'it is only when you read the newspapers that you realise you have entered a gigantic mad-house.'. He wrote of the horrendous injustices of apartheid and they caused him to think of home. He wrote a fifth article pointing out that we ourselves were indulging in a form of behaviour hardly different from apartheid with our own Aborigines. Those articles on South Africa's social ills and criminal injustice would assure he was not given a visa to that country again, despite some of the pleasant remarks he made as well, but they stirred a lot of interest back in Australia. Nearly two years later, in October 1966, a member of the African National Congress, Robert Resha, was visiting Australia, and at a dinner in his honour of one hundred and fifty or so people at Melbourne University, it was agreed by general acclamation that they express to Jock their appreciation for 'the splendid series of articles on South Africa in The Australian' written at the time of his visit there: 'These, it was agreed, had probably done more than any other published here to enlighten the Australian people concerning the aparthied issue.' He then set off for Leningrad where he wished to talk with the distinguished Russian zoologist, Portenko. He travelled via Greece, Romania and Moscow. He was moving fast. It is true it was always his habit but now he was feeling under pressure - as he had ever since the operation - to get a lot done and have his research in print. The articles for The Australian were an impediment to this. However, in London he saw the oncologist, Naunton Morgan, who pronounced him extremely fit and free of any apparent problems. Heartened, he set off to give lectures at UCLA and came back to Melbourne on November 10th, not in a very good mood because jewellery he bought me in London had been stolen in a Los Angeles hotel. He prowled about the house, still upset, even though an antique desk and chair that he bought in Cape Town were coming in due course. But he had always brought personal gifts for me and the children - unpacking them from his old rucksack or battered suitcase as soon as he came into the house. He felt cheated. And England had not really been a success - he visited old haunts. Nothing had the same feel. 'He was one-celled - emotionally rolled up', one woman commented. There was no real nostalgia for England but a feeling assailed him: that he had left on a high wave of successful research which landed him in the shallows of administration in Australia - or so it seemed to him now, however exciting it had been in the beginning.


He was certainly going into print in the matter of conservation with the book he had edited - The Great Extermination. This subject of conservation was a vehicle for fire and passion. In the introduction and the other three chapters which he wrote, amidst erudite descriptions of Australian wildlife and its plight, he was firing off salvos at institutions and people as he pin-pointed the attitudes still hanging on from the earliest white history; denigrating the Australian landscape as un-European, different, boring and downright ugly. For instance, on Sir Kenneth Clark who referred to 'that inhospitable fringe between sea and desert' and made other ill-judged generalisations, he commented - 'I do not want to make too much fun of this earnest and worthy man ... '; and the 'sheep-farmers', demonstrating a frightening lack of ecological or aesthetic sense as they stripped the land bare for more and more sheep and cattle. Of course, he had much to say about the dismissive attitudes of politicians when it came to our national heritage, but for his old kicking-boy he had a compliment at the end: 'the Victorian conservation program has had at all times the support of the Victorian Premier, Sir Henry Bolte and the Chief Secretary, Mr A.G. Rylah.'

In the final chapter he returned to an argument that he and many others had raised often over years - the 'usefulness' of both research and wilderness. 'There is no measurable value in a golden dawn coming up over the rim of the plains, nor of a full moon rising majestically through coolabahs across a still lagoon ... '. But more pertinently for those who had to see a material value in all things he argued 'When Gelmo discovered sulphanilamide in Vienna in 1908 and incidentally wrote down the wrong melting point, neither he nor anybody else had any idea that, many years later, hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved by his work.' And as for wilderness and the creatures within it, there were secrets held which might be of immeasurable value for even the most rigidly practical human when research found a key to their use.

Another book on conservation published two years after Jock died, and dedicated to him, was The Last of Lands, edited by Dr. Leonard Webb. It had 24 distinguished authors and covered considerably more ground than The Great Extermination. It was well-reviewed in the British science journal, Nature, although the reviewer noted 'Such a composite work inevitably lacks the fire in its belly it would have had if Jock Marshall had survived to write even a couple of pages for it ... '. And as a final plea 'Will somebody else now please take a deep breath, remember Jock Marshall and use the facts in this book to make a noise that all the unconverted will be bound to hear.' It is impossible to say how many of the unconverted have heard but undoubtedly a vast number more than at the time these two books were written.

