Jock Marshall - One Armed Warrior A Bright Sparcs Exhibitions

Next Page Previous Page



Four years had passed. He was alive, his right arm intact. He had his degree. In retrospect he talked of that time as enjoyable and satisfying. It did finally, with "Jockforce", satisfy the call to the heroic myth, although that potent symbol had cost him too much time-marking. But he considered he had learnt from it. At one time, in the elation of risk-taking, it caused him to set out his spiritual views.

It was the night before "Jockforce" took off. 'It is night & I am in my tent on the beach at Aitape ...' began a pile of 58 pages which grew beside him under the lamp, while the rest of the men slept in the translucent dark. Just as he had described the tropic coast one night nine years ago, there was a full moon glittering the black sea. He headed it Testament of Doubt, which spells out his agnosticism. He had thought about this philosophy ever since his father pointed the way. His library attested his interest. He was emphatic he was not an atheist '& I do not deny the existence of "God" or gods. But as a rational being I require evidence & proof of "His" or their existence. As a scientist "faith" has no place in my philosophy ... I frankly don't know how the Universe came into being (if it is necessary that it came into being) & neither, apparently does anybody else at the present stage of human knowledge.'

The Bible was a fascination. 'To me the Bible is a stupendously interesting collection of narratives which, in the form of verse, legends, drama, history, sermons and letters comprise the greatest single collection of literature ever got together. But nobody but an imbecile, it seems to me, would claim for it verbal infallibility. The books of the Bible differ from each other as much as do the Decameron & the London Times.' He pointed up the different faces of God displayed by the various authors - 'And what of that extraordinary old Cynic Ecclesiastes, agnostic & sinner, whose wisdom, revealed by his sayings, is as authentic today as it was a couple of hundred years before Christ was born. One of the many pearls, I remember, is: "Wisdom is better than might, better than weapons of war, yet (?) wisdom is despised." '

He wrote on until the moon was down and the sky lightening. In the circumstances of war he found it more impossible than ever to believe that there was a benevolent deity watching over the affairs of people. His writing was indeed a testament of doubt rather than an affirmation of any particular belief. But he did believe (though denying his deity) that Christ existed '& was one of the greatest & most courageous individuals who ever lived. I cannot accept the creed, & I do not believe the bible to be the word of "God" in whom I also do not believe. I see no reason to believe that Jesus Christ was sinless. I do believe however, that many professing Christians of my acquaintance are among the most unchristlike bastards I know.'

Five weeks later he returned to claim the writing of that night. He saw no divine hand in the fact, any more than he saw it in the death and injury of the enemy. Life was a one-off gift to make of it what one would, and take the consequences. He passionately wanted to make his life significant, but believed the tools were within himself. His mention of Ecclesiastes' wisdom is an echo of his thoughts on war back in 1939, when he was densely annotating Aldous Huxley's Ends and Means (commenting in the margins of his books was a revealing habit). He scored heavily a passage in which Huxley remarked - in 1938 - that Buddhism forbade even laymen to be involved in manufacturing or selling arms, making poisons or intoxicants, soldiering or slaughtering animals. He was not a Buddhist so his determination to fight for his country was no paradox. Intellectually he was totally against war, but when it became an actuality, the forces of his history, emotion and personality were overwhelming.

His obligatory involvement with the religious rituals of St Paul's College gave him great respect and affection for Canon Garnsey and for the literature of the Bible, but did not change his own philosophy at all. It did give him an ability to surprise many years later. Jock and some zoologists from the Department at Monash University were on their way to Hattah Lakes on the River Murray. Fraser Hercus had arranged that they should stop for sustenance at his mother's house in Bendigo. A delicious meal was brought to the table. 'It was a real old-world atmosphere - starched linen and polished silver. Mrs Hercus suggested Professor Marshall might like to say grace.' Nobody else expected Jock would do any such thing, but he rose, and with no hesitation solemnly intoned - 'Benedictus Benedicat per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum.' Mrs Hercus found it a rather strange grace and the zoologists admitted to coming close to sliding under the table in shock.

