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OUR BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > HALLUCINATION BEFORE DEPARTURE

Hallucination before departure

Memoir (Mini-Mags)
Written by Chester Eagle, incorporating what is almost certainly the last story written by Alan Marshall
Designed by Vane Lindesay
DTP by Karen Wilson
Cover painting is ‘Homage to Henri’ (Rousseau), 1991, by Geo. W. Bell
Cover photo by Rodney Manning
First published 2006 as a mini-mag by Trojan Press in conjunction with Avant Card free postcards, Sydney
Ten thousand copies; 9,500 distributed by Avant Card, 500 by the author
Circa 4,060 words
Electronic publication 2006 by Trojan Press

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Here’s what it says on the cover:

It may be true that artists are born, but they have to be made, as well. The arts are handed on. Those who are young, and aspire, need role models, close to them if possible, to show the ropes, the tricks of what to avoid and what to do. This brief memoir contrasts three men: a beginner, an artist in mid career, and an ageing master, and it brings to the public for the first time what is almost certainly the last piece written by the late Alan Marshall, an utterance the reader will not easily forget.


To read some extracts from the book click here:
George
Alan Marshall, speaking for himself

To read about the writing of this book click here.

George

George was a photographer who had been a painter, but had put that aside in favour of the camera. When he saw the places in Gippsland that I frequented, he told me I had to get a camera too. ‘You see places and things that urban artists never know exist! You’ve got opportunities most of them don’t even dream of!’ I was impressed, and a little overwhelmed. Was it really so good, where I was?

I got a camera. It joined my typewriter as a tool of trade. I started to look at Gippsland in the ways that cameras looked. George tutored me sternly. ‘I would say that that is a very good subject ruined by a bad way of taking it.’ I listened, I learned. George believed in the approach to a subject which was self-denying, disciplined, the photographer subjecting himself to the nature of the thing being taken. ‘Walk all around the thing before you take it. Look for the angle from which it’s most itself. Nine times out of ten, it’ll be front on, or side on. Don’t try for clever angles. Let the thing express itself.’ This advice suited me because, immodest as I was, I was aware that the world was a fascinating place, bigger and more interesting by far than I was. The world mattered. I happened to be passing through it, no more than that. It was my privilege to record what I saw.

I also wrote. I produced vast and complex dramas that tried to do too much. For the camera, George had a simple rule, repeated often enough, which said: ‘Select and isolate.’ This was more than I could do with my writing, which aspired to say everything, to put things down as they’d never been put down before. This, mistaken though it was, was also natural, so I shouldn’t have despaired as much as I did when I was walking the paddocks and the back roads, late at night, trying to find a way through the problems I encountered with the pages, often blank, that I was trying to fill. Talented artists, artists who were great, seemed to know things, to have a certainty about what they were doing, which was eluding me. When would things become simple?

The paddocks to the west of my town were full of dead trees, redgums that had been ringbarked and left to die. They’d dropped their lesser branches over the years. Reduced, and simplified, they’d gone silver-grey with age and had sometimes rotted at their heart. Farmers wanting to clear their paddocks piled fallen branches at the bottom of these trees, started a fire, and hoped the flames would get into that central chimney. If they did, there was no stopping the blaze. It would roar night and day until the tree was no more. At night the flames, or sparks, would fly from the trunks of trees on fire, a joyfully destructive sight as one came home from some trip into the mountains. The dead trees had commanding shapes, and I loved to walk among them with my camera, remembering George’s dictum: ‘Walk around the thing. You’re looking for the angle from which it’s most itself. Don’t try to do anything clever. Let it express itself!’.

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Alan Marshall, speaking for himself

I experienced a great freedom as I ran along the flank of the hill. With every stride my arms reached for distance, pulling it towards me in festoons of green shadow. My head rose and fell with each stride.

He joined me as I reached the crest, moving in just behind me, his strides matching mine. We ran together as one. He looked at me and smiled. It was a smile that Pan would have given. It was a gateway to childhood; to what childhood was. It was clean and fragrant like the sea.

We were the same age … about nine I would say. He was lithe like a reed and as he leant forward to an increase of speed he curved like a bow. His arms moved like crankshafts on the driving wheels of locomotives, moving with precision and delicacy. And I matched stride for stride, breasting the flowing distance that broke upon us in waves advancing to impede us.

How beautifully we ran! How precisely we socketed upon our hips as if we were both sitting in some carriage of faery bewitched by motion. We were posed with no strain of muscle to hold us erect or brace or sinew to anchor us. We had no conflict with our bodies; we moved to the bidding of our dream.

Behind me in the shadows from which I had emerged was the hospital bed upon which I had been lying a few minutes before. This slender boy had brought a key to the unimpeded movement I was now enjoying. It clicked a release in me and the next moment I was running.

I was hallucinating, so the doctor told me when explaining my sudden escape into a world that could only have existed for me in dreams. (continues)

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The writing of this book:

When I first put Hallucination before departure on this website I had only this to say about the writing: ‘I think this short memoir adequately explains itself and how it came about.’

I later discovered that there was more that needed to be said about the Alan Marshall piece which I’d incorporated in my memoir. It had come into my possession via George W. Bell, the artist and photographer friend discussed in the memoir. Alan Marshall had sent it to George, and George had sent it on to me. I read it a number of times before putting it away, and I pulled it out of my drawer several more times in the years between receiving it (1980) and writing my memoir (2006). I wrote the memoir under the assumption that only George and I, and perhaps one or two others, unknown to me, had ever seen it: hence my concluding remarks about giving it to the world.

But I was mistaken. Marshall himself had given it to the world much earlier. A friend has recently shown me a copy of a collection called Alan Marshall’s Battlers, compiled by Gwen Hardisty, Hyland House, Melbourne, 1983, which includes ‘Hallucination before departure’, and refers to an earlier publication in The Bulletin for 23 December 1980. I apologise to The Bulletin, Hyland House and to readers of this mini-mag for my error in not having been aware that these earlier publications had happened.

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OUR BOOKS > MINI–MAGS > HALLUCINATION BEFORE DEPARTURE

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