Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

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In April 1965 an opportunity surfaced which Jock seized immediately. His geologist nephew, who worked for the American Metals Company, was taking a survey party with helicopter into the country between Derby in Western Australia and the Northern Territory border; and 'because this is the last biologically unexplored area in Australia' an invitation to join them was not to be ignored. Jock immediately began putting together a team of seven scientists, each differently specialised, who could give 'a magnificent general coverage in a biological survey of the area.' He added a taxidermist, the Department's Services Manager and a photographer. He also decided to take me along as artist for the copying of cave paintings, many of which were inaccessible to the camera, and to make a small collection for the botanists. He did not include any of the female staff.

It followed in some part the tracks taken by Jock, Dominic Serventy and Russell Drysdale in 1958 but went much deeper into scientifically unknown country to the north near the Mitchell River and Admiralty Gulf. It was a valuable scientific exercise in some of the most fascinating country in Australia; but not surprisingly there was criticism of the team make-up from the women in the department. '[We] weren't given an option on whether we'd like to go or not. It was really a trip for the boys' said Dr Elaine Brough, at that time a young teaching fellow in the Department working for her Doctorate of Philosophy. It is likely that Jock's selections were not exclusive of the women so much as requiring scientific and field experience - although it would have been politic to have explained this to the two young women teachers, Brough and Partridge. 'I had mixed feelings about Jock' said Brough. She felt that he was giving mixed messages in general. She had come from an extremely formal university in New Zealand where the professor was held in total awe and it was infra-dig to wear jeans - 'and there was this professor who was very flamboyant, eccentric and wanted you to call him Jock'; but the casual form and friendly attitude was occasionally mixed with professorial authority wielded, she believed, peremptorarily. Because of the tragic death of one of the lecturers, she needed a new supervisor. Jock arranged this without any consultation concerning her views on the new person. 'In one way he set out to make his relationship between the students and the staff in the Zoology Department different from that stuffy old colonial way of doing things ... but in other ways he was still bound himself to the old system.' She had come up against that dichotomy which Professor John Legge noted: 'In a way I suppose it was a little bit of a pose - his determination to be unconventional ... rather an odd mixture of deliberate unconventionality and a very strong concern for the ceremonial aspects of the University - ritual, tradition.' But Brough found there were advantages, such as the institution Jock had created of Friday after-work gatherings at the Nottinghill Hotel which he nicknamed "The Vicarage" (after a pub beloved by the students at Bart's) - 'the many Friday afternoons we spent at the pub with visitors and interesting people will always stick in my memory as great times and good repartee which unfortunately is not always there today in universities ... Jock certainly was a Professor extraordinaire.'

Apart from meeting, as Dr David Pollard said, 'people such as MacFarlane Burnett, Gus Nossal or Geoffrey Dutton (how often would a young science post-graduate have the chance to meet a Nobel Prize winner or such a well-known literary figure?)' - there was another aspect as well to the "Vicarage" gatherings. On taking research work to Jock in his room in the Department for supervisory discussion, David Pollard was sometimes told: 'Bring it to the "Vicarage" at six - we'll be less interrupted.' Jock became so infuriated with the insistant 'phone 'that he more than once pulled it bodily from the wall and threw it into the waste bin.' The electricians were constantly busy. At the "Vicarage", if no guests had been invited, they could settle at a quiet table in the garden with a drink, and get on with the work of supervision.

Dr Janette Hope (nee Partridge), in her honours year in Zoology at Sydney University became aware of the emerging reputation of the new place in the south. 'As a zoology student one was very conscious that there was lack of interest in the Australian environment', but she heard 'Monash was this new world ... and then Jock came along with that very explicit eloquence. I think that got around the zoology fraternity very fast ... I'm sure I was aware of it before I went to Monash.' In the environmental mores of the time it is not surprising 'this new exciting University where one was going to study Australian animals' made an impact - 'and of course that was the case - we [even] got experience with live animals in Snake Gully.'

Like Brough, however, when she got to Monash as a teaching fellow and post-graduate student she found that Jock could be confrontational. She was affronted to be given a verbal lashing for being 'lazy' when the story had emanated from someone who had overheard an entirely facetious exchange between herself and Brough on the weight of their work-load. She left the office distraught that 'somebody would call you in and take at face value something that had been reported second-hand.' Clearly Jock had here let down his own standards of fairness. On a later occasion he reduced her to tears with an angry tirade about her going over budget on a visit to Flinder's Island - but when she did it again deliberately for a considered good reason, he merely said 'that's alright - I like to see a bit of initiative in my students.'