When Elspeth Huxley came to visit us in January 1965, he was still steaming over conservation issues. She spent a long afternoon with us talking about animals, including the lyre-birds in the forests behind us, and in a later book, remarked: 'Professor Jock Marshall can put on a display as well as they can and for the same reason, defence of territory; in this case not so much his own as that of certain species in the animal kingdom.' They also discussed the wholesale shooting of kangaroos and the very live issue of their numbers being decimated to a dangerous level for reproduction. This was an issue disputed by several scientists working on kangaroo populations, including Dr Tim Ealey of his own Department who said 'Jock embarrassed me with his fervour for stopping the slaughter - it was not as simple as that.' He was pleased that not long before he died Jock reviewed his own assessment of the situation: 'Perhaps they should be farmed - certainly the culling should not be wasted.' It has been proved that culling - of some wild animals in the world - has become increasingly necessary for their own survival as they eat out and destroy the small amount of habitat left to them. At the time he was speaking to Huxley some grazing properties were disastrously overstocked and sheep had wiped out the grasses of their own diet and allowed native grass species to take over. The sheep were not able to survive on these but certain types of kangaroo multiplied alarmingly on them. Although he wrote sympathetically of the necessity for farmers to survive Jock was amused by the irony - 'It's not funny really, but it makes you believe in God!'


He was one of the first members of the Australian Conservation Foundation, which was born of discussions between a few people, sometime in 1964, who wanted to throw a net over the whole continent and canalise conservation issues nationally. Early meetings were held at the Hotel Canberra. There were not many people: the poet Judith Wright, Jock, Dr Leonard Webb of the C.S.I.R.O. in Queensland and Dr Max Day and Dr Francis Ratcliffe from the same organisation in Canberra, among a number of others engaged or interested in the conservation field. 'The business was conducted in a very informal atmosphere around a long table in the dining room' said Dr Webb 'and at one meeting, almost in mid sentence, Judith Wright exclaimed "Oh my God, I've forgotten my nightie!" - "Don't worry" said Jock with cheerful elan "I've got a spare pair of pyjamas." With instant decision, while the rest of us sat in chagrin wondering why we hadn't been able to think of anything to say or do, he went upstairs and came back with a pair of wonderful - sumptuous really - silk pyjamas. Judith accepted with grace and dignity, and that night wrapped herself in the arms of Morpheus and Jock's pyjamas. Jock, of course, had enjoyed himself. He no doubt liked the idea of helping Judith but he loved playing the cavalier gentleman and leaving the rest of us in disarray.'

Seriously, however, he later became worried about the wishy-washy course of the A.C.F. - its first formal Council meeting was held in August 1966 and he was too ill to attend. In November he wrote to Francis Ratcliff:

'I am at present undergoing barotherapy at the Peter McCallum Clinic and I do not feel very well but what has made me feel worse is the horrid little Foundation brochure that has just turned up and its anaemic appearance in general and its timid invitation to help "conserve our farmlands, forests and waterways" etc. etc.

... We now have enough money to run for three years and it is the next three years that will make or break the Foundation - it will either become a positive success and something important in the national scene or it will deteriorate into yet another independent society of nature loving do-gooders ... Those who have put themselves forward for election to the Executive have what is almost a holy trust to do the best they possibly can in forwarding the aims of the Foundation. If we miss this chance another will probably not come for half a century.'

He was still concerned about it two weeks before he died, when he wrote to Alfred Dunbavin Butcher of the State Fisheries and Wildlife Department: 'I am by no means opposed to the Conservation Foundation as such ... but I have felt that as it stood the Foundation was pretty ineffectual and needed better teeth in it at Canberra.' He thought opportunities to make press statements were being wasted or ignored and believed it was imperative to bring conservation issues into the realm of politics. He had done what he could himself in contacting the very sympathetic Senator Tony Mulvihill. He would have applauded the enormous thrust into the political arena taken a few years ago by the Foundation under its Director, Phillip Toyne who certainly made a noise and succeeded in having conservation put on the political agenda very effectively; even significantly acted upon.

In 1963 Alan Moorhead was in Australia and asked Jock for his views on travel in the area of the Great Australian Bight. Jock replied that the Bight was 'monotonously boring to the superficial observer, but fascinating in its detail if one is able to soak oneself into the environment long enough to get its spirit and feeling.' From his earliest writings in Espiritu Santo and New Guinea to the tougher pronouncements of his last years that 'spirit and feeling' came through. His greatest concern was the infinite damage to all life that occurs when it is divorced from the natural web which succours it. Over and over again he emphasised the importance of saving the whole environment of creatures under threat. 'I don't give a damn about protecting individual animals. It's the species I want to protect ... Once a species goes, it's lost forever. You can't resurrect it. It is as if Beethoven hadn't lived to give us the Ninth Symphony or Shakespeare to give us Hamlet.

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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