At the beginning of 1938 he entered the University year with a
burning desire to get into it all; and with the swagger of someone
familiar with Oxford University and the experience of three scientific
and exploratory expeditions in widely different lands. In contrast,
he was plunged into undergraduate life as a science student and
had to face the hierarchical god-professor system; not entirely
unfamiliar to him, having taken Zoology 1 in 1935. Because of
his Oxford and expedition work he was offered a Tutorship in Zoology
at the University's oldest college, St Paul's. So he was off
with a flourish as usual.
The tutorship pleased him enormously. He enjoyed the old college,
its rituals and traditional sandstone building reminiscent of
Oxford; and he enjoyed his relationship with the students; an
interesting balancing act between authority and camaraderie.
Two of the medical students, Ian Hume and Charles Arnold, became
firm friends, as did one of the senior students, Bill Woodward,
and he kept in touch with several others. But after the heady
mingling with renowned scientists in England he found it irksome
having to swot so hard on the basic material of the Science course.
It was no simple follow-on from school, where he had been far
too busy with the business of combating authority to take the
faintest interest in any of the science subjects. Now he was
faced with catching up on the whole spectrum in an absurdly short
time. 'I have a horror of being beaten in the Nov. Zoology exams
by one of my own students - and that conceivably could happen!'
However, at the beginning of the next year he was exultant at
getting through to second year, and delighted that so many friends
were glad he'd passed. He got telegrams and letters from many
people, from the Museum and elsewhere, who had been convinced
he had bitten off more than he could chew and had not hesitated
to say so. But Organic Chemistry had to be repeated and had been
a worry. There had been a regrettable encounter with the examiner,
Professor Earl - in a post office. Jock was writing a book on
his English experiences - 'that bastard cost me about 100 pounds
adv. royalties for "Thru' darkest England" which didn't
eventuate.' There is no record of the altercation, but it was
indicative of his attitude to authority figures that if he disagreed
with them there was no quarter given, even when their power could
In September 1938, just a year before war erupted, rumours of
it were blowing up in Sydney as they had been in Europe for some
time. Jock met J. Enoch Powell: 'noisesome young north Englander.'
Powell was the new Professor of Greek, and at only twenty-six
self-confidently opinionated. '[He] predicted a war within 48
hours (perhaps with good reason - Czech. crisis) & he's considering
the advisability of flying home to England. Several of the staff
table at the Union suggested throwing in a few bob to help him!'
Also in that September Jock met Joy Wood. He wanted to go to
an Australian Museum Ball, but his partner for the evening was
ill. Joyce Allen - conchologist at the Museum - said she would
ask a friend of hers to come: 'a fascinating glamorous brunette;
guaranteed.' From that time on it was really a miracle he passed
any exams at all. He began ferrying constantly across to the
suburb of Mosman which was spread around and up the hills from
a small cove on the northern shore of the harbour, where Joy Wood
lived with her parents. 'I'm now passing thru a Mosman period
of ferry boats, red signs rippling across harbour waters &
the great arc of bridge dimly spanned in the darkness. The reason
is Joy ... surprisingly straight thinking, v. attractive, v. vivacious
girl.' It was almost exactly a year since he had written the
letter to Austen as he sailed towards Norway. His academic plans
were on course; but he was about to prove how difficult he would
find it to avoid matrimony or to do a lot of wandering in the
mountains with Ernie.
Joy Wood was indeed a glamorous brunette. She was twenty-two
with many male admirers. Jock, in typical style, simply took
possession of most of her time. He climbed the steps of the wharf
in the deep waters of Mosman's Bay, where back in the early part
of the Nineteenth Century the air had been full of the lurid language
of pig-tailed sailors and the appalling stench of whale blubber
- now scented with frangipani in rows of fenced gardens; then
up the road, lined with comfortable red-roofed bungalows to the
house in Moran Street. Night after night, after spending time
in the city (where Joy worked as a secretary) or visiting the
house, he made the journey. One needs to picture the atmosphere
of this suburb in the thirties in order to know the impact Jock
must have had with his seductive tales of savage, wild or cultivated
places, and his unconventional attitudes to almost everything.
Life was good in Mosman, but as in most of Sydney's northern
suburbs, it operated within strict conventional rules about every
aspect of living (I know because I lived in one). Large old houses
or newer brick bungalows housed families who all felt the same
about the importance of 'moral' behaviour, correct possessions
and correct procedure for one's passage through life. They aspired
to quality, but not to any untidy artistic or other licence.
