Ann Marshall (Griffith Taylor Medal)

Citation for the Griffith Taylor Medal

Ann Marshall
Conferred Adelaide, February 1989

A notable event during the 23rd Conference of the Australian Institute of Geographers held at the University of Adelaide in February 1989 was the first presentation of the Griffith Taylor Medal for contributions to Australian geography.  The recipient was Ann Marshall who pioneered the teaching of geography at the University of Adelaide.  Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Fay Gale, a former pupil of Ann Marshall, delivered an oration in her honour which is reproduced below, followed by Ann’s reply.

It is very fitting that we should be giving this award to Ann Marshall in Adelaide in 1989 just fifty years after she first came to Adelaide.  In doing so we are honouring both Griffith Taylor and Ann Marshall, two colleagues who between them did so much to develop geography as a professional discipline in Australia.  Geography began at the University of Adelaide in 1904.  The initial course was entitled 248 Australian Geographical Studies “Commercial Geography and Technology”.  Maybe Mr. Dawkins is not so revolutionary after all!

It was not until Ann Marshall arrived, however, that Geography took off as a fully fledged discipline.  From 1940 on Ann and Mr. Clarry Martin taught Geography I and II.  At that time Ann had a B.Sc and M.Sc from the University of Melbourne and an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley well under way.

They were the tough war-time years and if it had not been for Ann, Geography would certainly not have taken off.  With a young family, lecturing was not easy and when she applied for petrol coupons so that she could drive in, the ration was labelled Geography Baby.

After graduating at Melbourne and then teaching there, Ann went to Toronto to work with Griffith Taylor whose writings had so inspired her.  Taylor, as Ann will no doubt tell you, had been driven out of Australia for his forthright scientific attitudes.  So opposed was the Australian public to anyone who doubted the endless resources and development potential of this country, that a newspaper in 1935, after he had been forced to leave, referred to him as the late Professor Griffith Taylor.

After the War Taylor returned to Australia and came to Adelaide to visit his long time friend and colleague.  They, with the help of Sir Archibald Grenfell Price, were able to persuade the University to expand Geography into a full degree subject in 1958.  Professor Graham Lawton was appointed in 1951 and the Department has never looked back.

Geography in Australia owes a great deal to the teamwork of Ann Marshall and Griffith Taylor.  If it had not been for the War, Ann, as a married woman, would no doubt not have been employed at the University in spite of her competency and high qualifications.  Certainly, later when she applied for a full-time lectureship in 1957, the Registrar told her she could not have it because she had children.

At this time, none other than Carl Sauer wrote about Ann to Archie Price, in a letter meant to be shown to the Registrar, saying: “I think you are very fortunate to have her at work in your University.  The pair of you are a rare combination which any academic institution should be proud to own.  The woman is not only a talented teacher but she can rouse the latent spirit of inquiry to a rare degree.”  I, and many others here today, can testify to the accuracy of Sauer’s words.

Ann remained on the staff at Adelaide until her retirement in 1974.  A significant period of service that has left its mark on many graduates!

Ann also left her mark on the city of Adelaide and those of us who enjoy this beautiful and peaceful city owe much to Ann’s dogged fight to save the city from a massive carve-up into freeways and spaghetti junctions.  She fought for the urban landscape with the same fearless integrity that Taylor had done for Central Australia some years earlier.  It is too terrible to think what might have happened to this city but for her energy and commitment.

I am therefore delighted to be able to welcome Ann back to our beautiful city.  It is also fitting that the first Taylor Medal of the Institute of Australian Geographers should be awarded in Adelaide because it was here that the IAG was first formed.  During ANZAAS in 1958 geographers met and decided to form a professional association.  They decided to ask Griffith Taylor to become the first president.  Ann, knowing he had been ill, suggested they wired him to check if he could accept.  His return telegram read, “delighted to accept, published 2 books this month”.  Such was the indomitable spirit of Griffith Taylor, the father of Australian Geography, who not only established the full course in Geography at Sydney, but was also very influential in doing the same at Adelaide.

Ann has received many awards in recognition of her contribution to Australian Geography.  Historic press reports of such occasions are always good fun,  One I know Ann is not so proud of was given for her research on climate and housing.  The press announcement read “top award for hot work”.

Ann, it is with much pleasure that the Institute of Australian Geographers offers you the first Griffith Taylor Medal in such symbolic circumstances.

