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Alan Marshall AM OBE

1902 – 1984

Alan Marshall AM OBE (1902-84), writer, began life in Victoria’s Western District. At the age of six he contracted infantile paralysis (polio) which left him permanently disabled. When he was a teenager his family moved to Melbourne, where he wrote with great dedication from the early 1920s and worked as an accountant at a shoe factory from 1930 to 1935. In 1933 he won the first of his three Australian Literary Society Short Story Awards. At last, in 1934, one of his stories was published; from then on he wrote for Worker’s Voice, the Communist Review and the Left Review; Smith’s Weekly, the Bulletin, ABC Weekly, Bohemia and Meanjin. He edited the anti-fascist review Point and was president of the Victorian Writers’ League; though he never joined the Communist Party, he attracted the interest of ASIO immediately upon its formation in 1949. These Are My People, stories he collected while travelling with his wife Olive in a horse-drawn caravan through Victoria, was published in 1944; his encounters with Aboriginal people on two trips north were published as Ourselves Writ Strange in 1948. During the 1950s he wrote a regular advice column for the Argus. The vicissitudes and triumphs of his childhood are detailed in his best-known, autobiographical work, I Can Jump Puddles (1955), the first volume of a trilogy. The book sold more than 3 million copies and was translated into many languages; it was made into an award-winning film in Czechoslovakia in 1970 and an Australian television series in 1981. Living in the artists’ enclave of Eltham from 1955, Marshall continued to write prolifically, including popular tales of the imaginary Speewah station, but his autobiographical works gradually darkened in tone until his friend and publisher Frank Cheshire refused to bring out Hammers Over the Anvil (which eventually appeared in 1975). Marshall was made OBE in 1972, received the Soviet Order of Friendship in 1977 and was made AM in 1981. Late in life he worked on projects highlighting various challenges confronting people with disabilities. He is commemorated in the annual Alan Marshall Award for Literature, the award for children’s literature in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the annual Alan Marshall Award in Eltham Shire, Victoria.

Updated 2018