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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Alan Marshall

In their own words

Recorded 1964

Alan Marshall
Audio: 2 minutes

I think I wrote 20 short stories before I had one published and I won 12 literary competitions. When I won a competition, I imagined I must be good, and yet I couldn’t get them published. So I had to keep on and I remember one of the stories that I won a prize with was called A Little Son and it was a story of my mother away outback and it described the birth of one of my sisters. And she told me the story and it won the Australian Literature Society’s short story competition for one year and I had to read it out aloud. And I brought my mother in to listen to it; she was a very wonderful person. And there I’m describing how she had knotted towels at the head of her bed and while she was lying on this bed, away outback, with a blowing dust and the hessian above her head, and where father sometimes used to pierce it with a knife and catch the dust in a bucket; she’s lying there and she said ‘All that I could remember’, she told me, very vividly, ‘was the smell of the Myall wood stockwhip handle that was hanging at the end of the bed’.

So I wrote that story and I liked it, but people seemed rather shocked at it at the time, to mother’s astonishment. And I remember some woman coming up to her there and saying ‘Your son must be married’, and she said ‘No, he’s not, he’s telling about me’.

When I began working in the city, that was the sad time of my life. See I think that when you’re crippled, childhood is fairly happy. It is not the affliction that makes life hard but the attitude of people towards it, and this manifests itself very strongly in your teens. That is the time when you want to grab a girl. And I’ve described this period, although not very well I’m afraid, in In Mine Own Heart.

What I wanted to do was to describe how I broke through this feeling of restriction, of sadness, and I succeeded in doing it but I haven’t quite succeeded in doing it as I wanted to do in my books. I have one more to write at the time of speaking and that will describe that period of my life when I moved round with artists and writers and when I became much more confident in myself.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Alan Marshall is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

Related people

Alan Marshall AM OBE

Related information

Self-portrait, 1973 by Noel Counihan
Self-portrait, 1973 by Noel Counihan
Self-portrait, 1973 by Noel Counihan
Self-portrait, 1973 by Noel Counihan

Of jumpers and river gums, red

Magazine article by Diana O'Neil, 2016

Diana O’Neil on Noel Counihan’s vivid 1971 portrait of Alan Marshall.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency