50 Treasures: Marjorie Green's Writing Desk and Accessories

Our twelfth treasure is one of the JCU Library Special Collection's few pieces of realia, which in librarian speak is a 3D object from real life that does not fit into the traditional categories of library material. From the Library Archives comes an item that will never fit into an archive box, Marjorie Green's writing desk and desk accessories.

Sharon Bryan answers the question "why is this significant?"

The Archives of James Cook University Library’s Special Collections contain a number of personal items that offer glimpses into the lives of the people who once owned them. Most of the items are typically archival in nature—photographs, diaries, letters and the like. Some can be surprisingly three-dimensional. Perhaps the most ‘unarchival’ of the items held is a writing desk.
Marjorie Green's writing desk. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
This desk is a bureau of the secretaire style; it consists of shelves, a cabinet, and a fold-down desktop that reveals sections for holding stationery and writing accoutrements. It is both unique and common—many households once had a similar kind of bureau for writing and correspondence, but these desks largely fell out of favour before mass production irrevocably altered the design of furniture, and as a result they often have more individuality than furniture produced today. This desk is especially unique as it sports a number of carvings by its owner. One carving, in particular, shows the deep and significant connection between the desk and the woman who owned it: Marjorie Green.

Marjorie was born in Charters Towers, but moved to Townsville as a young girl, where she spent most of her life. Her father, David Green, worked on many north Queensland newspapers and eventually became the editor of the Townsville Bulletin. David and his wife, Alberta, had three daughters, Ethel, Marjorie and Nancy. The family was, by the time David took up his post at the Bulletin, reasonably well off, well educated and well connected. The Greens could afford to give their daughters a good education, and they did. Marjorie attended the Melbourne Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) as a boarder, and it was during a visit home when she was 16 that she carved her school’s crest and motto into the front of her desk.
Photograph of Marjorie Green, from the Marjorie Green Archive.
The PLC crest features a planet shining over a mountain and the sea, and the original, pre-war motto of the school, ‘Ohne Hast, Ohne Rast’, is taken from Goethe, and calls for constant but measured effort. Marjorie was a keen writer in her youth, and contributed reports, stories and poems to the school’s magazine, Patchwork. Clearly, at the time she carved the motto into her desk, both writing and the culture of the school were of high personal significance. She was, reportedly, taught to carve by a woman in Townsville. The carving shows a reasonable level of skill and would probably have been quite an undertaking for a teenage girl.

 Included with the desk are a number of items that were once commonly used as part of writing and correspondence, but are now relegated to antiques and curiosities. Among them is a monogrammed glass and silver desk set consisting of an inkwell, a nib tray, a paperweight and a blotter. These items were donated with the desk to the Delamothe Collection of North Queensland History and Literature in 1984—long after they would have ceased to be of any use in correspondence. Both the desk and these items were kept by Marjorie until, in her 80s, she left her home and moved to the Masonic Village.

Marjorie Green's desk accessories. Photograph by Michael Marzik.

 For most of her life, home for Marjorie Green was Kardinia, a heritage-listed house on Stanton Hill. This is one of the grand old homes of Townsville that is still in situ, and is of great architectural and historical significance. In its time, it was home to several men of influence in Townsville’s history (and their families), but most famously it served as the first Japanese consulate in Australia. The Green family lived there for several decades, and their association with the house only came to an end when Marjorie left.

The desk and its accessories are only part of the Marjorie Green Archive. Marjorie was, for many years, the secretary of the Church of England Funding Committee, and was (along with the other members of her family) a patron of the Cathedral School of St Anne and St James. Green Hall in the Cathedral school was named in their honour. The Marjorie Green Archive contains correspondence with the bishop, programmes from school plays and other small items from her involvement in the Church, as well as mementos and ephemera from the family’s travels. There is also one other item that is, perhaps, almost as personal as the desk itself – a notebook with hand-written recipes. Many of these items were, no doubt, stored in the desk at some point.
Recipe from the Marjorie Green Archive.
Writing desks have a strange habit of being simultaneously peripheral and central. They sit, shoved in corners or placed against walls in out-of-the-way rooms, and hold onto the bits and bobs of their owners’ lives. And yet, simply by doing exactly that, they become highly personal and deeply significant. Marjorie Green’s desk still holds a piece of her story, and will hold it well for years to come.

We would like to thank the Presbyterian Ladies College and the Cathedral School of St Anne and St James for providing information about Marjorie Green’s association with their schools.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University. 

Author Biography
After a misspent youth dallying in libraries, Sharon Bryan studied Education and English Literature before moving into librarianship, and has been a librarian for the past 15 years. She currently works as the Blended Learning Librarian at JCU – a role that enables her to engage in her two favourite past-times: researching a wide range of subjects and creating educational and creative works based on what she has learned. She once completed a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics for her own personal amusement. She also has a writing desk that has been in her family since the mid-20th Century.