Reply by Ann Marshall

Thank you all very much.  This award is a tremendous honour, and I am particularly delighted that the Institute should have called it the “Griffith Taylor” Medal.  Later generations of members might think “who was he?” and be stimulated to read about him, and read what he wrote, and discover his enormous influence on Australian geography.

Really he was important in two different ways.  First in his statements on the geography OF Australia.  And second in his influence on the development of geography as a professional discipline IN Australia.

The storm produced by the first is legendary.  Spate said in “The Compass of Geography” that the realistic appraisal of the continent was due to the honest and forthright work of one man.  Jo Powell has documented it in his biography of Griff and in his article on Taylor and Stefansson but he has perhaps a little missed the trauma of that period in Taylor’s life.  Indeed probably few of you could remember—you have to be about my generation—the almost incredible background of those years.  The Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce, talked about “the illimitable potentialities of this vast continent”.  People in authority said that Australia was about the same size as United States so could be expected to have a population of 200 to 300 million!  Alice Springs would become a city like Chicago!  If there was some dry country all it needed was a bit of irrigation and some sturdy pioneering settlers—British of course.

And Taylor turned the map upside down over Africa in the right latitudes and compared the Sahara and central Australia—and they ganged up on him.  From the time of his important presidential address to the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science in 1924 on “Geography and Australia’s National Problems” he could be sure of a hostile press for anything he said.  When I wrote my article on him for Geographic Studies I had a sheaf of newspaper cuttings from the Sydney Morning Herald and they were vicious.  Of course I threw them away when the article was published but I rememeber one which sums up the attitude.  “Is it a good thing to proclaim to the world (even if such were true) that Australia is one-third barren desert?”

Ten years later when I worked for him in Toronto Taylor’s wounds were still raw.  The headline that most hurt him was “Professor Taylor doesn’t seem to like Australia.  We wonder why he stays here”.  He loved Australia, he knew Australia and he wanted to help in its development.  But by 1928 he was so discouraged that he accepted the invitation to Chicago.  He did not come back for 20 years.

The politicians and the land settlement boosters were delighted to see him go—he had been a thorn in their sides for years.  They found it much easier to get on with his successor— who wasn’t about to rock any boats.  In fact Holmes disowned Taylor’s attitude.  He said to me “It was most unwise of Taylor to emphasize all that desert stuff—washing Australia’s dirty linen in public”.

But the specialists in related fields—geology, agriculture, economics and so on—accepted the obvious soundess of the work, used it, quoted it, took ideas from it and developed them with more detailed information available.  Andrews and Maze developed the idea of the length of the rainfall season into measuring the length of the arid period, and Professor Prescott at the Waite Institute built this into a whole school of climatology.  His influence on the geography of Australia continued.

It was in his clear concept of the independence of geography as an academic discipline that Taylor was most missed.  Those of us who wanted to be geographers—I came into the field from geology at that time—tried to establish his ideas that the core of geography was the study of the relation between the natural environment and the occupying group and the changes in that relation through history, and that no other discipline did just that.  We found it hard to sell this idea to the authorities without Taylor in Sydney as an example.  Various other disciplines thought maybe they could use a little geography here and there, maybe at first year level in geology or economics.

Here I think I could be allowed a personal anecdote.  When I came to South Australia, as Fay has said as a part time lecturer in 1939, Fenner (who was in charge) asked me to work out a Geography I course.  I was fresh back from working with Griff and Sauer— who was at the height of his exciting seminars which were the basis for “Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth”.  So I worked out what I thought was an interesting course and the class seemed to like it.  But at the end of the year Fenner asked me to come and see him, and said, kindly, that all this human geography stuff was interesting but the teachers had told him that my lectures would be more useful to them in their teaching if I followed the textbook more closely—Fenner’s “Geography of South Australia”.  I politely resigned and he quickly said all right do it your way.  So I saved Adelaide geography from being a part of geomorphology.

As Fay has said, we became a department in 1951 with Graham Lawton as head, and we could stop talking about what Geography was and get down to doing it.  I think we always did what Griff would have approved of.  When Jo Powell reviewed my chapter on Climate and Primary Production in Australia he said “the ghost of Griffith Taylor is a benevolent presence haunting every page”.  I think he meant—I hope he meant—that I had done what Griff would have done, described the climate as accurately as possible and analysed its effect on rural land use throughout our history.

Jo also said somewhere that Griff cast a gigantic shadow.  May it never grow less.