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2008-03, 357, Auctions, Doug Mackenzie

‘A Loss of Innocence’

Doug Mackenzie

I AM NO LONGER naïve! I am no longer a virgin! When speaking of drugs, people say “She’s marijuana naïve” or “She’s a marijuana virgin”. Because politicians in the USA need to appear quite prim and proper, some think they can still claim to be marijuanan naïve if they don’t inhale; most people reject that.

The fourth edition of the Macquarie Dictionary, edited by C Yallop and six others, was published in 2005. It has sixteen definitions of virgin, plus three with a capital V: the Virgin or the Blessed Virgin, the zodiacal constellation or sign Virgo, and Richard Branson’s group of companies, including Virgin Blue. The sixth definiton is: ‘Colloquial a person who has not experienced something specified’. Two examples are given: “an opera virgin, a skateboard virgin”.

This article is about how I lost my naivety, how I lost my virginity. This altered state is associated with Peter Arnold, a leading secondhand bookdealer in Melbourne, one of those at the top of the market. I’ve bought from his Prahran shop, and it’s now many years since I was an Arnold bookshop virgin.

Peter rarely holds an auction, perhaps once every two or three years or so. Recently one was mooted but, because of some mix-up, the outstanding, colour-illustrated catalogue of 637 lots reached me quite late, about a week before the two days of selling, Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 September 2007. The viewing was in the three days prior. Unfortunately, the charity bookfair at Sydney University, with which I was heavily involved, was Saturday 15 to Wednesday 19, straddling the auction. Setting it up was in the two days beforehand. Well, one doesn’t have to go to every auction.

On scanning the catalogue, however, I was startled to find there were two lots of prime importance. Friends of mine would guess immediately that they would have to be of Tasmanian interest. They were much better than that, as they related directly to Flinders Island, from where I come.

Driving from Sydney to Melbourne would entail missing nearly all of the bookfair except, perhaps, half of the first day. Flying there on Monday morning to view, and staying to bid, would mean missing the last three days. A phone call to Peter to ask for a deal of information about the lots made me very eager to buy. I decided I could trust what he said and would not need to view. So I arranged to lose my virginity: I would bid by telephone, something never before attempted. As a friend wanted another book on offer, I indulged three times.

A woman on the auction staff rang me at my home in Bronte on the Monday night, about five minutes before my friend’s lot came up, and I just listened to the auctioneer as he sold three lots. She then kept saying what the bidding had reached, I told her my raises, and she signalled the auctioneer until my friend won at $2913. He was very pleased to get so cheaply James A Michener, The Modern Japanese Print: an appreciation, Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, no date [1962]. Large folio, with ten mounted original woodblock prints, all but one coloured, each signed and numbered by the artist; original gilt-decorated cloth in a stamped wooden slipcase, as published. Edition limited to 525 numbered copies signed by the author.

On the Tuesday, twice I crept away from the bookfair to our workroom at the university to follow the same procedure and, luckily, I scored both times. Ahh! It was a pleasurable experience. What did I get? It may be noted that, for many decades, I’ve had this social disease called book collecting. The two lots are important additions to the collection.

The minor conquest was: Rev Canon Marcus Blake Brownrigg, The Cruise of the Freak, a narrative of a visit to the islands in Bass and Banks Straits, with some account of the islands, published in Launceston by five publishers of Launceston and Hobart; no date, but it is 1872. Original cloth with gilt, gilt on the spine, blindstamped. Octavo, folding chart and eight tinted lithographed plates. It is a presentation copy inscribed and dated by the author. It is number 7578 in Ferguson’s Bibliography and cost me $816.

The only copy available on the net is one offered by a Sydney dealer at $1500, and that is uninscribed. Brownrigg records from a census of February 1872 that there were 118 adults and 109 children in the Furneaux Group, with 63% of these 227 souls being white.

The other lot is much rarer. One portion of it is issue 123 of The Victorian Naturalist, Vol X, No 11, of February 1894, published on March 7 of that year. Most of the content is: Joseph Gabriel, Report of Expedition to Furneaux Group, pages 167–184, plus a lithographed map, 19 pages in all.

Apart from the map, there are no illustrations. Pages 165–6 give a report on the monthly meeting of Monday 12 February. Loosely inserted is a fourpage supplement with information about the Field Naturalists’ Club of Victoria and details of future activities.

The expedition from Melbourne took 19 days, from Saturday 11 to Thursday 30 November 1893, 21 years after the cruise of the Freak. The six naturalists set up a camp of three tents at Trousers Point on Flinders Island. Because there was no water nearby, they came to an arrangement with a local family to supply it. Another arrangement was the hiring of a boat with its skipper, a Cape Barren islander. With this mobility they visited a number of places.

As most, if not all, of the group were ornithologists, they were very keen to see the gannet rookery on Cat Island, and were also happy to visit the cormorant rookery on Storehouse Island, these being two small islands near Babel Island, off the east coast of Flinders. To their delight, this was achieved on a five day excursion. A difficulty was that, on the way back to camp, when the wind dropped they needed to row to pull the boat past a turbulent area known as the Pot Boil. Near the end of the trip they climbed Mount Strzelecki, 777 metres, the highest mountain in the Furneaux.

They did not visit the Inner Sisters—at the top of the map illustration accompanying the present article—where my grandmother, Rosada Blyth, went as a bride of sixteen in 1886. I am an islander from way back.

A number of photos were taken on the trip, and 16 mounted gelatin prints were offered with the journal article, with all but three having captions on the back. Mostly these illustrate the group’s activities and many were taken at places that I recognise. None of the photos of birds were included.

Four photos are of special interest because they show identifiable people and island houses of the time. Mr and Mrs Summers residence shows them, a child and another man outside the house. The schoolmaster and religious instructor, Edward Stephens, and his family of three women are picturednear their residence on Cape Barren Island. Our watercarriers are not named, but are a couple with three children, with their house as background. The six members of the expedition are named. All have beards except for one
young man.

By itself, the article could be worth fifty or a hundred dollars or so. The photos are the important items and caused strong competition at the auction.I paid $2796, making an outlay of just over $3600.
I am delighted to have these two great enhancements to my collection. No longer am I telephone bidding naïve, though I am still a skateboard virgin.




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