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Eldridge, Marian Favel (1936–1997)

by Suzanne Edgar

Marian Eldridge, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1990

Marian Eldridge, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1990

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an11678088

The death occurred on February 14 of writer Marian Eldridge, an original and gifted leader of Canberra’s literary community.

Marian Favel Clair Stockfield was born in Melbourne on February 1, 1936, daughter of parents, who worked hard on a farm at Lancefield.

A watercolour painted by Marian’s grandfather, of their small farmhouse set among pines and manna gums, hangs above the fireplace in her home in Garran.

Until the age of 10 she was educated by correspondence classes supervised by her mother Gwen, also a writer, who outlives her. On the farm Marian developed a forthright independence; she knew what it meant to kill an animal and to rear one.

As an arts student at Melbourne University in the mid-50s she helped to establish ABSCHOL, a scheme to give Aborigines access to tertiary education. An early scholarship holder was later later ANU’s first Aboriginal graduate.

Although Marian was to spend most of her adult life in Canberra, whose cultural life she relished, she always retained her love of the countryside.

For from early childhood Marian’s strongest commitment was to writing. That never wavered, through study and teacher training; marriage to Ken Eldridge; teaching in rural Traralgon, in Canberra high schools and, from 1974, with the Centre for Continuing Education (her book discussion groups. ‘Leave the Dishes in the Sink’ were always popular); freelance work as a reviewer and copy editor; and the raising of four children. She was also a hospitable person, particularly to any friend in trouble.

Early in Marian’s career these other responsibilities meant that she sometimes took a year to finish writing one short story to her exacting satisfaction; it was 1980 before she was able to write full time. The next year she won The Canberra Times National Short Story Award. Her work won prizes and appeared in magazines, newspapers and anthologies throughout Australia and overseas. In 1984, she published a fine collection, Walking the Dog (UQP); it included the brilliant story, The Ringbarker’s Daughter.

Apart from three periods in California and England and shorter visits to Europe (source of her evocative Italian stories), South America, South Africa, China and Russia, the Eldridges lived in Canberra from 1966. They also travelled through outback Australia and the evocative story, Settle Down Country, recalls that experience.

However, Marian was one of the first to develop the fictional possibilities of the bush capital. Her story, The Woman at the Window, in the book (1989) of the same name displays an understanding of Canberra’s underside just as sharp as her iconic observations of suburbia. That book attracted a highly complimentary notice from the New York Times Book Review.

Marian prized her time in 1983 at the University of Oxford while Ken wrote a book on eucalypt breeding, but next year they came home and she joined the group which was to become Seven Writers. She contributed much to the group’s strength in addition to her loyalty and integrity, often reading the material for discussion twice before delivering her wise, thoughtful comments. Her story, Capital Gains, helped to ensure the success of the Seven Writers’ book, Canberra Tales (Penguin, 1988), which was republished in 1996 as The Division of Love.

Among Seven Writers, Marian will be irreplaceable.

She published two more stylish, witty, short-story collections and in 1989 edited Among the Leaves, creative work by students at Darwin High School while she was writer in residence. Then came Springfield (1992), a subtle, poetic novel about the healing of a Vietnam War veteran and a heroin addict, and set in the country town of her childhood.

During 1986, Eldridge had briefly returned to work as literature co-ordinator for the ACT Arts Council and since then she had run many workshops on her craft.

In 1992, she received fellowships from the Literature Board at the Australia Council and from the ACT Arts Bureau. They enabled her to complete a linked group of stories about the memorable character Alvie Skerritt; courage, intensity and a certain tartness were aspects of Marian’s personality which found their way into the voice of Alvie. The book was published in 1994 as The Wild Sweet Flowers.

Although its author avoided post-modernist trends, the extraordinary novella-length title story, possibly her finest, proved that she was no stranger to innovation. The Wild Sweet Flowers won the 1994 NSW premier’s literary award for the International Year of the Family. Eldridge also avoided confessional writing, insisting that while her fiction made use of her memories, it was not about herself but "the product of that leap of the imagination every fiction writer must make".

In 1995, she spent long hours in committee and at home, preparing grant applications which were crucial for the foundation of the ACT Writers’ Centre. She became deputy chair of that organisation and it has already given pleasure and help to many. As evidence of her energy and generosity it should perhaps bear her name. Her daughters Elizabeth and Catherine, sons David and James and their partners, her grandchildren and her books are also her memorial.

This woman never stopped writing. Even in the disordered state induced by illness, she produced a series of powerful, moving poems about dying.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 16 February 1997

Additional Resources

Citation details

Suzanne Edgar, 'Eldridge, Marian Favel (1936–1997)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/eldridge-marian-favel-13444/text24121, accessed 23 May 2019.

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