The undergraduate students did not have so much personal contact but, since Jock thought it his particular responsibility to enthuse first year students with the excitement he felt himself about the work, they came to know something of his character. Dr John Baldwin came to Monash in 1961. 'I set out to do Chemistry, Physics and Biology - chemistry was very boring and text book, physics much the same but biology was totally different ... it was really these first year lectures by Jock that turned me onto Biology.' Mixed in with the course and observations on such creatures as the earthworm were 'wonderful anecdotes' about animals studied 'while "crossing Spitzbergen single-handed dragging a dog-sled in my teeth" , climbing mountains in New Guinea etc., etc. '. Apart from any exaggerations of either Jock or Baldwin, 'it was daring do and "Boys Own" stuff - the sort of thing one wanted to do.' Then in second year 'a lot of the time was just spent on going out on field trips with various members of staff; and in this way I think we learnt a lot of real biology.'

There were various tricks used to make exams more interesting to the lecturers as well as the students, such as a Second Year exam set up with a lot of specimens scattered about the laboratory, each given a number and for each there was a question which required an answer written within a few minutes. 'Jock used to like going out of his way in embarrassing people, particularly Second Year students.' He had a remarkable biological artefact, a massive os-penal bone from a walrus. Question No. 5 was: 'The animal that possessed this bone had a bloody big.....?' John Baldwin believed he knew what it was but 'I thought a specimen like this deserved a better answer, so I said "wife".' The papers were removed and the students went on to the next section of the exam. Suddenly the door was flung open and Jock marched in smoking a large cigar - 'Baldwin - who is Baldwin?' 'My god, what have I done?' thought the unhappy student, but responded with his name. 'First class Honours lad - you have first class Honours', and he turned on his heel and stalked out.

His love of the theatrical gesture often surfaced in odd incidents and in his lectures which made them memorable even years later. Another of his students at Monash, Father O'Kelly, recalls being late for a lecture and arriving at the closed door at the same moment as the hurrying Professor, gown flying behind, 'who flung open the door ushering me through. Then, as I sat down in my conspicuous Jesuit black habit and white cravat he turned to the room and said: "There you are, you see, I sometimes keep good company". He was displaying for the young his open-mindedness on religion. He was very popular. His lectures were never dull.' Father O'Kelly is now headmaster of St Ignatius College in Sydney, and by coincidence has taught four of Jock's grandchildren - the sons of Nerida and Mark Fallon. Those ex-students who have remained within the biological sciences or related careers, such as Dr Fiona Clyne and John Baldwin emphasize that Jock's influence on their early thinking was crucial to their choices. Yet it is interesting that the men seemed mostly comfortable with Jock's handling of the reins whereas at least two of the women felt at times, less than fairly treated.


In a physical sense some of the influences he had on the University were obvious - although not on the architecture, unfortunately; he criticised it without success. When the new Medical School went up he likened it to 'a cross between Aldershot and Pentridge' (an army training centre in England and a prison in Melbourne) and the Arts building was 'a grim box with no style.' Hidden in the library there were more subtle influences. His interest in antiquarian books on early Australian colonial history, exploration and natural history drawings kept him always alert for a find, so he pricked up his ears when a friend in England told him there was the possibility of an important donation to an Australian University. He wrote to the prospective donor, Major Hall - 'My friend, Mr. J.D. Macdonald, of the British Museum of Natural History, has told me that you have a set of Gould's Birds of Australia that you may perhaps be prepared to give to some Australian Collection, possibly that of this University.' These valuable books did then come to Monash. He also knew Alf Conlon, the brilliant medical man whose interests went way beyond that field and who became a positive and quiet Grey Eminence behind many Australian institutions, including the beginning of the Australian National University. Conlon's scientific library and papers were bequeathed to the Zoology Department at Monash.

One prize which Jock had wanted to acquire for the University slipped away. An old house not far from our own had belonged to the artistic and literary Boyd family, but was now in the hands of a quarrying company. Its dining room had been decorated with a continuous mural on three walls by the young artist Arthur. The walls were cracking and vandals had got into the house but had inflicted only minor damage. Jock wrote to the Vice-Chancellor on April 7th 1964 asking if he would convene a meeting of the Arts Purchasing Committee to look into the possibility of purchasing this mural for Monash. John Reed of the Museum of Modern Art had also been in touch with Jock. Unfortunately the enterprise was too difficult and expensive. Monash did not get it.