Before his first child was born he even considered having it baptised by Arthur Garnsey at Pauls but decided to eschew such sentimentality. 'When he grows up he can get confirmed, or embrace Popery, or join the Seventh Day Adventists - or remain a healthy honest agnostic - or do anything he likes - but at the moment I don't feel like foisting on him anything in which he hasn't a chance of an opinion.' He was showing his prejudice for males and agnosticism, but his tolerance may have been real. His children did not test him. Many years later at Monash University he clearly showed tolerance. Some members of the Rationalist Association were trying to prevent the Jesuits from holding mass on campus. Father O'Kelly, then a Zoology student involved in the discussion, remembers Jock turning to their representative and saying: 'You stand for free thought. The Jesuits have a perfect right to hold mass as you do to hold your views.' The editor of The Rationalist magazine, Bill Cook, was a friend and had published "Testament of Doubt" in 1945.

The word 'agnostic' often carries a connotation of barren practicality, denying mystery and wonder - though its true meaning leaves mystery always lying beyond known phenomena. Jock found the world wondrous, as his writing showed. He did not deny mystery, only 'faith' in it - always conscious of the cloak of 'science' about him and wary of expressing intuition except in private moments. At home he had the endearing habit of descending into joking superstition with "Little Grey Men" who had strange powers for protection, or "Hughie", the bushmen's god who sat on his left shoulder invoking good luck.


Sydney 1945

At the end of the year Jock handed me the manuscript written on the beach at Aitape. The content did not surprise me though the fact that he had sat up all night writing it did. When I knew him better I would not have been surprised. He would not have wanted to die without making clear his thoughts on death. His knowledge of the Bible was unexpected, but again I found his library full of interesting religious writing and he often consulted one of his favourites, The Natural History of the Bible. We had talked of agnostic philosophy in Townsville and found some parallels in our early experiences of it. My father, Reginald Graham, a very quiet rebel from his conventional old pioneer family in Melbourne, had, when I was about ten, subtly engineered my removal from a Methodist Sunday School where we three children were sent, probably more for peace than Protestant instruction. My questions concerning the teaching had been answered with a sceptical flavour. He called himself an atheist but he was probably nearer to agnostic, that much less rigid word coined by the great scientist T.H. Huxley. My mother had been brought up in a strictly Anglican household in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Belgium, but now was seduced by agnosticism and more than a passing interest in some Eastern religions. There was plenty to talk about.

Talk is one of my abiding memories of the large, comfortable house on the Northern side of Sydney overlooking a small park, a railway line and glimpses of the two rivers that flow into the Harbour. My parents were good at talk, loved it and so did many of their guests. Father was a wool-buyer but much more in character as a frustrated writer. He spun short stories but didn't send them to publishers. Predictably he enjoyed Norman Lindsay's blasts at icons of every religious and other persuasion and Norman's brother Percy used to visit us and was responsible for my going to Art School. Father had been wounded on Gallipoli and was quite often ill with intestinal problems. Our friend and doctor, Eric Bridges, an amusing warm-hearted man interested in writers and writing, came often to tend Father, or just to eat and talk in the large room filled with Belgian antiques and colourful rugs. He also brought many of his friends, one of whom was Beatrice Davis who became the reader for Angus and Robertson, the Sydney publishers, and later Eric's wife. Being the eldest by four years I had more access to these scenes as I matured than my sister and my brother, who later called it 'masterly inactivity'. In the first eight years of my life there had been plenty of activity in moving house and travelling - long sea voyages and foreign experiences in Belgium and England. There was a lot of money then. But suddenly such luxurious activities stopped as the depressive thirties took over. Talk and books, however, were cheap.

