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
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"
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.
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
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
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
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." '