Jock, in spite of being something of a cross between a sophisticated
and exotic public success (his books and his exploits had been
widely reported) and a larrikin, found favour with Joy's parents,
especially with her mother, who was an excellent pianist but had
settled down to the rearing of her only child. Her father was
an engineer whom Jock liked. Joy was charming, with a strong
sense of proper Mosman decencies which did not accord well with
Jock's life-style but she had a fine sense of fun. She loved
dancing and was very good at it. She discovered Jock did not
love it at all. 'He was an appalling dancer - marched you up
the room turned around and marched you down again' she said truthfully.
They quarrelled intermittently, but not seriously; some of the
clashes, though certainly not all, were engendered by Jock's work-load.
In March, 1939 he was delighted to be offered a part time job,
because he was becoming seriously short of money. His parents
had given him the three years' University fees when he came home
- 'I bludged on them at the age of twenty-seven' - but he did
not expect them to support his taste for night-clubs and wining
and dining. Alister Deamer, the Editor of the Telegraph,
asked him over a beer or two with Cyril Pearl if he wanted a job.
'Of course I wanted a job.' But it meant he would have to work
in the University from nine to three or four during the day, and
then until eleven at night at the Telegraph - about fourteen
hours a day. And he still had a weekly broadcasting commitment
with The Australian Broadcasting Commission. He also wanted to
keep on his tutorship at St Paul's and solved a fraction of his
problem with time by becoming resident within the college. Besides,
he had been elected President of the "Pacific Islands Club"
some time before, succeeding Ian Hogbin. It should have been
enough. But when offered the editorship of the Science Journal
at the University he accepted because he wanted to do it - 'I
have a lot of ideas to shake it up.'
In 1939 he was in a state of almost pyrotechnic energy. It was
not surprising there was a certain amount of strain on the romance,
though it progressed through six months of oscillation between
argument and pleasure to an unofficial engagement. 'Apart from
minor crises, which are mostly my fault, Joy & I get along
very well. She's a grand kid & could do much better than
me.' He liked her parents very much '& her friends are nice.
She is quite charming, has a type of personality all her own,
v. popular with people, & tactful - really ideal in many ways
& I should be quite hopelessly in love with her. Unfortunately,
I'm too selfish, egocentric and generally bloody to ever love
anyone.' Joy believes that neither of them were 'ever really
in love - though we enjoyed playing the part.'
Jock was pushing himself to the limit at this time. He was studying
long into the night - 'my left eye probably buggered thru intensive
study under bad light, is still a trouble - I get a fuzzy double
image.' That left eye was imperceptibly skewed and no problem
normally, but always gave trouble under strain. He was feeling
listless and had a chest cold for the first time in ten or twelve
years. 'Just as well I don't drink too much too! Sleep &
rest! How I need it!' But he would not be gloomy for long.
He described a new outfit of Joy's and that she looked magnificent
in it. The academic year had begun. He was glad to be doing
zoology again and felt much better, 'but still need sleep.' It
was also suddenly brought home to him how little he was interested
in personal appearance. At the insistence of his dentist he had
a new gold filling, but had failed to look at the result for days
- 'a bad thing not to be interested? Yet I look alright when
I get into good clothes. And curiously I like good
He went whirling through the year like a willy-willy over a dry
plain. It was August 1st before he began a flurry of jottings
in his diary. The Boronia on the College table reminded him it
was Spring in the bush 'I've not been out in months - what a change
in my life!' The bower bird experiment was going well; exams
were approaching and he came home at midnight after hard hours
on the paper to the big fig tree and the shadowy turrets of St
Paul's. The life in St Paul's College was a background to all
else. He rose early, studied, attended Chapel, worked with his
zoology students and ate at high table in the evening. Within
that framework came university lectures, long hours of journalism
and weekly broadcasts for the A.B.C. childrens' naturalist program.