Our mother (Muriel Lawrence, but known as Bibi), a warm and sensuously attractive brunette, educated in Belgium, England and the Sorbonne University in Paris, had coped with all this; and an often invalid husband, the raising of three children in a strange land, and now a lover for her eldest daughter unlike anyone she had imagined (she had a streak of conservative ambition for her children, though she acknowledged a desire for some fire). And he was married - and he had a child. Neither parent thought this was acceptable eligibility but knew that the only decision they had to make was their attitude. For parents of that thirties and forties era living in a conventional suburb of Sydney they were unusual; they were, for their own private or vicarious reasons, not unsympathetic to what was fashionably called "free love". They were devotees of Julian and Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Conrad, Rebecca West, Frazer of The Golden Bough etc., etc. - I remember a condescending remark of Jock's made to me which ruffled my feathers: 'If you'd actually read all the books in this library you'd be quite well educated.' When he came to the house, after the decision for divorce was irrevocable, he found he did not have to work very hard to find an atmosphere of ease.

That atmosphere in which I grew up may have been one of the reasons Jock and I found ourselves so in tune. My parents, because of an old friendship, first landed as strangers on Sydney Harbour's northern shore rather than its southern, and eventually bought a house there before going off to Europe again. There was then no large Harbour bridge, and the water divided the north from the rich and poor, Bohemian and wicked, grand and slumish heart of the city on the south side. I think they were not unhappy with the choice but felt themselves out of kilter with the solidly suburban families around them. School was totally conventional for me and my sister but at home we absorbed some of their feeling of difference, though we had friends among our contempories. When I went to art school, housed among other disciplines in the great sandstone complex of buildings in Darlinghurst which used to be the main gaol for Sydney, I identified longingly with the few pockets of Bohemian life there. In the classroom in 1937, the acanthus leaf, heroic plaster caste and life drawing reigned supreme - but the models, who also painted, educated us in other ways. There was the witch Rosalie Norton - perhaps we didn't discern black magic but she was certainly different with her long eye teeth and long cloak; and Wolf Cardamalas whose life mission, at the time, was to gleefully and nakedly shock anyone, but particularly young women straight out of school (and our schools were no education for people like Wolf). Then I was chosen to go to the "Black and White Club" among the sophisticated cartoonists and others who gathered to draw from the model. I climbed the stairs in the old building in George Street the first time, terrified, but ambiteous to be part of it. I went often but never did become really part of it. I was a fringe dweller in Bohemia, but I learnt the value of eccentricity and the creativity sparked by another way of seeing. So when Jock appeared so precipitously some years later he was the different other half - the embodiment of so much I loved but could not fully enter into myself. We were a good jig-saw, though at the time he wrote 'she can be a little blue and gold spitfire but WE get along alright.'


Demobilization from the Army, however, found Jock bombarded with practical and emotional difficulties. His father was dying, his mother stressed, his disintegrated marriage was on the way to the courts and, however civilized both parties tried to be, there was nothing easy about it. 'Almost everyone will blame me as the bastard who caused it' he predicted with reasonable accuracy 'which is only half true and will do me no good professionally.' For everybody's sake he was anxious that the reason for it should be seen for what it was - two people temperamentally misfitted for the intimacy of marriage together. For that reason, and above all for professional concerns, he was at pains to keep his association with me from public knowledge, which added to the strain he felt. He knew it was unfair to Joy, but dare not tell her. She was seeing about a divorce. Because he was leaving the country, the only option at that time was for him to leave her and for her to move in the matter. 'Whatever happens I shall appear in a poor light.' The war had made it easy to keep their failure entirely private apart from their families. Leaving her, he would be seen to be deserting a very charming wife; if she left him 'there must have been something bloody wrong with me! But neither of us, in the most friendly discussions possible, can see any other way out of it.'