The first months of 1966 were packed with work and also frustration. Jock became angry with his good friend and collaborator, Dom Serventy, because Dom had not fulfilled some understanding of Jock's concerning their joint work on the shearwaters. It was ironed out amicably but was an indication of pressure.

All this time he had engaged in long correspondence with Farner and Wolfson in the United States, and especially with Dom Serventy, concerning research on triggers for the migration and breeding patterns of the shearwaters, moving in their sweeping figure of eight from Alaska to Tasmania; a complicated research program which involved a great deal of organization as well as the laboratory work. He also made several trips to Flinders and Lady Barren Islands with Dom Serventy. In the meantime Wolfson, and especially Farner, had held to views on the prime importance of light as the reproductive stimulus, with which he did not agree. But in August, 1962 he wrote to Dr John Simons of University of Sydney: 'It is a fact too, that Farner has in the past, along with Wolfson, always denied the existence of an internal rhythm (excluding "circadian" such) and it is only recently, since he has come in contact with Serventy and myself, that he has seen what we believe to be the light!' Five years later at a Congress in Montpellier Professors Wolfson and Farner were still involved with the role of light but taking into account Jock's and Serventy's work on birds of tropical and arid habitat not thus activated; while Jock, although he recognized 'the importance of the photoperiod as an environmental synchroniser for many temperate species, he always emphasised that other factors were more important to birds of other habitats.' Their paths had eventually converged. In 1972, Allen Keast reviewed a book, Avian Biology, edited by Donald Farner and James King, which he said was 'the conceptual descendant of A.J. Marshall's Biology and Comparative Physiology of Birds, and the series is dedicated to this distinguished avian physiologist.' He wrote that the role of an internal rhythm, as an initiator of periodic phenomena in birds, remained controversial, but 'its occurrence has, however, now been conclusively demonstrated in one species (by Serventy and Marshall), the trans-equatorial sea-bird migrant, Puffinus tenuirostris.'

In early 1966 Jock was invited to speak at a Congress in Armidale - Conservation in Education. We all went with him. He took the opportunity to see two old army mates from "Jockforce" and Eric Beach at Iluka on the coast. He immediately became involved in trying to save rain-forest at Iluka. We went up to the Lamington Plateau and walked through the forest for several miles to the edge where the Plateau falls away into New South Wales, where Jock and Ernie Austen had climbed up thirty-five years before. We swam and walked on beaches and Jock showed the children small creatures and fireflies in the evening dusk. It was pleasure and also nostalgia with a sad edge.

Back at Monash there were countless commitments, and another fracas over what Jock found to be inefficiency and ineptitude with the new annex to the Zoology building. In March there was a fracas with Max Harris. Jock showed some humourless pique when Harris's Mary Martin Booklist published a remark which he interpreted as 'gratuitously offensive' and wrote Harris a scathing note calling him a 'snide, inferiority-ridden little piss-ant.' The piece was really more humorous than offensive but, as Geoffrey Dutton had noted, Jock 'had a wonderful sense of humour but he was very touchy about some personal things. [I] heard him be a bit truculent, over-sensitive - sometimes.'


A small brew of academic politics had been cooking for more than two years. In December 1963 Jock had a letter from Professor W.P. Rogers of Adelaide University:

'Dear Marshall,

You are probably aware that there are several biologists who believe that you should be nominated for election to the Australian Academy of Science. Waring started it; he wrote to Murray and to me about it. The point of this letter is to tell you that I would be pleased to support your nomination.'

Jock wrote to all three men thanking them: 'when I hear more about local custom I will write, if I may, and say whether I want to take advantage of your kindness.' He was in no hurry, being sensitive to thoughts on enemies - and aware that they could be multiplying as he kicked a few icons in his writing for The Australian. Eventually he decided to let the nomination go ahead eighteen months later. It was a gamble as ever. There was a large coterie of conventional, serious, Australian academics who could not, or would not, discriminate between Jock's public image as a stirrer and shaker and the value of his scientific work, which even if it were not known in detail had been well defined in Nature in a lengthy tribute to the merit of his research, when he was leaving London University to go to Monash. There is written evidence, however, in a letter from Rogers to Michael White that the support of Rogers would have gone no further than nomination; academic politics were alive and well as Jock had predicted. There was then another delay of almost a year while papers which should have gone to the Academy sat, owing to a postal mix-up, awaiting Professor Murray's return from sabbatical leave in Europe. In the middle of 1966, however, whatever thought Jock had been giving to the Australian Academy of Science - and my own belief and experience suggests very little - dropped from his mind.

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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