'He who nonchalantly consumes a glass of beer in a Newtown hotel
at 5.45 p.m. when he is due to broadcast at 6 p.m. (and what is
more does broadcast at that time without a trace of flurry), is
scarcely human' wrote a colleague at Saint Paul's in wonder at
his awesome energy; and '[he] found plenty of time to devote
to College affairs. He was a quiet and unobtrusive worker for
the college.' And he was finding time for "Science in 1939"
phoenixing from the ashes of the old Science Journal. It was
the second week of September when he remarked enigmatically:
'Engaged now. Announced a week ago. But still in much the same
position.' They quarrelled about the engagement too - Jock thought
the whole exercise not only absurd 'middle-class morality' but
unnecessarily expensive when money spent on diamonds could be
better spent later. Turmoil was not only personal. This was nearly
coincidental with the announcement of war in Europe into which
Australia stepped almost automatically. Jock was writing articles
on the fighting, scientific notes on the behaviour of bower birds
and studying genetics. It was an incredible life. 'I'm moderately
happy but wish I'd a bit of time to read history & novels
He and Joy were together whenever possible. 'I spent a lot of
time on my tummy watching him call up birds' said Joy 'I think
that was part of the fascination - he was so different.' Yes
he was different. And difficult - especially in those early days
of returning to his home ground from Melanesia and Britain. It
had been an intense two year learning period at every level of
his life. Australians comfortably settled in their prejudices
moved him to aggressive retort. He gave public lectures occasionally
to which Joy went. 'He was a good lecturer, but if some poor
person asked a stupid question he would cut them down without
mercy. We would have an argument about it. I usually walked
out. I did a lot of walking out.' And there were a lot of arguments,
which were almost always private, although they appeared to their
friends to be the ideal couple. 'We both enjoyed a bit of play-acting'
He was too busy even to make notes in his diary for most of 1940.
In September he bemoaned the fact that Spring in the bush was
passing him by, final science exams were early and due in a few
weeks. He felt he did not know enough. And the undercurrents
of conflict with Joy were surfacing more seriously. In the last
days of 1940 they erupted into a decision on New Year's Eve to
break off their engagement. They had been scrapping for months
- 'nearly ever since we became engaged. My fault as much, or
more than hers. I'm rude, domineering & generally unpleasant;
she hasn't the sense to ignore my bloodier traits & I'm not
nice enough to make effort enough to eliminate them.' He believed
if either of them wanted marriage & happiness enough they
would make the effort for change. 'But frankly I don't. I'm
too interested in the things I want to do in the future to hamper
myself with a wife who will generally upset my ways of life (tho'
not too much - she's too nice & understanding in most ways:
the mere fact of a wife will do that) & hold me back in other
ways - money for instance. I must get to Oxford or Harvard soon
The rift lasted for two months. Jock was always unsure how they
came together again; and Joy has no remembrance of it. It appears
to have been a perception that if they were not ideal they might
make a go of it. Perhaps too they both thought it was time to
be married. Jock did. In his letter to Austen, though he talked
of avoiding it, he tacitly acknowledged a need for it. And the
war was having its emotional effect on everyone. Whatever the
reason, they came together to be married in St Paul's Chapel on
March 8th, 1941. There was no money for a conventional honeymoon
- Joy was asked to tramp through the bush on the south coast -
not her favourite occupation.
Jock was still deeply involved with work, some of which was now
more necessary than ever to pay for an apartment at Elizabeth
Bay - a prestigious enclave on the southern shore of the harbour
near the city and not too far from the University. He was seriously
short of money after the expenses of a formal engagement and now
marriage. He had left the Telegraph for a time the previous
year but now went back. He was glad to have the money but upset
to lose his 'work freedom & I'll be once more "bought"
- or sold?! And this year I so did want to publish an explosive
series of essays ... on prevailing attitudes in b'casting, journalism,
unemployment, politics, lies, graft etc., etc.'. He did not publish
them as essays but they became the book, Australia Limited,
which was published the following year. Work on it and the research
for his thesis kept him constantly writing into the small hours
of the morning, and he was now acting Sub-Warden of St Paul's
College. Then there was journalism. On June 1st that year, besides
working for The Telegraph, he began writing special articles
for the Daily Mirror, a newspaper born only three weeks
before. He had also taken on the editorship of the University
magazine Hermes. The Sub-Wardenship of the college, the
newspaper work, the broadcasting were all necessary financial
props. But what of the other responsibilities, and the writing
of the book? - were they necessary? 'No' said Joy 'it was ego.