Divorce is now so commonly accepted it is difficult to cast a line back over more than forty years and drag in the images it then evoked. Not that it was rare. But, apart from the more bohemian fraction of society, there was no sense of style about it - not in England or the lands she had socially imprinted. The process was lengthy, difficult, often appearing to be tinged with, if not actually dyed in scandal, no matter what the reasons for it. Despite royal precedent in England the court set an example of disapprobation and ostracism which still had the power to set the mores of the time. Jock knew that working as a journalist the divorce would do no more than give an interesting flavour to his reputation, but to get into an Oxford college in order to read for his Doctorate of Philosophy he must not advertise the event or allow scandal to be blown into the simple truth. It was almost as socially undesirable in the medieval universities as in royal haunts and suburban drawing rooms and could be a reason, if fault were found and publicised, for 'sending a person down' (a euphemism for dismissal from the University).

Apart from the divorce, he had two major concerns: to get into an Oxford college - which was necessary in order to read for a degree because it was the colleges, not the university, who dealt with such matters; and to obtain a grant to make it possible to work academically without having to seek jobs on the side. On December 26th he had word that he had been accepted by Oxford both in candidature for a Doctorate in Philosophy in the Department of Zoology and by Saint Catherine's Society; an alternative for overseas students who could not get into a college. He was delighted and relieved.


Meanwhile money was needed for these matters, domestic and professional. For the months between demobilisation and being allocated a passage on a ship for England, he went back to journalism as special writer for the Daily Mirror, a Sydney evening paper. He also decided to spin some more money by writing a historical sketch of the Mosman cove he knew so well, and the careening of whaling ships there in the early days of the colony. While away in Melbourne, Rex Rienits, editor of the special pages and a friend, took the manuscript with him for comment at Jock's request. Rex sent it back with some notes - 'they're all minor points, which means that I've nothing to offer in the way of major criticism.' - but he was not happy with Jock's sweeping slam at the worthy burghers of Mosman. 'I know how you feel about them, and I've said exactly the same myself many's the time, but it does strike a sour note; like a Stravinsky discord worked surreptitiously into a Mozart symphony.' Rex would not have been intending to liken the slim manuscript - which Jock later refused to publish because he thought it not up to standard - to a work by Mozart, but it was an interesting metaphor for something he did quite often.

Rex also read The Black Musketeers for the first time - and was appalled to find Jock was writing infinitely better ten years ago than he was now. 'It's really first class writing, Jock - and I mean this in all sincerity - smooth, graphic, interesting, and strongly reflecting yourself; a younger, less cynical (though equally sardonic) yourself that seems to have got lost by the wayside. You've become tainted with the rottenness of professional journalism since those days; you've developed a Pearlian slickness and superficiality and surface smartness that is very clever and quite worthless; and you've lost something that I (knowing you only from your Daily Telegraph days) only dimly suspected you had. "Black Musketeers" was an eye-opener to me, for though it taught me a great deal about the natives of the New Hebrides, it taught me a hell of a lot more about its author. You had something back in '35; I believe you've got it still - in fact there are passages in "Whalers' Cove" which convince me this is so.'

Those two books on the New Hebrides and New Guinea, published by Heinemann in London, did well in the competitive world of literary publishing and criticism. But Rex was right. Jock had now lost the impetus of that graphic elegance through years of war diaries and journalism. He was tired and troubled. Whalers' Cove was an exercise without inspiration written to raise money - which he recognised and discarded it. During the war he commented on his own writing. 'My most wistful ambition, & one that I shall never realise, is to develop a Voltairean satire rather than the robust pungency that I at present strike with.'

He had undoubtedly struck with 'robust pungency' in Australia Limited. It was interesting that such a pithy analysis of the least attractive of our national characteristics went into five editions in the middle of a war. No section of society escaped his critical search-light. Not even the war effort, and even less the politicians who dictated the effort. The universities were not spared: 'our universities are not universities but diploma factories.' And the student 'has little time for broad-scale integrated knowledge, is scarcely aware that it exists ... Sydney university turns out competent tradesmen (lawyers, chemists, pharmacists, surgeons, vets) but its output of intellectually equipped citizens is practically nil.' In New Guinea he found one of the senior officers had read the book and agreed with most of it but was annoyed that he agreed because, he told Jock, 'it's violent style infuriated him.'

