The Marion Chronicles, Chapter 1
Sometimes late at night if I can’t sleep, I walk out onto the deck and look up into the branches of the big gum tree in our yard and watch the tips of her long, fingerlike branches bend to catch the passing breaths of air. Her latin name, Eucalyptus camaldulensis, is much more dignified than the common one, river red gum. She’s leaning at a seemingly precarious angle, but it’s understandable when you look towards the street and see the massive dead trunk of another eucalypt that must have been lording it over this spot when she was just a baby. She had to grow sideways to catch the light. Once the big boy next door had died, she was free to stretch back upright, reclaiming the sky for herself.
It’s May, 2020, several weeks into the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m struggling in my efforts to write about Marion, even though I have a deep conviction that it’s something I must do. This is partly because I don’t know anything about architecture and partly because I don’t know much about her. Most of what I do know is derived from her memoir, the Magic of America, a 1400-page behemoth full of images, letters, poetry, and long diatribes about government and bureaucracy.
So far, I do know this: She was frustrated that people did not share her view of the world, a struggle echoed in structure of the memoir, which is divided into four separate “Battles”. She hated the Australian bureaucracy, thought the people were uneducated and short-sighted and didn’t appreciate beauty. She was pushy, opinionated and dogmatic, a lifelong teetotaler and vegetarian. She did not suffer fools. She commanded respect and made strong, lasting friendships (e.g. Miles Franklin, Vida Goldstein, Anna Ickes).