Well, it was "anything you can do I can do better"
- the arm, you know - it drove him.' She herself was driven to
frustration by the situation. Being an extremely tidy person,
she was appalled at the endless mess of paper cluttering their
life. One day, having invited her friends to lunch, she gathered
the whole lot up in a rage and, regardless of order, shoved them
under the bed. They were both furious. It was, not of course,
about paper. It was one of many straws pointing to deeper problems.
Joy says honestly: 'I was suburban and wanted our life to fit
that form - Jock was a free spirit.'
But there was, and had been all the time, quite a lot of entertainment
in which they both shared. There was a bevy of gifted and amusing
journalists working on these papers at the time - people such
as Cyril Pearl, Elizabeth Riddell, Dal Stivens, Rex Rienits, Richard
("Monk") Hughes, Roly Pullen and artists Don Angus and
Jack Earl. They became companions in fun and vicissitude and
some of them lasting friends.
As well, there were activities within the University that were
radically unacademic. A propensity for occasional creative theatre
went rather further than the average practical joke. Jock's natural
bent towards debunking, re-enforced by his association with English
eccentrics of all ages, occasionally found the opportunity for
something spectacular. 'I remember him one day fighting with
a man in the tower at Sydney University' said a colleague 'He
was bashing away at the man and the girls shrieked in horror when
Jock picked up his opponent and threw him sixty feet to the ground.
It was several seconds before anyone realised it was a dummy.'
More widely spectacular was the kidnapping of a pompous English
knight. In July 1941, Sir Evelyn Wrench, founder of the English
Speaking Union and the Royal Overseas League, came to Sydney on
a lecture tour to promote these worthy institutions. One of the
lectures was to be given at Sydney University at the invitation
of the British Unity Society. Hardly any of the large student
and teaching population of the University were in the least interested
in either British or English Speaking unity and the audience was
unflatteringly small. Despite the hospitality of Sir Robert Wallace,
the Vice-Chancellor of the University, and Canon Garnsey, the
Warden of St Paul's, Sir Evelyn chose to cancel the lecture and
unceremoniously marched out.
Because of a family connection Ian Hume, went to the lecture.
He was so disgusted with the patronising rudeness of Sir Evelyn
that he went streaking back to St Paul's complaining volubly to
his friends and especially to Jock. Ian, a great-grand nephew
of the early Australian explorer Hamilton Hume, was a jolly Falstaffian
figure, though he had another side to him - "fire in his
belly" as Jock put it. He and two of his friends, A.W.P.
(Charlie) Arnold and Phillip Champion decided they must find a
way to teach Sir Evelyn a lesson in manners. They considered
the cancellation an insult to the Warden and the Vice-Chancellor
and to the whole university. 'You bastard, we'll kidnap you!'
they decided. However, their plans were crude until they discussed
it with Jock. Knowing Sir Evelyn was due to broadcast on the
national radio network, Jock devised a scheme. The talk was to
be given live in the evening; so they would inveigle Sir Evelyn
out in the morning on the pretext that the land line had broken
down and it was necessary to pre-record the talk at the Corporation's
other studios. Having chosen a particularly unsalubrious venue
from which Sir Evelyn would have to extricate himself, they set
to work on the plan.
All went well on the day. The easily recognisable Jock could
not appear but he did the essential telephoning. Putting on his
most plummy A.B.C. voice he informed Sir Evelyn of the necessity
to record and that he would be called for and driven to the studios.
It was now over to the two who would receive him and drive the
car - Arnold and Champion. Hume could not appear either, lest
he be recognised. So Champion, in suitably sober attire, met
Sir Evelyn at the Hotel Australia and ushered him out to the large
black limousine which had been hired for the purpose. They wound
their way out of the city centre through industrial areas to the
south, Sir Evelyn becoming increasingly huffy as Arnold's nervous
driving threw him around. Finally they arrived at their destination
- Tempe Rubbish Tip. In those days the tip had elaborately grand
cast iron gates and Champion handed Sir Evelyn out, told him to
give his name to the gentleman inside the gates - "we have
to rush now sir - we are running late to meet another appointment",
and took off before the spluttering knight could turn around.
There was a considerable furore in the press the following day
and at breakfast the Warden turned to Jock and said "I think
this sounds like the work of Paul's gentlemen" and looking
very straight at him "but we don't know who, do we!"
Jock thought he noticed a twinkle in the good Canon's eye.