But a very different book was drafted out in the hiatus between the Army and a ship: Darwin and Huxley in Australia. It would have pleased Rienits but was unhappily not published until after both he and Jock had died. 'Australia lost not only a distinguished zoologist but a writer of rare charm' wrote the reviewer of The Times Literary Supplement. But this subject, unlike the Mosman one, was close to Jock's heart and his work. The human aspects of the two great men of science, who came to Australia in the thirties and forties of the last century had intrigued him for years. He was especially interested in Thomas Henry Huxley's visit, partly because it was so little known that he had such intimate associations with this country and partly because of Huxley's involvement with a piece of tragic Australian history - the Kennedy expedition to Cape York. Huxley did not go all the way with Kennedy which meant he survived to do greater things.


Now, however, Jock was back again in the staccato world of fast words and deadlines. Special writers were supposed to deliver a modicum of culture, so there was a modicum of interest too. But he was aching to be given that berth on a ship which would get him away to the work he really wanted to do. In the meantime, there was some lightness. In November 1945 he went to a dinner given by the delightful Senor Manuelo Eduardo Hubner, Charge d'Affaires for Chile, who had read Australia Limited and sought him out. 'Dobell was there. He is either one of the dumbest men I [ever] met or he deliberately cloaks a devastating mentality with a most successful pose. Like many great scientists he doesn't reflect his talent socially tho' he plays the party game prettily enough - with the old women mostly. Drysdale there too - a satisfactory bloke, worth talking to. ... And Ure-Smith; & a lot of hangers on, typical camp-followers of Art.'

Manuelo Hubner became a friend and after Jock left for England they corresponded until Manuelo was recalled to Chile and there was an impenetrable silence. Drysdale, the 'satisfactory bloke' became a life-long friend.

Finally he was given a berth on a ship. It was July when the call came. A few days earlier, on July 8th, his father died. Robert had asked the medicals what his chances were and they were objective about it. 'So was he' said Jock 'I feel very proud of my old man - he's actually joking, not "heroically", but naturally, about the thing.' He was upset that his baby daughter Nerida's birthday was the day after the death and he was not able to see her. He had become deeply attached to her. 'Nerida is back from the mountains & is more charming & beautiful than ever.' He felt at this stage so torn by various aspects of his emotional life that it was sometimes difficult for us to look into the future. But we knew we would: 'Tomorrow is exactly 18 months since I first saw her. I wish we could be married. It is perhaps not curious that I have lived 35 years through the most divers experiences before I decided I'd found the one woman I needed & wholly wanted to mate with.' We were committed even though all seemed to be in flux. At times I felt desperately inadequate - I was completely untried in almost all aspects of his present turmoil. And we were about to part again. It would be six months before there was another berth on a ship.

As the S.S. Empress Clarenden (a converted refrigeration ship) sailed west from Melbourne he wrote copiously in his diary. Without taking into account the events of the past few years, some of it would read strangely from a man who had explored, loved, written about, struggled and argued to be allowed to fight for, during four years, this country he was leaving. His mother took Robert's death well enough, and as she was letting half the house to people whom she liked, he was able to leave Sydney, 'not only without worry, but with profound relief. I would devoutly thank God, if I believed he existed (or that anybody but myself was responsible for my getting out of Australia); the sole wrenches I had were leaving Nerida behind ... & Jane ... The sea is flattening, there is a watery sun, & thank heaven we are past Leewin & headed N W W across the Indian Ocean - the end of Australia, my Australia! at last. I feel as Darwin did as he passed over this same spot just 110 years ago - "I leave your shores without sorrow or regret." '

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

Next Page Previous Page
Top | Front Page | Bright Sparcs | ASAPWeb