I was thrilled to learn on Thursday night that I have won a 2012-13 Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship in the category of poetry. I spent part of Thursday night drinking champagne in celebration, because the Marten Bequest provides young Australian artists, writers, and musicians $20000 to spend on travel and further development in their art form. I will be using the money to promote Electricity for Beginners at international readings—I'll write more on that as the time comes—and to participate in intensive writing workshops in Europe and the United States. It's an incredible opportunity, and I still can't quite believe it's happened to me. Of course, being a writer, I grew curious about the Marten Bequest and the man behind it. A little research turned up some fascinating results—and more questions than answers. John Chisholm Marten (1908-1966) was involved with the arts throughout his life. According to AustLit, Marten's first novel, Primavera, was published in 1935 under the pseudonym 'David Lanark.' Marten studied guitar and Spanish dancing in Spain, and went on to teach Spanish dance in Sydney and co-found the Conyn Dance Troupe with Cornelius Conyn. Also with Conyn, he later co-wrote a detective novel, The Bali Ballet Murder (1961) which was published in Sydney and London, and also translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands.

But what else was there to know about John Marten? I went to the National Library of Australia's Trove service to look through digitised newspapers in search of more information. As it happens, John Chisholm Marten had an older brother, Peter James Chisholm Marten, who mysteriously disappeared from his home in Darlinghurst, Sydney, on December 9, 1926.  Peter Marten was 23 at the time, and John Marten would have been 18. The Adelaide Advertiser reported in 1927 that Marten's "relatives are unable to account for his disappearance, although it is thought he is suffering from a nervous breakdown and loss of memory." There were reports that Marten had approached a sea captain and asked for a job, so it was possible that he had gone to sea. But Peter Marten was never found or heard from again.

Peter Marten came from quite a wealthy family, and he had a large sum of money in the bank when he disappeared: £18 000. Twenty-one years later, with Peter Marten still missing and presumed dead, his estate (now valued at £23 448) was awarded to his brother, John Marten. I guess that, in some way, part of that money went towards the establishment of the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarships. It is a strange, sad story, and the disappearance must have been a terrible burden for John Marten and his mother (his father was already deceased). Since so little seems to be known about John Chisholm Marten, I am pleased to be able to write about his past, but sorry that it included such tragedy.

As I take up my scholarship and move through my roster of events, I will write about them here. For now, though, I just want to thank the people who helped me with my application (including Graham Nunn), the poetry event organisers who've invited me to come and read at their events, the staff of the Trust Company who administer the scholarships, and the judges. Most of all, I am ever so grateful to John Chisholm Marten for bequeathing such wonderful opportunities for so many young Australians.



AuthorMichelle Dicinoski